Sales presentation outline

by Peter Watts

Here are eight ideas for creating a sales presentation outline that targets your sales message onto this specific customer, in this specific moment.

No two customers are alike, so time spent customizing your outline will infinitely raise your chances of success.

1. Link to the sales cycle

What stage of their buying cycle is the customer currently in?

Early in the sales cycle: Address broad issues

If the customer is early in their buying cycle, and you haven’t yet had the opportunity to clarify their exact needs, then address your presentation towards how your product meets challenges encountered by customers in that industry.

Mid-point in the sales cycle: Targeted problems and pay-offs

By now you will have had meetings with the customer and understand their specific issues. Tie your presentation into how you specifically address those issues.

Late in the sales cycle: Reassurance

When the presentation is the final stage before the customer makes their decision, it becomes more about reassurance that you are the best vendor to go with. Focus onto evidence of other successful implementations and after-sales support.

2. Know your key message

As part of your preparation, ask yourself what would be the one thing that you want every audience member to be saying as they leave the room. Write that message down, and ensure it is no longer than the length of a standard Twitter message; 140 characters or less.

Link every slide that you use and every phrase that you speak directly back to that key message.

One of my golden rules for presenting is “Never underestimate the ability of an audience to completely miss the point!”, so don’t be afraid to repeat your key message. The more ways you can link it into the presentation, the more likely it is that the audience will lock onto it and remember.

3. Link product features to key message: Three at most

Many standard sales presentation decks come with slides that list key product features. These slides can be deadly for any presenter who attempts to read their way through those lists.

Know in advance which specific features on the slide relate to the key points that you want the customer to appreciate, and address those points alone. Ideally address just two features. Address three as an absolute maximum.

4. Get ready for objections

What is the sales objection that you least want to encounter during your presentation?

Anticipate that objection and prepare an answer for it in advance. If you can deal with that objection, then you can deal with anything!

5. Ask for the business

You are there to sell, so lead by telling the customer exactly that! Use phrases such as “I would very much like to be able to welcome you as a customer” in order to demonstrate that you want their business and are prepared to work for it.

6. Prepare a clean hand-over

How will you guarantee that all who attend are left with easy ways to follow-up with you, or even better, with easy ways for you to follow-up with them?

Ideally, obtain attendee contact details and then follow-up by phone or e-mail to invite additional questions. Start a discussion!

7. Keep it short

Many sales presentations go on far too long. This means that customers tune-out and the key information you want to communicate becomes drowned in a morass of slides and extraneous details.

Nobody was ever shot for a having a presentation that was too short. Many though have lost the deal by having presentations that were too long. Be brutal in editing your presentation to bring it down to the shortest time possible.

8. Stand-out by customizing

The common factor amongst sales presentations that fail to win the business is that they are all standard presentations; a standard company slide deck delivered rote because the sales person didn’t care enough to customize for the customer.

This presentation is possibly the first time that this prospective customer has encountered the service-levels of your company, and in this presentation moment, you are those service levels.

Every moment that you spend customizing your presentation outline to reflect that customer, their industry, and their needs, is time well spent. It is time that shows you care. It is time that shows the customer they can trust you. It is time that shows you want their business.

Auxesis and Meiosis. Because size matters

Presentation word choice impacts how customers perceive scale.

by Peter Watts

Will your customer be satisfied with the solution, happy with the solution, or delighted with the solution?

Is the cost involved for the project significant, reasonable, or modest?

We are creatures of size. Whenever something is described, our minds apply a level of scale, from small to large and onwards to gargantuan.

Effective sales presenters take control of that sizing process through their choice of words.

It’s all about your adjectives; the descriptive flavours in your speech.

Let’s take an example. Having had an accident slicing onions for the previous evening’s meal, you walk into the office with a dressing on your hand. A colleague asks you what happened. How do you describe the onion-slicing accident: Was it a nick? Was it a cut? Or was it a gash?

If you chose to use the word “nick” then you are making your injury appear smaller. The technical terms is meiosis. You are using smaller, less punchy words in order to intentionally downplay the significance. Your colleague smiles at you, and walks away.

