When women talk, men don't listen. Men may not want to acknowledge it, but it's true - there's bias against women leaders in the workplace, and it takes many different forms. For example, when men show leadership traits, that's taken at face value, but the same striving by women may be characterized as aggressive, rude, or unapproachable. Similarly, when women present information to groups, they tend to be perceived either as lacking knowledge or as know-it-alls, never as experts. It's no surprise, then, that women presenters tend to lose confidence over time.
If you're a woman in the tech professions, it's important to do the work that will enable you to gain confidence and establish yourself as an authority. Men may discount your skill in the workplace, but when it comes to meaningful critique, you'll be untouchable.
Build A Strong Foundation
The best way to go into a presentation with confidence is by building a strong presentation. Take the time to go over your materials, make sure that all of your slides are complete, and check any numbers so that you don't find yourself floundering mid-presentation. You want to be sure that your foundational materials support your self-presentation and can help support you if you suddenly hit a bump in your presentation. It's especially important to make sure that the beginning and end of your presentation are strong because people are more likely to notice if you struggle during these portions.
Know Your Setting
Just as you should familiarize yourself with your materials before your presentation, you should consider the overall setting and what's going on in the hours and days surrounding your presentation. You're much more likely to feel nervous if you're jet lagged or sleep deprived, or if you suddenly find out you're the first speaker at an event. When presenting at an industry event, there are a lot of unknowns, but the more you can do to get the lay of the land, the better you'll feel.
Use Communication Supports
With entrepreneurs constantly on the go, there's a growing market for presentation tools and supports - so use them! Apps like Mandel's Orai provide suggestions for presentation prep, engagement, and even speech coaching. Designed by professionals for professionals, this is a tool that can handle the most high-stakes situations, like that account you need to close, while still keeping things light and accessible.
Talk Yourself Up - Not Down
If someone has ever made a negative comment about your presentation skills - and as a woman in the tech professions that's surely happened - you know that those words can take over your brain. They'll repeat themselves over and over and, eventually, you'll come to believe those comments. The most important thing you can do if you want to be a more confident presenter, then, is to take the power away from these negative comments.
Any time you find yourself questioning your skills or competence, stop for a moment and think. What is the basis of these doubts? What evidence refutes these thoughts? You need to gain mastery over your own mind and refuse to accept these comments. You need to build yourself up when others are trying to make you feel less than capable. Don't accept that voice that wants to knock you down.
Build A Community
There's a real lack of female public speakers, which reinforces the idea that women can't succeed as presenters, but those in the field are starting to come together as a real community. In fact, fostering connection among women public speakers is why Catherine McGrath started the hashtag #WomenSpeaking. McGrath believes women don't get enough training and are denied opportunities to practice their presenting skills, and because of bias against women leaders, they're less likely to improvise with confidence.
Additionally, McGrath notes that while men and women both experience a lack of confidence, women are more likely to feel discouraged by that as well as to receive negative feedback because of gender bias. When women get to speak to each other about their struggles as presenters, they have a chance to affirm each other and build each other up. There aren't enough opportunities for women to participate in such communities, but they can be life changing.
Women aren't less skilled presenters, but they are treated as such, and that's simply unfair. And while you can't necessarily beat the bias, you can build your self-confidence to face it head on. Gaining confidence is what will help women thrive in the workplace today. Tackling bias will take longer.
Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.
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