Sales presentations: Understatement makes a great big statement

litotes

“Brits aren’t the most uncivilised people in the World.”

By Peter Watts

Imagine you’re at a cultural event where representatives of national travel agencies are pitching their various tourism opportunities. How would you react when you heard that British sales statement?

A big chunk of the audience would respond with a mental process something like this:

 “Well of course you’re not uncivilized…..   There are lots of nations way more uncivilised than you…….   In fact, now I think of it, you’re really way up there towards the top league when it comes to being civilised. …….   And just to prove it, look at how wonderfully self-deprecating you are, you fabulously civilised little nation you!”

Now let’s consider another representative, only this one uses phrases such as “We’re the biggest….” or “We’re the best….” or “We’re the greatest……”.

The typical audience response to these great big claims?  An unspoken but instant view of “No you’re not!” This response may also be followed by one of the many local epithets of disdain that give language such tremendous colour.

It’s a challenge faced by sales presenters. You need to establish credibility for yourself and your product, but big-claims make the presenter sound bigheaded and audiences don’t like a bighead.

There is a solution. It’s a classical speech form called Litotes, which is used for dealing with exactly this problem. The heart of the technique is to express greatness by using a double negative such as “not unattractive”. It’s a global technique found in languages as diverse as English, Dutch, Italian, and Chinese.

Here are some examples of Litotes forms that you might use in a sales presentation:

Litotes sales statement:

Perceived by customer as:

“We’re not the smallest X in the business”

“We are the largest X in the business”

“We are not unrecognized for X”

“We’re award winning for X”

“We’re not unfamiliar with X”

“We have an intimate knowledge of X”

“It’s not unknown for X to be said about us.”

“X is said about us. You’re going to be saying it too!”

Litotes enable you to shout to the rooftops about your product’s major strengths, and do so without risking arrogance.

In terms of sales presentation structure, this isn’t a technique to either lead with or finish on. In those two prime locations you want big bold statements, whereas litotes is a guided missile of an understatement.  Use it during the middle sections of a pitch.

In this position the litotes appearance of self-deprecating modesty will keep your product’s credibility and your own personal likability warmly bubbling in the mind of the audience.

Review: “HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations” by Nancy Duarte

nancy

Precision coaching for all presenters

By Peter Watts

Nancy Duarte’s Guide to Persuasive Presentations is a concise primer to the skills of presenting, from planning your pitch through to polished delivery.

Of particular value are the sections on how to put together high quality visuals. Some of the book’s best sound-bites are found when Duarte discusses how to create slides that work for an audience, and since reading that section I’ve found myself looking out far more in my own work for the “visual cliches” that Duarte warns about.

This focus on visual layout gives the book a cross-over to the world of blogging because if you are a presenter who also blogs, you’ll find ideas about the use of layouts, diagrams, and imagery. All valuable for an appealing web-page.

This brings us neatly to the topic of social media, and another strength of the HBR Guide. The book brings presenting right into the present day with topics about how you can blend social media resources such as Twitter into presentations, and how to make the maximum use of web-based backchannel communications.

Nancy Duarte is incredibly generous with how she shares the stage. Every chapter contains references to subject matter experts from multiple fields, and advises different books you might like to try out. Backchannel communications for example, is a relatively new topic for me, and right there on the same page that Duarte introduces the topic, she accompanies it with a recommended author from whom you can find out more.

Now for the confession: This wasn’t the Nancy Duarte book that I initially wanted to review. My target was her recent and much-discussed book “Resonate”, but sitting at London’s Heathrow Airport and trying to buy a copy for my Nook e-reader, I discovered that Duarte’s electronic coverage is surprisingly patchy.

The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations is the only Duarte title Barnes & Noble have in e-book format, while Amazon do slightly better; they have the HBR guide and “Slideology” available for Kindle. No trace of Resonate at this stage however.

Still, having chosen to go with the HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations as my first trip into the writing of Nancy Duarte, I’m pleased that I did. The guide gets full marks as an all round primer, with specific focus on presentation visuals. It also deserves a place on a virtual bookshelf due to it’s generosity as a resource guide to additional subject matter experts. Finally, it gets fullest marks for it’s brevity. Brilliantly concise.