If you choose the word “gash” however, then you are using the technique of auxesis. Dramatic adjectives make things appear bigger. Your colleague looks horrified and enquires about stitches and hospital visits.

Same injury, different descriptive terms, different audience reaction.

This process of scaling goes on in every human interaction. When presenting, there will be times that you consciously want to influence the direction of that scaling, towards either smaller or larger.

Next time you plan a sales presentation, take a moment to experiment with one or two new adjectives. When you want to make something stand-out in lights, look for a bigger, bolder adjective to do it with. When you want something to recede and appear smaller, use a quieter and more mouse-like adjective.

If you’re stuck for ideas, do a Google search for “adjectives”. There are endless lists out there on the web. Here’s two that I found:

Keep and Share

A good basic list of adjectives that has been divided into topics.

Daily Writing Tips

This website for writers has flashier options, including the fabulous “crapulous” (which contrary to my first instinct appears to mean “immoderate in appetite”). Be a little careful with some of the more unusual adjectives.

You want the audience seamlessly scaling, not reaching for a dictionary.

Sales arguments that build presentations

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by Peter Watts

At the core of a sales presentation are logical arguments that lay out why your product benefits the customer.

Those sales arguments need the force of mathematical logic.

1 + 2 = 3

The best way that I can demonstrate the two routes to achieving this sort of math-magic is by sharing with you the slogan from a TV commercial that I often hear when I’m traveling in the Middle East. It’s for a tax planning company. Their sales argument is:

“Successful SME’s value our tax advice,

If you’re a successful SME

You’ll want our tax advice today”

Approach #1: The syllogism

That argument above is in a structure called a syllogism. It works in three parts:

  • Premise 1: “Successful SME’s value our tax advice.”
  • Premise 2: “You’re a successful SME”
  • therefore Conclusion 3: “You’ll want our tax advice.”

1 + 2 = 3

Whenever I hear that commercial, I want to vault across my hotel room to change the channel. It grates on my every mental synapse. Why? Because the argument is so damned obvious. The sales message is being laid-on with a trowel and I resent being treated like a child.

That’s the problem with syllogisms. They attempt to do all the thinking for the customer, and in the process treat them as idiots.

Approach #2: The enthymeme

An enthymeme is a syllogism with a bit chopped-off. Rather than pureeing your sales argument in the liquidizer and then spoon-feeding it to the audience as if they were enfeebled, an enthymeme asks the audience to do a little of the chewing for themselves. Result: better digestion.

Let’s go back to the math:

1 + 2 = 3

Let’s say that entire sum represents a syllogism. It’s all laid out for you on the page.

Now I’m going to take away a number:

1 + ? = 3

Within moments you work out that ? = 2

That’s an enthymeme. The audience is invited to deduce the missing piece of the argument, and therefore to feel just that little bit clever about themselves!

How to apply this to sales-world?

Your first base, is to start with a full-scale syllogism. Imagine that your company is renowned for environmental business practice. You win prizes for it. The syllogism for the customer presentation might look a little like this:

Premise 1: “Responsible organizations see protecting the environment as important”

Premise 2: “You are a responsible organisation”

Conclusion 3: “Protecting the environment will be important to you.”

So far, so cheesy. Well, it’s a syllogism! 1 + 2 = 3

Now let’s create a sales presentation enthymeme by chopping out sections:

Enthymeme A: ? + 2 = 3

“As a responsible organization, protecting the environment will be important to you.”

Audience fills in the missing premise and concludes: “Responsible organizations seek to protect the environment”

Enthymeme B: 1 + ? = 3

“All responsible organisations seek to protect the environment. Protecting the environment will be important to you.”

Audience fills in the missing premise and flatteringly concludes: “We are a responsible organization.”

These little mini-structures might be sounding vaguely familiar to you. If they are then it’s because you’re recognizing the pattern from some of the better examples of television advertising. Advertisers who want to sell products recognize that by coding sales arguments as enthymemes, they are more likely to win over the audience.

