Presentations

The Will to Prepare

“The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital”

Grete Waitz

File this article under your should but don’t file, as in “things I know I should do but don’t do enough of.”

Rehearsal is one of the most important—and most-often-skipped—activities in all of executive sales presentations.

It’s most often skipped for three reasons. The first reason I hear is also the least valid: you don’t have time. Your time in front of high-level decision makers is the most highly leveraged use of your time that you can have. As bank robber Willie Sutton said when asked why he robbed banks: “Because that’s where the money is.” If you don’t have time to make sure you’re at your best, when you go where the money is, how do you find time for all the other things you do in your work life?

The second reason is complacency. Maybe it’s an established customer that has been with you for a while, or you think your offer is so good that it can’t fail. Trust me, it can. No matter how strongly positioned you think you are, a little healthy paranoia never hurt any sales professional. Especially in these times, if you feel secure with your account, you probably don’t see the huge target painted on your back. Your competitors just might be working harder than you are. Plus, your customer can smell complacency and does not like the odor.

The third reason is that you think you’re better on your feet. You haven’t gotten to where you are by being slow on the uptake; you know you can do well in unscripted situations. You may actually be right: you can do well in unscripted situations. But you can always do better when you have planned and rehearsed.

Things always sound better in your head. Until you’ve actually said something out loud, you just don’t know for sure how it’s going to sound, and how it’s going to come across to your listeners.

Besides, if you don’t care enough to practice, why should they care enough to listen?

It takes effort to make it look effortless

The best presenters put in tremendous effort to make it look effortless. Steve Jobs was a master presenter, and such was his effect on audiences that he could probably read the phone book for fifteen minutes and get a standing ovation. Yet every one of his presentations was the result of weeks of arduous work and meticulous planning by “scores of people”, as described in this article by Mike Evangelist. Jobs would typically begin rehearsing two days before. The first day would be relatively informal, with Jobs testing various approaches. The day before the presentation would have at least one and often two full dress rehearsals.

In a sense, Jobs’ presentations were like his product designs, exquisitely easy to use because of the complexity underneath.

Of course, your sales presentations probably won’t move the stock market to the tune of several billion dollars, but I’ll bet they’re pretty important to you. If you do take this advice, here are some tips to get the most out of your rehearsal time.

Rehearsal tips

When you do rehearse, try to make it as close as possible to the real thing. If you know what type of room you will be presenting in, try to find something similar. If you can recruit listeners for your rehearsal, so much the better. Assign them specific roles to play, such as decision-maker, technical buyer, etc. A lot of salespeople find it more stressful to present to their peers than to their customers, so a side benefit is that the real thing will seem like a breeze.

Begin rehearsals early. You may find out that there is a gap in your presentation or a need for additional information, and it gives you time to make adjustments.

If you really want to go the extra mile in your rehearsal, try giving your presentation at least once without slides. It won’t be perfect, but it will either give you the confidence of knowing your material or it will expose areas where you might need to learn it better.

As painful as the prospect seems, you should also videotape your rehearsal and then look at it. Outside feedback is very important, but sometimes you need to see and hear yourself in action to make the necessary improvements.

It’s not a question of taking the time away from work to rehearse; as actor Donald Pleasence said: “All the real work is done in the rehearsal period.”

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