Now on the look-out for “Resonate” as an e-book!

UPDATE: March 26th

Resonate on the iPad

It turns out that Resonate is available on the iPad. Thank you Nancy for dropping by the blog to share. First look is deeply impressive, and a full review will be coming shortly.

Sales presentation strategy

By Peter Watts

What is your primary goal in making a sales presentation? It’s to sell something.

So why do so many sales-presenters try to conceal the fact? You might be amongst them. Do your sales presentations open with phrases such as:

  • “Your success is important, and we’re going to look at how our products can help you be even more successful.”
  • “We’ve helped many organizations achieve benefits, and in this presentation we’ll explore how we could help you to do the same”
  • “The purpose of this presentation is to demonstrate how our products offer you the best value solution.”

All commendable sentiments, but also great big honking fibs!

A lot of salespeople, especially the salespeople with the really big impressive job titles such as “Senior Strategic Account Director” or some other business-card hokum, have internalized the message that selling is just a little bit dirty. To be after the customer’s cash is sleazy and liable to make them doubt your credibility.

Actually no. If you want to make the audience doubt your credibility then attempting to conceal the primary purpose of your presentation is a far better place to start!

You’re there to sell and the customer is there to buy.

It’s actually two highly compatible agendas.

Within public speaking there is a topic called ethos, and this is all about credibility. As public speaking expert Andrew Dlugan explains, ethos is everything you include in a presentation to show that you are credible in your subject, trustworthy as a speaker, and compatible with the audience viewpoint.

There are things that you can do throughout the sections of a presentation to build-up your ethos as a speaker, but nowhere is ethos more important than the section right at the beginning. This is where the audience asks themselves: “Can we trust this person?”

If you’ve just started your presentation with a sweet sounding but rather transparent fib about your primary purpose, then what do you think you just did to your ethos level?

You avoided any words to do with sales because you didn’t want to sound sleazy, but instead you’ve made yourself sound evasive. And sleazy!

Here are some ideas for professional ways to tell the customer that you’re interested in the colour of their money:

  • “I would love to be able to welcome you as a customer.”
  • “I would be delighted to have your business.”
  • “I want to demonstrate how buying our product will meet your goals.”

All of these statements say “I want your business”, and all of these statements start with the first person “I”. This is important. It’s you that’s standing in front of the customer, and you that is asking them to believe the words that are about to come. Even if you are representing a larger organization, using the word “I” gives meat and ownership to those words.

Now for the little bit of blog-magic. Take any of those three phrases in red, and stick them in front of  any of the three earlier phrases in blue. The result sounds a lot stronger doesn’t it.

By being upfront, you create transparency. Transparency creates trust. Trust creates credibility.

Credibility creates a winning sales presentation.

Visited by Captain Chaos? Resistance is futile

slip-up

Dealing with the Unexpected? Go with the flow

By Peter Watts

Shit happens.

Two little words that while vaguely profane, sum up most of the misfortunes that befall and befuddle presenters.

I don’t normally advocate dwelling on the nature of what can go wrong, but for the purposes of this post, it would be helpful.

  • The audience could be scarily bigger or depressingly smaller than expected
  • The venue could have a sub-optimal or non-negotiable room layout
  • The main target for your presentation could walk in 15 minutes late or have to leave 15 minutes early
  • And don’t even get me started on what can go wrong with the technology!

Thoroughly plan and prepare your presentation by all means. It’s essential. Only a fool walks onto a stage unprepared. At the same time though, when the circumstances around you unexpectedly change and Captain Chaos flies across the room, be ready to embrace your own inner Captain Chaos and improvise like a pro.

Planning and preparation is a life-jacket not a strait-jacket. When your presentation has to make an emergency landing on water, that life-jacket of preparation acts purely as a buoyancy aid to keep you afloat. You then have a choice; lamely bob up and down in the tide or use the power of free will to pick a new direction in which to paddle.

Stay loose and start paddling and you’ll survive.

One of the best presentations I ever had the privilege to witness was from the Chief Operating Officer of a major multinational brand. Known for his clinically organised and analytically thorough presentations, precision and planning were his watchwords.  And then one day, a minute into a critical presentation, the bulb in the projector popped.

Hotel staff scurried in every direction, but a replacement bulb was nowhere to hand.

