Making Audiences More Receptive to Your Message
by Thomas Freese
I don't teach presentation skills like voice inflection, gesturing, or how to utilize visual aids in front of an audience. That doesn't mean presentation skills aren't important. They are! But so is another aspect of the sales presentation that nobody talks about, which is how to make your presentation audience more receptive to your message.
Too often, we assume that just because someone sits through a sales presentation means they are ready to listen to our ideas. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Key decision-makers in large corporate accounts have lots of things on their minds, and if you don't do something to secure their attention at the beginning of your presentation, then it doesn't matter how powerful your message is. Moreover, buyers in general are naturally skeptical...in which case, sellers inherit all the negative biases that prospective buyers have formed as the result of having sat through countless other sales presentations.
In addition to making sure the right people attend your sales presentations, you also want them to listen attentively. That's why I teach salespeople to break the ice at the beginning of their sales presentations, using an introductory technique that will pave the way for a much more successful event.
It's simple really. With smaller audiences (like in a one-on-one meeting, or one-on-two), some casual chit-chat usually opens the meeting, followed by some introductory comments, and then you get down to business. During this introductory period, I always make it a point to thank the prospect for their time. This is not an earth-shattering new strategy on my part, just something that's respectful and polite.
Then, I summarize by reviewing what brought us to this point. "Terry," I might begin, "we had some initial conversation a couple of weeks ago, and based on your upcoming projects, we thought it would be valuable to sit down and review some solution alternatives." Then, I add, "I've done some homework in advance of this meeting, and put together some ideas to review with you. But before I just start tossing out ideas, can I first ask: 'What would YOU like to accomplish in this meeting?'"
Most prospects and customers appreciate when you ask for input before just proceeding with your own agenda in the meeting. This simple technique of asking for their involvement will instantly increase the effectiveness of a smaller presentation.
With more formal presentations, I use a similar technique. But to avoid losing control of the meeting, I recommend a slightly different strategy.
First, with larger audiences, it's important to be introduced by someone from the client company, usually the person who scheduled the meeting. A well-executed introduction can significantly enhance your credibility, and the person who set up the meeting has a built-in incentive to make you look good. With a little advance coaching, they can sound like one of your best references. But don't leave this to chance. If your contact in the account doesn't offer, ask them (in advance), "Do you mind kicking the meeting off with a brief introduction to make sure everyone knows why I'm here?"
Besides introducing you as the presenter, ask them (in advance) to introduce the audience as well. Unless the size of the presentation audience is unusually large, having someone (other than you) go around the room and attach names to faces offers a number of strategic advantages. In addition to familiarizing you with the group, this type of interaction at the beginning of a sales presentation is likely to yield some valuable information about who key decision makers are, as well as influencers or potential adversaries. If you pay close attention, some of the politics that will affect the purchase decision will be revealed during the pre-presentation banter.
After introductions, some sellers open with a joke or a funny story. Others choose a more serious approach and focus on the issue at hand. Me, I prefer an interactive approach.
I always start by thanking the audience for their time (very similar to how I open smaller meetings). Next, I re-introduce myself and briefly summarize the events that led to this meeting, when possible, referencing conversations I've had with key people in the account to let the audience know I'm familiar with their business. Then, I make it a point to try and create an interactive environment for my presentation. I do this by saying:
"There are a couple options for this type of presentation. One is for me to just deliver the standard corporate sales presentation, talking about all the wonderful things our product or service does. The other option is to set aside the standard pitch and have a more in-depth conversation about how our product would impact your specific environment."
"So, rather than just starting down a pre-set path for this meeting, let me throw it out to the group... would you rather I stay generic...or get specific?"
Invariably, someone in the audience will say, "Let's get specific." Meanwhile, everyone else in your presentation audience will breathe a sigh of relief, thinking, "Great! Thank you for not just giving us another corporate sales pitch!"
Creating an interactive setting for your sales presentation is one of the great secrets of great presenters. If you involve the audience early, you will be surprised how much more receptive people will become. After all, isn't it true that the most successful sales presentations are not just a one-way monologue, but rather, a mutual exchange of ideas?
Once the audience agrees that they do want to "get specific," you step into a very different role in the presentation. Rather than just blasting them with a barrage of information, you earn the right to ask some "specific" questions about their business. This gives you a wonderful opportunity to establish credibility, uncover needs, and create a powerful backdrop for the messages you are about to deliver.
Thomas Freese is the president of QBS Research and author of Secrets of Question Based Selling.
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