While it’s often not helpful to generalize the differences between men and women, it’s worthwhile to discuss how pitching a company or an idea can be a different experience for women. Many women get the advice to “fake it til you make it,” but is that really the best approach? What do women need to know about pitching that will help them succeed?
Antonella Cvrtak knows a thing or two about pitching. She is the Program Manager of Grow F at the Vienna based Female Founders, an investment readiness program for female-led ventures and gender-mixed teams that shape the world of tomorrow. She has seen over 30 startups go through the program since she started in 2021 and knows how women can prepare themselves for potentially biased investors. Here are the key points that came up in our conversation.
How pitching as a woman can be different from pitching as a man
It’s common knowledge that female founders get asked different questions than male founders when it comes to pitching their ideas. Antonella Cvrtak has seen this play out countless times in her work helping women prepare for pitching to investors. She says, “Male founders mostly get asked about the vision, the big dreams, the goal at the end of the journey.”
“Female founders get asked more about the current situation, the worst cases, what happens if this or that changes, what happens if you don’t reach this and that goal.” —Antonella Cvrtak
When we’re asked to focus on the big vision, we are being encouraged to speak in a visionary language. This makes us sound more like a leader and makes our audience more confident in our ability to execute the vision we’ve set forth. However, if we’re asked to focus on worst case scenarios, we can already feel we’re on the defensive because we’re forced to prove how we would respond to a negative situation. “The questions we’re asked definitely affect how confident we feel in answering them,” says Crvtak. So how can female founders navigate this disparity in questioning?
Share your vision whether they ask for it or not
Investors want to know if you’re the right person for the job. It’s up to you to show them you are. This means not only sharing how you intend to maneuver if you meet a worst case scenario, but also where your bigger vision is leading. Don’t forget that you also have some control here. It’s not an interrogation; it’s a conversation.
For example, if you’re asked a question about the immediate future, focus on that first and then wrap up by saying what you see in the next 10 years. Be confident enough to insert your vision whether they ask you for it or not.
Some phrases you can use to lead into your vision are, “Here’s what I see…,” or “The way I see it is in 10 years’ time…” Practicing how you will share your vision will help you find the confidence you need to actually share it.
Generate credibility by talking about past achievements
How would you answer the question: what’s an accomplishment you’re proud of? Being able to generate credibility by speaking with confidence about what you’ve achieved is how investors eventually trust you with their money. So how can you organize your thoughts so you generate the most credibility?
Lead with your point instead of burying it, and use clear, direct language. For example, “I’m most proud of my work at X company where I led a team of XX to increase revenue by XX%.” Then go on to back up your point with supporting details or a quick story. Finally, restate your point at the end so they remember it.
“Saying your main point with enthusiasm and passion makes the audience more likely to say ‘Oh, wow, she did that. I feel like she could do this too,’” says Cvrtak.
The past achievements question is relevant because you want the investor to feel that you are a credible place to put money. Investors are wondering, “Do I trust this person to do what she says she’s going to do?” The way to develop that trust and credibility is to speak confidently about things that you have done in the past. Be ready to speak with confidence about your achievements.
“It’s about building trust and relationships,” says Cvrtak. “You have to understand that the first investments are on the potential of your ideas, not necessarily on facts. You’re trying to generate attraction.”
Show your passion to appear more confident
Passion and enthusiasm make you appear more confident. So how can you show your passion and enthusiasm, whether you’re speaking to an investor in person or online?
First, if you’re meeting online, make sure to stand up when you’re talking. Standing up energizes you. It also makes you more likely to use more gestures, which make you appear more confident and enthusiastic. If you’re meeting in person, it may not feel natural to stand up when talking if the other person is sitting down. But keep in mind that engaging your core by standing up will always give you more energy and will make you appear more confident—even if you don’t feel that way!
Second, make eye contact. This is easier when you’re in person, but not that hard to do online if you practice. Making eye contact online means staring at the black hole of your computer’s camera. It can feel awkward, but if you get used to doing this you’ll be able to make a deeper connection with the person on the other side of the screen.
You can train yourself to make eye contact when online by drawing an arrow on a sticky note and putting it next to your camera lens. A good rule is to spend 60 percent of your time looking into the camera lens, and the other 40 percent of the time looking at your computer screen to gauge how your audience is responding to what you’re saying. You always want to be looking more at your camera lens than at your screen, especially when you’re telling a story or delivering a key point.
Finally, show what you’re feeling. If you show up with very little enthusiasm for what you’re pitching, your audience is not going to be enthusiastic about your idea either. You have to lead the way by showing your passion. It’s the same concept as “smile and the world smiles with you.”
“It’s so important to sparkle so that you catch attention with your pitch,” says Cvrtak.
“You want them to remember you after the pitch because most of the time you’re not pitching alone; there are often six to ten founders pitching in a row at an event.” And investors have several calls per day with new founders looking for funding. Your passion and enthusiasm have to stand out so that your memory lingers longer after the meeting is over.
Keep in mind that whatever you’re feeling, whatever you’re projecting, your audience is going to feel that. So don’t be afraid to show your excitement. That’s what brings others along on the journey with you and gets you closer to the investment you’re looking for.
What have you noticed about pitching as a female founder? Drop your answers or questions in the comments.
Watch the full interview with Antonella Cvrtak here.
If you struggle with communicating for impact, or just want to master this skill set so you can be more visible as a leader, check out our women’s group coaching cohorts.