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How to Grow Your Business by Leveraging Your Expertise
By Joseph Sommerville
Palgrave Macmillan Copyright © 2009 Joseph Sommerville
All rights reserved.
GROW YOUR BUSINESS BY LEVERAGING YOUR EXPERTISE
RAINMAKING PRESENTATION PRINCIPLE 1—WE COMMUNICATE MORE THAN INFORMATION
At the beginning of my Rainmaking Presentations Seminars, I ask participants to list some of the things they communicate. Inevitably, their responses include things such as changes in the tax code, different investment products, how to choose a business structure, why disability insurance is necessary to protect income, new compliance rules and regulatory changes. I then point out that all the things they've listed have something in common—they're examples of information. But we communicate much more than simply information. We also communicate either congruency or contradiction; we communicate either an attitude of service or drugery; we communicate either professionalism or its absence.
We communicate congruency between what we say and what people see. I recall attending a networking function where I met a woman attempting to drum up business for her professional services firm. After we were introduced, I asked her what she did. She proceeded to tell me about her business, about how she founded her business, about her business marketing strategy and about her great communication skills. She stopped only because the featured speaker was about to begin. He started his presentation by asking; "Do you know what the single most important thing in networking is?" The woman who'd been talking to me raised her hand and responded: "Listening!" She lacked congruency between her actions and her words. We also lack congruency when we say a concept is easy to understand, but have a difficult time explaining it or say a policy is straightforward but list several exceptions.
We communicate an attitude. On a trip back to Houston from Singapore I had a stopover in Tokyo. Shortly after takeoff, I noticed the man sitting next to me periodically taking a scented letter out of his jacket and holding it to his nose. When he wasn't busy enjoying the olfactory experience, he was reading the Bible and drinking miniature bottles of Jack Daniels. I hypothesized that the three events were somehow related, but I didn't know if he was consoling himself over the separation from a significant other or was afraid of flying and couldn't decide whether love, prayer or inebriation would produce the best results. After we reached cruising altitude, the flight attendant assigned to our section came to take drink orders. Of course the man sitting next to me ordered Jack Daniels. "No," was her reply. "I don't have any liquor on this cart. You'll have to wait until I can get to one that does." She was certainly conveying information, but it was the attitude she conveyed that spoke loudest. What attitude comes through when you present?
We communicate professionalism. Part of being professional involves keeping your cool under taxing conditions. Another part involves how people see us treat others. In my search for a new health insurance policy, I phoned some area agents to see what they had to offer. At one office, the agent picked up the phone after the fifth ring, asked how he could help, listened to my brief reply, then said; "Let me put you on hold while I get rid of this guy on the other line." Even though his policy was competitive, I didn't give him my business because I thought eventually, I would simply become the "guy on the other line."
I'm sure no one reading this book would ever commit a communication sin as egregious as those above, but it never hurts to be mindful of the fact that we indeed communicate more than pure information. That's why experts can benefit the most from this book. Its purpose is to show you how to go beyond just giving information when you're trying to grow your business. It's designed to show you how to leverage your expertise by applying the principles of effective communication and persuasion.
Most professional services firms view marketing as a necessary evil. Those who practice in the firm sometimes feel the wrong approach will damage their credibility. Solo practitioners and smaller practices may think they don't have the budget or the resources to conduct an effective marketing campaign. Others may feel their time is better spent practicing their expertise. But in today's climate of marketing professional services, expertise alone doesn't provide any competitive advantage. It's simply the price of admission.
Savvy professionals have learned to leverage their expertise with a well-kept secret in business development. It's a marketing tool that positions you not as a salesperson, but as an advisor. The same tool works in any economic climate and with any size budget. It's the tool that most often puts you in front of the economic buyer. It levels the playing field between large firms and solo practitioners who compete for business. It's been tested and proven to be effective.
Whatever you call it—a speech, talk, address, lunch and learn, presentation—the scenario is the same. You have somewhere between 15 minutes and an hour to deliver your message to an audience. If you're not currently taking advantage of this marketing tool, you're missing out on one of the most effective ways for service firms to market themselves professionally, competitively, ethically, and successfully.
This book shows you how to leverage your expertise to grow your business through presentations. As proof, you'll read the success stories of others. You'll learn a proven seven-step process that shows you how to take your ideas from concept to platform in the shortest time possible. You'll discover how the impact of technology has redefined the contexts of presentations in today's business environment. You'll also acquire the tools and techniques that show you how to discover and create your own rainmaking opportunities, as well as how to maximize the result from each one. I know the system works because I used it successfully to grow my own business. I can trace 80 percent of my new business to presentations. The professionals I interviewed for this book tell much the same story.
Contexts of Presentations
As I use the term "presentation" throughout this book, I want to emphasize that presentations take many forms. Beyond the traditional context in which a speaker stands in front of an audience and delivers a message, many opportunities exist with both more informal settings and the virtual contexts technology enables. I discuss these different contexts in more detail in Chapter 9. Most of the principles and strategies you'll learn apply equally to presentations in any context. Your success in different contexts lies simply in finding the correct application. For example, sitting down one on one with a prospect or in a small group meeting or holding a webinar all require the same attention to goals, audience needs and proof that are hallmarks of the traditional presentation.
Whether speaking one on one or to large groups, presentations give you several advantages.
