In Part 2 of this series we compared planning for a team presentation to the way that aircraft manufacturers put together an aircraft from its major subassemblies. But even when everything fits together just right, when Boeing put together the first 787, they didn’t assume their computerized plans were perfect. They had to test fly the aircraft before they could put passengers on it. You should treat an important team presentation with equal care.
Practice is even more critical to a team presentation’s success than an individual one, because all the parts have to work together, and there is no substitute for hearing and seeing it for real.
The rehearsal process is absolutely critical and must be managed with care. Here are some other practical tips that can go a long way toward creating an exceptional presentation:
Plan transitions and handoffs. There are two ways to handle this. The team leader can act as a Master of Ceremonies and handle all of the transitions. The advantage is that only one person needs to practice the transitions. Or, each individual speaker can introduce the following speaker, which means that you have fewer moving parts and it looks a little less choppy.
Plan what-ifs. An old military dictum is that no plan survives first contact with the enemy, and the same applies to sales presentations. The customer will always have a vote in how the presentation flows. It’s important for the team to have flexibility built in, and for the team leader to follow the conversation closely and make adjustments as necessary.
Present in conditions as close to realistic as possible. It will make presenters more comfortable by making the actual scene much more familiar. It will also help to identify peculiarities of the venue that might interfere with some of the choreography of the presentation, such as where people sit when not presenting.
Videotape and review. There’s no substitute for everyone seeing themselves performing individually and for the team to get a sense of how the entire presentation flows. It builds in safeguards against Murphy’s Law. When everyone knows who will be saying what, they are in a better position to step in and assist in case someone is detained and can’t make the meeting on time, or someone has a momentary brain freeze and forgets a part or can’t answer a question.
There is a tendency among many sales teams to bring more people to team presentations than necessary. It’s understandable, because it seems it would demonstrate your depth of resources, and because you might need a specialist to answer a question about some esoteric aspect of the offering. Yet my interviews with top executives indicate that it can actually backfire.
One of the most common “don’ts” that came out of the interviews was not to bring more people than necessary. Also, make sure that the people you do bring have a clear reason for being there. Of course, that’s not always possible, because there is definite value in bringing people just in case a specialized topic comes up, but in that case it’s a good idea to explain that up front.
Make it a true team presentation; don’t have one person do 90% of the talking.
If you bring in one of your own senior level people, you have the delicate task of convincing that person to hold his or her ego in check. What does that mean? Make sure they know their role in the presentation and don’t free-lance. Don’t let them go on too long. Coach them to ensure that they deflect most questions to you; otherwise they will undercut your own authority and accountability and the client will be confused about whom to turn to when they have an issue.
It’s also possible to err on the other side, and expect the senior person to carry too much of the load. One senior executive complained to me that his account managers seem to think that he can work some sort of magic just because of his rank. If it’s your account, it’s up to you to manage the process, set expectations, and use your senior management properly, as you would any other asset.
Most importantly, make sure you and they are on the same page. An IT VP at a large technology firm told me about a presentation involving a professional services outsourcing firm. During the sales process, he had asked the account manager if his company would agree to letting his company hire any of its employees that they were impressed with, something that most of these firms avoid. The account manager said that, absolutely they could do that; in fact, that was a strategic direction they were considering. When the company’s C-Level executive flew in for a meeting, that was the second question the VP asked. The response he got from the executive was, “Hell, no. Why would we do that?”
Get agreement on the agenda and who will handle each part, ensuring a proper balance of talk time.
Transitions are important to maintain a smooth flow and keep people engaged in the forward progress of the meeting.
The person handing off should tee up the next presenter by giving a brief explanation of how their topic follows. For example, you could say,
“You have very ambitious goals for your business in the next couple of years. Effective execution of your key business processes is going to be critical, and our next topic will address how we are enabling some industry-leading applications…”
After a speaker has finished, it’s a nice practice to do a brief summary of what they said and tie it into the principal theme of the meeting.
During their turn, each speaker should include links and references to what other speakers have said or are about to say.
Stay on top of the time. It helps to have one person designated to keep a close eye on time and have subtle signals arranged if things are going off track, such as an unobtrusive tap on the watch or the wrist.
It’s a good idea to ensure that presentations are not designed to fill every minute they have available on the agenda. Since it’s your goal to have a dialogue, there has to be enough time built in to allow for questions and necessary digressions. Sometimes digressions from prepared material are welcome, especially when ideas come up that point to potential customer needs.
Adjusting: No plan ever goes off exactly as laid out on paper. You need to be prepared to adjust the agenda based on what the customer says and how they react to various topics. Presenters must be prepared to cut back on their presentation time, for example, or to step up and speak extemporaneously on an unexpected topic.
What to do when you’re not presenting: One of the easiest traps to fall into in a team presentation is for people who are not speaking to pay as close attention to the current speaker as if they are hearing it for the first time. Even though you’ve heard it many times before, if you tune out, others will. Other audience members will take cues from you, so act interested. In his book, Perfect Pitch, Jon Steel tells how his firm won a large contract because, as the client told him, “Each of you seemed to enjoy what your colleagues were saying as much as I did.” The competitor’s presenters, on the other hand, were studying their notes for their next part and even rolling their eyes at some parts.
Of course, another practical reason to pay attention is that a question might come up during the presentation that the speaker will send your way to answer. If your mind is wandering, it can feel like you’re on an awfully lonely island when you have to ask your customer to repeat the question.