The presenter looked at the audience and uttered the same opening words that I used to open this blog. He then delivered one of the best presentations I have ever heard.

This incredibly senior, and incredibly organised gentleman had not been thrown off balance by Captain Chaos, but instead had cheerfully embraced him.

Control-freakery is a form of perfectionism, and perfectionism doesn’t belong in the realm of the presenter. Audiences are human and they respond to human and as we all know, humans are seldom perfect.

When Captain Chaos strikes, it’s your heaven-sent opportunity to shine.

Shit happens. Stay loose. Set a direction and start paddling.

The audience will love you for it.

Seasonal variation in presentation

Seasonal variation creates variation in your presenting

by Peter Watts

We’re hardwired to think in seasons. For our ancients ancestors, there was a time to plough, a time to plant, a time to reap, and a time to party round a fireside because outside the snow was deep and crisp and even.

Think of sport: Different seasons have their different games.

Think of religion: Different religions have their different holidays and festivals.

Think of food: There are certain foods that we just have to have to at certain times of the year.

We navigate our world by the seasons. Our world, that is, except for the world in which we make presentations. Presentations happen in a sterile land free of seasons. Free of individuality.

A world without seasons is a homogenous and decidedly unsexy world of grey.

Corporate style sheets and “standard presentations” are often a constraint on what we can do with presentations, but would it be too crazy to make ourselves distinctive by thinking about how we can incorporate the season into the show?

It could be as simple as including some seasonal metaphors into your speech, or if you are fortunate enough to have some control of those style sheets you could add seasonal color shifts to the slides. It doesn’t have to be a slash of bright pumpkin orange, unless of course, you want it to. Flavor and temperature could be added by shifting elements of the palette towards warmer colors in winter, and cooler shades in summer.

We think in seasons. How can you take advantage of that thought pattern to increase both the pleasure and the memorability of presentations?

Stories and social media; At the roots of success

My grocery-aisle encounter with a master of story-telling

by Peter Watts

My shopping list did not include a cardboard carton full of recycled coffee grounds, that if spritzed with the little water-spritzing thingy (included), would yield fresh crops of oyster mushrooms within 9 – 10 days.

Why did I just buy one?

Because somebody told me a story.

Meet Evan:

Evan accosted me as I raced around our local grocery store. After the briefest of product descriptions, he leapt into telling me the story of the company he works for. A company called Back To The Roots.

It was a story of entrepreneurship. Of being a young business with fierce environmental passion and community vision. It was a story that hit just about every button. Not only did Evan succeed in selling me my very own kitchen-counter mushroom kit, he captured my interest sufficiently to get me checking out the Back To The Roots website.

That website has links more intricate than a coffee bag full of mushrooms. Wherever you click there are elements to take your attention. Back To The Roots have designed a web hub that propagates their corporate story and vision across just about every Social Media engine you can think of.

Click here and there is a Facebook contest. Click there and you find yourself on Pinterest. Click someplace else and you’ll find yourself watching TV clips about the product or Video-Blogs from company staff, including their “Office Ninja” and their “Community Happyness Guru”.

Selling, presenting, and social media are all increasingly wrapped-up in each other and Back To The Roots are a case study in the perfect 21st century product pitch.

It’s about story telling and engagement; the ability of company representatives and product ambassadors to be compelling story-tellers in the flesh before handing-off to a Social Media backbone that is captivating enough to convert initial engagement into longterm followership.

An awesome story makes people want you to succeed.

Social media presenting sales

by Peter Watts

The fields of social media, sales, and public speaking, can all benefit when they work together.

If public speaking can be thought of as blending a fine champagne, then the art of crafting social media is more akin to producing a cognac, distilling your message into something intense and immediate.

  • It teaches us to think in compelling sound bites
  • It teaches us to think in headlines that capture attention
  • It teaches us to give a story legs, with reasons for the audience to send the story viral.
  • It makes us think about the story-boards behind that story. Where does the message fit with our communication goals? Are we being consistent in our voice?

Disciplines for effective social media are disciplines that equally apply to public speaking. They are also disciplines that are sometimes forgotten by presenters.

A course in social media skills would be valuable learning for many!