That same coding will work for you. Sales presentation arguments are at their most persuasive when we invite the customer to be involved.

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.

For every risk, some praise

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When setting out as presenters, student need encouragement, not criticism

by Peter Watts

“a boy’s capacity may be dulled by too great strictness in correcting him. This, at first, gives him despondency, then pain, and at last aversion for study, and, which is worse of all, when he is afraid of everything, he attempts nothing; for, with his spirit, he loses all his power.”

These words were written 2000 years ago by the Roman orator and teacher, Quintilian. Requested by friends to write a training guide for young Roman noblemen, he commenced not by discussing rhetoric, but by examining the process of education itself.

Quintilian was not a fan of false praise. When a student failed, the master would let him know it. What strikes me in this passage however, is the awareness with which he also understood that hard criticism will, by stages, kill the desire to learn, and worst of all will kill the spirit that urges us to take risks and dare anything new in life.

He suggests that rather than criticise the student, it can be more useful to encourage the student to criticise someone else, by critiquing published speeches. Through picking out what was polished, beautiful, or powerful, they could find models of excellence with which to bolster their own speaking. By identifying what was verbose or ugly, the learner would see what should be avoided.

Through such a process of selection and rejection, along with time and application, the student would slowly develop a unique style of their own. This would only take place though, so long as overly harsh criticism hadn’t killed that spark of interest first.

Quintilian was writing specifically of the teacher/student relationship. I think we can also echo this to the relationship we have with ourselves. At whatever stage within a public speaking career we might be, we need to give ourselves permission to learn, and to experiment, and through that process to grow as presenters.

Overly harsh self-criticism shuts that process down and while keeping us safe from failure, also leads to decay, as skills decline through lack of challenge.

Give yourself permission to learn. Select a recent famous speech and study it. (There’s a fairly big one coming up next week that you might like to experiment on!) What do you admire? Choose something to emulate, and then try it out in your next presentation.

Having tried it out, review honestly how things went and then take time to praise yourself for trying something new.

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?

7 steps to beating presentation procrastination

Seven simple ideas to beat procrastination. Don’t read later. Read now!

by Peter Watts

Procrastination is putting off a task we don’t want to do today, so that it can become a task we want to do even less tomorrow. Creating the opportunity to speak in public for example.

Ask any accomplished presenter and they will say that the sure-fire way to becoming accomplished is to get out there and practice, as often as possible. Presentations seldom seek us out.  To win those opportunities we have to create them, and that’s often a task we feel we can safely shelve for another day.

The first step to beating procrastination is to recognize that WE are the only people standing in the way of making the future happen.

Once that step is taken, here is the plan for beating the procrastination cycle:

  • Break the challenge down into logical tasks; Task one, task two, task three, and so forth. Task one for example, might be creating a list of your possible opportunities to speak. Task two might be building a list of the people you need to contact. Create a road map of those steps, and set out on them one by one. Assign deadlines for when tasks will be accomplished.
  • Starting out on the task can feel like the hardest part. As the Chinese saying goes: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”  Take that first foot-step and you’ll find that the second becomes easier. Movement builds momentum.
  • Seek out a mentor, someone who understands your goals and would be willing to nudge and nag you towards success.
  • Schedule tasks for appropriate times of the day. For example, gathering materials or contact names might be something you can do in low-energy moments after lunch, while creative work is better done while you are fresh in the morning.
  • Set out the tools. I personally procrastinate about building PowerPoint presentations, but if a client wants me to supply one, then my first step is to simply open PowerPoint on my laptop. If I don’t do this, it’s amazing how many other things I’ll be able to find to do instead, such as checking email. Once PowerPoint is open though, I’ve started the task, and design time is more likely to follow.
  • Celebrate your successes along each step. Rewards are a great way to get yourself doing something you don’t want to do. What can you treat yourself to as a reward for getting each task done?

Procrastination is the force that holds us back. Beat procrastination, and wonderful things are free to happen.

New year, new clothes

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by Peter Watts

Guess what happens when old clothes are within easy reach.

We wear them.

