Slipping Up

Here’s the text of an article written (yes, by me!) for the Institute of Sales and Marketing; ten years ago! Sadly the pictures didn’t copy over and I had to amend a bit of formatting to make it readable here, and I stand by the same points I made a decade ago … funny how things (and people) don’t change isn’t it?

Sales & Marketing Professional July/August 2003

Slipping up

Trying to perfect a flawless presentation can result in disaster, claims Andy Rudge

“It’s far better to design your presentation with yourself in mind, since you are the one who’s going to deliver it, and your performance matters”

Have you ever given a sales presentation that felt horrible when you made it and failed to get the business you were aiming for? Most salespeople have at some time or other. You may want to know what went wrong and how to avoid experiencing it again. There are three main reasons why this happens:

● You are not being yourself

● You are giving the presentation purely for the audience

● You fail to perform on the day.

Just in case you were wondering who’s responsible, it’s you! The good news is you could be termed ‘response- able’. That means you can deliver presentations that are entertaining to watch, fun to give and effective – presentations that win business!

Be yourself

What if they don’t like you? That’s a good question, but here’s a better one: What if you try really hard to be someone else and they do like you… how long can you hold the pretence? As with speaking on the telephone, some sales professionals adopt a different personality when presenting. It’s usually a compensation for the nerves they are feeling when standing in front of a group. Their breathing is shallow, their diaphragm tightens and their voice rises by three octaves!

If you doubt the value of working at being yourself, ask this… when was the last time you saw a convincing acceptance speech by an actor? These people are the pinnacle of being someone else – they earn a tremendous amount of money doing it, but just look at how badly they come across when they have to be themselves! If you try to act during your presentations, there is nothing that will make you look any less pained!

Think of number one

There’s a good chance that you picked up a bad habit from your last presenting skills course: design for the audience, because they are the only ones that matter. Not true! There are two good reasons to avoid this trap. Firstly, you can go to extreme lengths to discover just whom the people are you’ll be presenting to, and then turn up to find additions, deletions and substitutions to the buying team you were completely unaware of. That hurts, because it throws you off-track even before you start talking. Secondly, if you focus too hard on the recipients of the message, the message itself gets diluted and confused. It’s far better to design your presentation with yourself in mind, since you are the one who’s going to deliver it, and your performance matters.

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Stand out from the crowd

I like people who put summaries in an article. I tend to read these first, and then consider the rest of the article if I like it!

  1. Presenting successfully, feeling good when you do it, looking and sounding confident in front of your audience and, ultimately, winning the business is a science, not a consequence of luck
  2. Apply yourself to the necessary disciplines and you will achieve your objectives. Ignore such requirements and you will fail
  3. Remember – there’s no shortage of deadpan, boring and unimaginative presentations being delivered every day. It is not obligatory to add to them and cause your audiences to suffer the unnecessary pain and anguish created by your quest to be terminally professional
  4. Be different… get remembered for the right reasons and win the business!

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You’ve heard it before, but people buy people. Before you shout cliché and switch off, please think about these words for a moment. It may be a cliché, but it’s true! What fascinates me is the number of sales professionals who know that personality is vital, but then act like it’s not. Instead, they focus all their attention on the minutiae, forgetting the real purpose of the presentation they are going to give.

Knowledge of your intended audience is important, and it must not be overlooked, but do not give it such precedence that you ignore yourself and your own talents and abilities. If you do, you’ll end up trying to please everybody, and you will be doomed to fail!

One final tip to keep you sane – I have delivered presentations to boards of directors that were a complete waste of my time. Why? They were just ‘going through the motions’ of pretending to be interested. All they were looking to verify was that their chosen bidder had considered all of the elements necessary, and there was nothing on offer that had been excluded in their favoured bid. When this happens, and you’ve invested a great amount of time, energy and help from your colleagues to prepare and deliver your presentation, the disappointment hits you even harder. If you tweak a well-prepared and well-practiced talk to suit the audience, and then discover you’ve been duped, it’s still not nice, but it’s less painful and you recover quicker!

Do it well

Yes – do it well or don’t do it at all. If there’s one trait more annoying than the bumbling amateur standing up and reading PowerPoint bullets to an audience, I have yet to find it. If you are just not happy about giving a particular presentation, get out of it… let someone else have a go. If you ever find yourself in an audience and want to spot one of these bumbling amateurs, listen for the phrase: “I’ve been asked to give a presentation…” or similar sometime in the first 20 seconds. If that happens and you are near a door, get out while you can!

It’s undeniable… your performance is a major factor in the decision process that will follow your sales presentation. Try too hard to be word perfect, though, and you’ll look desperate, which is worse than being awful. If you really must insist on a 100 per cent choreographed occasion, why not remove any doubt in your prospects’ minds by writing ‘desperate’ on your forehead before you start? If nothing else it will get a laugh.

If you are going to be successful, remember that the technical detail of your product or service is not what a presentation is for. There’s a school that thinks it is, but I say they are wrong. If you’re not sure, think back to the last ‘very technical’ presentation you saw that really impressed you – if you can recall one – and try to remember any of the technical data you were given. This may well be a hard task!

Confidence is as essential as it is obvious. It has a habit of being infectious, as does the lack of it. Confidence comes from two things – a firm belief in what you are saying and practising the delivery of your message over and over again. Use a preparation ratio of 4:1, spending at least four times the length of your talk practising it. It’s incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to appear poised when are trying to construct and deliver a presentation there and then.

Recall the presenters and the presentations that have made a positive impression on you. Write down what you noticed and what you still remember about them. Pick your top three for style and your top three for content, and then use them as a model to build your own presentations. Remember the five P’s for pucker presentations: Purpose – Poise – Passion – Planning – Practice, and you won’t go far wrong!