Public speaking meanwhile, has ideas to contribute to the world of social media. At the heart of powerful speaking are techniques of word-play passed down since the times of the Greeks and Romans. These techniques of rhythm and repetition, contrast and combination are as wonderful when written as when spoken.

The Romans referred to them as being “the hidden darts”. Their role in a message is to make language stand-out, locking into the mind of the recipient.

In his book “Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little“, Christopher Johnson details how we can bring these techniques to social media messages. He states:

“We need a rhetoric for the web age – a rhetoric of the micromessage.”

This rhetoric of the web age will eventually evolve by itself, but it can come about more quickly if public speaking practitioners and social media professionals increasingly join forces and share their skills.

The disciplines of public speaking and social media are intensely complimentary. At their heart, each have the same goal: to produce audience action through the vehicle of a message.

As Johnson continues:

“A message…is like a key that opens doors.”

Public speaking has been opening doors for millennia. By understanding and combining the skills of social media, we can now open doors further and wider than ever before.

Sales meanwhile, are never afraid to ask for the business. Professional sales people maintain sight of how the product fits to the customer’s needs, and through that understanding develop the unique customer insights that lead to value. They also understand that for every customer journey, there must be an end-point; the sale. It is through awareness of the sales discipline, that public speaking and commercial social media efforts can continually focus on their goal.

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Presentation books: The Pin Drop Principle

The Pin Drop Principle

David Lewis and G. Riley Mills

Published June 5th, 2012

by Peter Watts

“Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

It’s my favorite quotes from George Burns, and for “The Pin Drop Principle” it sums up both the book’s number one strength, and its number one weakness:

Strength:

The book is written from a strong acting and stage perspective, by two gentleman who clearly know their art, and how to apply it to business presentations.

The acting insights throughout the book serve a purpose, are relevant, and offer pointers and ideas.

Weakness:

In places the book does indeed seem to tell you how to fake not just honesty, but any number of different emotions. If you place emotional integrity near the heart of your delivery, then there are bits you’ll find yourself disagreeing with.

It’s also worth noting that this is a book based around a successful commercial training concept. The introduction is so laden with marketing plugs for that concept that I almost didn’t get past page ten.

I’m glad I did though, because the authors, David Lewis and G. Riley Mills, have good ideas to put across.

One of the founding concepts of The Pin Drop Principle is being aware not just of your objective in a presentation, but also your intention; the emotional impression that you want to bring to your delivery. Are you seeking to challenge? To involve? To calm? To warn? Even to manipulate?

If you think of a cliche grand actor wandering the stage during rehearsal demanding “Yes, but WHAT’S my motivation???” then you won’t be far off the general concept.

The book suggests identifying those motivations, or your intentions, and then demonstrates how you can put them front and centre of your public speaking.

If you have had some experience of presenting, and are looking for the next stage, this book will help you put the 3D of emotional intention into your delivery.

The authors also combine a couple of topics that many books leave out. There is a section on the inner workings of storytelling, an excellent section on the importance of listening as a presenter, and some strong insights into getting the best out of your voice.

Certain fundamental subjects however are under-represented. Controlling nerves is one, and the structure section is another. Both are short. It’s as if the authors had in mind a reader who had already gone through a basic training course. That’s why I would say this is not a book for the novice presenter.

If you have already had some professional training and plenty of real-time practice, then this is an ideal book to give you ideas for how to get to the next level.

For the experienced presenter there is something to be gained as well. I found the sections on intention, story-telling, and voice to be particularly interesting.

I’ve presented a couple of times since reading the book, and on each occasion found sections of it’s content staying with me. The concept of “intention” has led me to consider my daily deliveries from a different angle. Basic tips, such as remembering to protect the voice by drinking plenty of water, have also come as useful reminders for this coffee-addicted presenter.

For the final words, I return to George Burns and to a quote that the authors use in the book:

The secret to a good speech is…. “ to have a good beginning and a good ending, then having the two as close together as possible.”

Getting the beginning and the ending close together is something that Lewis and Mills do well. “The Pin Drop Principle” is a lean book, that is a quick read, and importantly, is available as an e-book.

For an experienced business person, looking for an easy-to-action evolution in their delivery style, “The Pin Drop Principle” is ideal.

