In researching and writing my new book, Strategic Sales Presentations, I interviewed dozens of senior executives, read hundreds of books and articles on selling, speaking and psychology, and drew on my own thirty years of selling and speaking experience. Despite all these numbers, just four themes kept showing up again and again.
Think from the customer’s point of view. You are not the star of the presentation; your listeners are. When you practice outside-in thinking, you start from the premise that the quality of the reception is more important than the elegance of the transmission. To paraphrase the late Stephen Covey: Begin with the listener in mind. What do they know and not know? What do they need? How do they like to receive information?
When you follow outside-in thinking, your presentations will be more about them and their business than about your products, you will make your listeners the hero of your stories, and you will listen more even as you speak.
Make sure you have solid content that is clearly thought-through. The old saying in sales, “sell the sizzle, not the steak”, only works if there is good quality meat behind the sizzle. Carrying the analogy further, master chefs make sure they have quality ingredients before they worry about the spices or the arrangement on the plate.
It’s true that people make decisions on emotion as well as logic, and it helps to have elements in your presentation that grab attention and forge an emotional connection, but the good feelings you engender may have worn off a week later when it comes time to make the decision. As John Adams said, facts are stubborn things.
Strategic sales presentations can be the most highly leveraged activities in sales. You owe it to yourself and your audience to be at your best. No matter how good you are at thinking on your feet, you can always be better with preparation. In fact, proper preparation can make you more creative, because when you prepare with plenty of time, it allows for things to marinate in your mind and spark new ideas.
Preparation means three things: doing the research and the positioning before the presentation to shape the conditions for success, rehearsing (especially for team presentations), and ongoing practice to get better and better.
The senior executives in your audience have each heard thousands of sales presentations, so they’ve developed highly sensitive BS detectors. Also, regardless of how important they are, they are still people, and they will respect and listen to someone who comes across as real.
A presentation is still a conversation between you and individuals in the audience. Audiences don’t make decisions, people in the audience do. That means less pontification and more conversation. Be yourself—at your best.