But if you’re not comfortable with “almost” bulletproof, here are four simple practices that will strengthen your presentation even more:
Talk to the people you’d rather avoid
There’s an old saying: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” which applies in the case of an important presentation to a client. In mapping the decision process for your sales opportunity, you probably have identified opponents or blockers. It’s human nature to shy away from those people and spend more time with your coaches and champions. Yet some of the most profitable time I have ever spent in preparing for strategic presentations has been in talking to those most opposed to my proposal. I say something like, “I understand you have some concerns about my proposal; I’d like to take a few minutes to understand your perspective so that I can do what I can to accommodate your needs.”
The important thing in that conversation is not to try to argue with them or change their minds; it’s simply to understand. You have nothing to lose by doing this, and you can often gain information and respect.
Present to a red team, a group of your peers specifically formed listen to your presentation and think of the toughest questions they can think of, as if they work for the customer. Tell them to interrupt you if they hear an opportunity to poke holes in your presentation. Visualize your toughest competitor being in the room when you present, whispering questions into the ear of the customer.
Question your answers
If you’ve gone through these steps, you’ve done about as much as anyone possibly can to anticipate the toughest questions you may get. It should go without saying that the next step is to write down your answers. But that’s where most people stop.
The reality is that your answers are only going to provide fresh material for really skeptical audience members to attack you even further, so you need to think a step ahead. Assuming you hit them with your carefully crafted response—what would be their follow up question to that?
Expect the unexpected
I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but it simply means that you should accept the fact that the combined imagination of your audience will often trump your best efforts to anticipate their questions. Don’t freak out when something comes up that you haven’t prepared for. If you’ve effectively answered the bulk of their questions, you can build up a cushion of credibility that will help you withstand the occasional glitch.