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Good-looking men give more convincing business presentations, while a woman’s physical appearance has no impact on how her pitch is received, according to a study by researchers at Harvard University.
For the study, 60 experienced investors were asked to view recordings of business pitches by entrepreneurs from various sectors.
The men deemed good looking consistently had more positive reactions to pitches than their averagely attractive counterparts, whereas for attractive women there was no difference in feedback.
Dr Alison Brooks, of Harvard Business School, said that “the power of male attractiveness to persuade evaluators to select one pitch over another” showed good looking entrepreneurs were more likely to get ahead in their chosen field.
But Harry Key, a speech coach and author based in the UK, says it is unlikely that the men’s good looks in themselves were winning over potential investors.
“Good looking men generally give better presentations because they are more confident,” he says. “It’s a no-brainer that people prefer to look at attractive people, but that’s not enough to win a pitch.
“There’s also the ‘halo effect’ where people tend to group together positive attributes; you see that someone’s good looking and on some level you assume on some level they’ll be smart and thoughtful as well.”
So why is it only with men that this makes a difference? Are attractive women not as confident with it?
Key has a depressing suggestion to explain results of the study: “I do coaching with a lot of start-up owners, and I have heard men say ‘I don’t want to hire women because you never know when they are going to want kids, and I can’t afford to lose any member of staff’.
“So that’s something that might be continuously in these investors' minds, even if they’re not consciously thinking about it when giving feedback.”
Branding expert Mark Borkowski has another idea about why attractive women might be taken less seriously.
“We’ve been fed this idea by the media that an attractive man has hidden depths,” he says. “But because of the glamour and fashion industries there’s the assumption that if a woman’s beautiful she won’t be intellectual.”
He adds of the study in general: "I think it's true that people are increasingly being attracted by youthful exuberance. If we fall into this trap we're going to miss out on some of the brightest and most creative brains."
Commentators also suggest the study’s findings might be less true of business culture in the UK than America. Key, for example, says he encourages his British clients to be funny rather than slickly confident.
“Being attractive doesn’t help you make the audience laugh or engage with them, which is important for people in the UK. In America presentations tend to be more flashy and like a commercial.”
John Rockley, a presentation and media consultant, agrees that American audiences tend to be more focussed on appearance than British ones.
“In the UK, if someone’s speaking with confidence then people are willing to listen. In America, they’re much more used to having very polished news anchors and media experts, so how someone looks might be more of an issue.”
But Rockley agrees that good looks are still an advantage for a man in business anywhere in the world. If that’s the case, then, what can the averagely attractive do to make up for it?
“Work harder and prepare more,” he says.