Old clothes don’t look good on stage unless retro fundamentally links with our image, and then the clothes had better be retro, not merely old!

New Year pre-disposes us toward clearing stuff out. Out go the decorations. Out go those special holiday food items that yet again we bought and that yet again no one consumed. De-cluttering everything from the rooms to the refrigerator puts us into a new-broom mindset. De-cluttering invigorates. It releases space and energy for other things.

Carry the process right through to the closets and get rid of old clothes. If you haven’t worn an item for over a year then send it to the thrift store and take advantage of the new year sales to find a replacement.

When we are presenting it’s essential that we look the part. Before we have the chance to launch our opening line, the audience has already made their initial assessment based on how we look. This is where those old favorites hanging in the closet can become a danger.

Start the new year with an upgraded look and by donating those old clothes to charity.

Performing Arts Perform Inspiration

by Peter Watts

It might feel a little early for New Year resolutions, but here’s one I want to suggest right now:

During 2012, go enjoy one live performance arts event every month

This past weekend I attended the annual Hartford Symphony Christmas Pops concert, led for the first year by new conductor, Carolyn Kuan

While a small number of classical Christmas pieces were included, the majority of Kuan’s program choices were non-traditional. Hanukkah rhythms. Tchaikovsky re-arranged as big-band jazz. Choruses in Cantonese. A Rodetzky clapping frenzy personally conducted by the conductor herself. From beginning to end, it was an explosion of the seasonally unexpected. Kuan radically reengineered her audience’s expectations of a Christmas concert.

Shunning the formulaic produces magical results. When we break new ground there is an edge of risk that summons our full spirit to the task, and that spirit manifests as passion.

Don’t play it safe. Play it with passion.

In her book “The Artist’s Way”, Julia Cameron suggests we each have a well of creativity. We dip metaphorical buckets whenever we want to pull up creative ideas and unless we take time to re-fill the well, we will one day dip the bucket only to have it come back up empty.

Cameron therefore recommends a regular treat called an “Artist’s Date” where you replenish that creativity. For presenters there can be no finer Artist’s Date than the performing arts.

Why wait till the New Year to start this particular resolution. December is a time when the arts come gloriously alive. Whether it be a play, a concert,  a night at the ballet, or a choir singing on a street corner, there is inspiration to be found all around us

As presenters we are members of many communities, and one of those is the community of the arts. Let’s make 2012 a year to enjoy our membership.

Further Ideas:
Now that my night at the Symphony has tuned me into the connections between the performing arts and presenting, I’ve noticed that a couple of my blogging friends are also thinking in the same direction:
Laura Camacho shows five ways to bring the joy of art to the art of your work, and Nick Morgan shares the insights that jazz can hold for public speakers.

Does my but sound big in this?

by Peter Watts

Using “but” in business presentations reduces your influence.

    • It raises defensiveness in others by implying disagreement or excuses
    • The word sounds dull; consider it’s phonic counterparts: gut, cut, hut, shut

In business presentations, it’s fundamentally a defensive, whiney word to avoid

Wherever you use “but”, the word “and” can usually be deployed instead. As a tool “and” is a constructive joining word, as opposed to the wet blanket “but”.

Consider these examples to see how the deployment of one or the other changes the tone:

“We want to expand but competition is increasing. How do we do it?”

The use of “but” depresses the call to action: “How do we do it?”

Instead try:

“We want to expand and competition is increasing. How do we do it?”

Replacing “but” with “and” shifts focus from let’s whinge, to let’s win

Now consider these two:

“Our community is growing but our infrastructure can’t keep up” = Whinge

“Our community is growing and our infrastructure can’t keep up” = Call to Action

“Climate change is a threat but we need fossil fuels” = Whinge

“Climate change is a threat and we need fossil fuels” = Call to Action

While the b-word does have it’s uses when consciously deployed in speech-writing, it’s the unconscious usages that we aim to zap.

Try recording your next piece of public speaking. When you play it back, count how many instances of “but” that you bought into your speech, especially during Q&A sessions. If there are more than five, then your influence level will be improved with a but-reduction.

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