Guest post: “Five key mistakes and three golden rules”

by Peter Watts

In the first guest-blog to appear on The Presenters’ Blog, it is my great pleasure to introduce Bill Grist, from Grist Communications.

Bill’s blog and Twitter feed flashes out bid-support guidance for those engaged in major sales, especially in the worlds of architecture and construction. Last week his blog featured a post called “Presentation Tips for Architects”

Bill’s article impressed on me that no matter how big, how small, how complex, or how simple your subject might be, the rules for effective public speaking are always the same.

Thank you Bill for allowing me to reproduce your post.

Ladies and Gentlemen, with great pleasure I give you:

Presentation Tips for Architects:
Five key mistakes, and three golden rules

Presentation nerves

Nine proven routes to calm and confident presenting

by Peter Watts

Beating presentation nerves can seem like a battle; a no-holds-barred FIGHT to overcome your fears. Bosses and colleagues, like drill sergeants, urge us from the trenches and up onto the no-mans land of the stage.

“You’re team needs you. Get out there soldier!”

This approach is completely wrong.

First point to be aware of: Presentation nerves can never be eliminated, and it would not be desirable to do so. Controlled nervous tension can promote excellence.

Second point to be aware of: The tangible bodily sensations that come with presentation nerves, can be easily managed if we understand the mechanics that create them.

That’s what this article will help you to do. I’m not going to tell you how to beat presentation nerves, because I believe that as a natural bodily reaction we should work with our jitters, not against them. When we focus on beating nerves we just drive them deeper into our psyches. Instead, we can understand them, and adopt simple measures that make presenting a significantly easier process.

Do any of the following affect you when presenting?

  • Tightness of breath
  • Rapid heart-rate
  • Sweating
  • Blushing
  • Cold or clammy hands
  • Trembling
  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Nausea
  • Tension headaches
  • Loss of concentration
  • Dry-throat
  • Scratchy voice
  • Low self-esteem

If yes, then within the following articles, you will find practical measures that work with your body to overcome those reactions. Each heading is a link. Simply click on it to review the associated article:

Breathing yourself calm

Sensations associated with presentation nerves are soothed by effective breathing. Find out how controlling your out-breathe lowers your heart rate to control sweating, blushing, trembling, blood-pressure, and nervous tension.

Calming the butterflies

Presentation nerves suppress appetite, so that when we approach a presentation we are more in need of food than we realize. As blood sugars collapse, our concentration collapses with them, and our stomachs develop those familiar butterfly wings.

Find out what to eat, what not to eat, and when to eat, in order to calm presentation butterflies

Dealing with dry mouth

Voice rapidly heading for a croak? Or afraid it might? In this post we solve the dry-mouth issue, and identify the best drinks to keep your voice flowing smoothly.

No sweat

Sweating can be an unpleasant presentation issue, and one we become acutely aware of.  Basic preventative measures help mitigate the problem.

Cold hands

Colds hands are a standard stress response. Find out why this is, and how something as simple as holding a warm cup can be an instant cure.

I think, therefore I am

How to control the messages we give ourselves before a presentation, to ensure we remain calm and in control during the presentation.

Puncturing perfectionism

Preparation is essential for presenting, but when we topple over into perfectionism, we create an impossible mountain to climb. This post discusses how to reduce those mountains back into molehills.

Taking the plunge

The first plunge can be the toughest. The more often you take it though, the easier it becomes. Repetition is the most sure-fire way to becoming a confident presenter.

Coaching yourself after a presentation

What happens after the presentation? How we coach ourselves once the event is finished will set up our confidence for next time. Find out how to be your own personal coach after every presentation.

Fear of public speaking is perfectly natural, and you are not alone in experiencing it. Indeed, some surveys have shown that for many people it isn’t just a fear, but their number one fear, and that’s why becoming a confident and competent public speaker is such a wonderful goal. If you can achieve this goal, then what other goals also become so much more achievable.

I believe public speaking is therefore a gateway activity. Once we prove to ourselves that we can successfully speak in public, we are empowered onwards to achieve so much more.

Enjoy all the articles linked from this blog, and if there are any areas of presentation nerves not dealt with here, that you might like help with, then please do post a comment.

It will be my pleasure to forward you the extra ideas that might help you forward into the highly rewarding world of presenting.

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