Marketing Advantages of Presentations
1. Presentations cast you in a different role. Instead of being seen as a salesperson or a marketer, you're seen as an expert and an advisor. For example, many financial planners report their greatest challenge lies in educating prospects about some basic financial decisions and informing them about the different financial products that will best serve the client's goals. Presentations provide an especially effective way to make an audience aware of needs they might not even realize they have. With the right presentation, you immediately establish your professional reputation and credibility. The well-executed presentation provides an excellent start to building the relationships crucial to success in professional selling. Just as writing a book or article lends credibility to the author, speaking helps you build your status as an expert. There is a viral replicating effect at work—the more presentations you give, the more people see your name. The more people see your name, the more positioned as an expert you become. The more positioned as expert you become, the more you speak and so on. Presentations also provide a key point of differentiation. The person who can clearly express her ideas is seen as more intelligent and more self-confident than the person who stumbles through a disorganized presentation. When you're competing for business, a well-crafted presentation can give you the advantage because better presenters are more persuasive. An architect once reported in one of my seminars that he was sure his firm was more successful in getting business because the people they chose to pitch for the business were highly trained in presentation skills.
2. Presentations allow you to customize your material. Unlike a print run of brochures or postcards, you can customize your talk for each specific audience you address. You can take advantage of a system of marketing that highlights the most effective approach for particular audiences. You can choose when to use examples, case studies or testimonials that will appeal to very specific audiences. Further, based on the feedback you receive, you can make on-the-spot adjustments to create the most effective message.
3. Presentations create opportunities for audience interaction. The interactive nature of presentations works to your advantage. In a face-to-face setting, you can engage all three channels of communication—the verbal, the visual and the vocal. When these three channels reinforce one another, you'll be even more effective in making your message heard. The feedback you receive allows you to adjust your material and tackle objections as they arise. Presentation audiences are not passive sponges soaking up your message. They are participants involved in the communication process. Because they already want to be there, you can focus on moving them further along the sales process. Imagine having 30 minutes to educate your prospects about your services with no interruptions! Your audience often contains highly-qualified prospects. People choose to attend a sales presentation, product demonstration or continuing education course because there's something of interest to them.
4. Presentations furnish high-value marketing at a lower cost. Compared to almost any kind of advertising, presentations produce a higher ratio of qualified prospects. What would 30 minutes of airtime on a radio or television station cost? When you send out 5,000 pieces of direct mail, how much of it ends up in the recycle bin? Presentations require an investment in time, but if you plan properly, you'll receive a very high return on that investment. Presentations also lower the cost of acquiring new clients. This is the most direct way to be in front of your prospects. When you speak to a group, you'll often get three opportunities for publicity. First, when the event is advertised, you can provide a brief synopsis of your talk for brochures, mailers, the website and even a newsletter. Second, if your talk is newsworthy, you may receive some media coverage during the event itself. Third, there is an opportunity for exposure in a summary of the event for the organization's newsletter or annual report.
5. Presentations offer prospects the opportunity to "try before they buy." When prospects see you present, they get an idea of what it would be like to work with you. They get the opportunity to see your unique take on issues and to see how you interact with others. Past experience always influences the choice of a professional service provider. Also, because someone has seen you present, they often feel they can safely refer you to friends and colleagues.
Now that you're sold on the idea of using presentations, the question becomes "Where do I start?" If you search Books in Print using the keywords "public speaking," you'll get thousands of results. On Google, the same keywords return over 20,000,000 pages! So how do you sift through this mountain of data to find the approach that's right for you? A great starting point is to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Why You Should Question Conventional Wisdom
I should warn you at the outset that much of what you'll learn in this book is contrary to conventional wisdom about presentations. That's because conventional wisdom usually finds its roots in casual observation, repetition and marketing ploys.
There's much misinformation circulating about what makes an effective presentation. You should be wary of any article, book, course, workshop or advice based on any of the following premises.
The key to great presentations is developing your stage presence.
Unless your goal is to become an actor or a keynote speaker, be wary of any approach that focuses primarily on delivery. These tend to be superficial. Good delivery is an instrumental goal, but it is a means to an end, not an end in itself. In fact, the very first treatises on effective speaking from ancient Greece didn't focus on delivery at all. The three standards used to judge presentations were topic development, organization of the message and effective language use. Delivery does play a role, but it's part of a larger picture.
The key to great presentations is humor.
Humor has many uses in a presentation; it can relieve tension, illustrate a point and involve the audience. But unless your goal is to become an entertainer, recognize that humor is a tactic, not a key to great presentations. I've seen presenters become so focused on being humorous that their presentations devolved into stand-up comedy routines.
The key to great presentations is being confident.
Confidence is important, but it's not the cornerstone of effective presentations. Some of the speakers with the greatest self-confidence are the worst presenters! They have such a sense of self-importance that the message becomes too "me-focused" and not "we-focused." People who suffer from communication apprehension at least recognize they have a challenge and take steps to manage it. Confidence doesn't equal competence. In fact, I've seen many speakers who could benefit from a dose of humility.
The key to great presentations is a good electronic slide show.
If your only concern is to produce attractive visuals, then a book on PowerPoint may be right for you. But again, visuals are only part of the picture. Too often, computer slide shows become a crutch the presenter leans on. If your presentation is well designed, you should be able to present it even if all your technology fails. Don't make the technology such an integral part of your presentation that when it fails, you fail also.
There is an instant system for success in presentations.
About the only "instant" key to success is to be quiet when you've been talking too long. There is no shortcut to an effective presentation. It takes knowledge, planning, discipline and practice.
The Seven Steps to Rainmaking Presentations
Now, let's step away from conventional wisdom and look at a system that's proven to be effective. The Rainmaking Presentations System was developed from the analysis of over 8,000 presentations in a variety of contexts and professions. Although based on extensive research, clients call it "street smart" and "results-oriented."
It is designed to take your message from concept to presentation in the quickest, most effective way possible. Here's a brief synopsis of what you'll learn in this system.
Step 1—Analyze. Who are you talking to? What are the characteristics of your audience in terms of age, education, knowledge of your topic, group membership, beliefs and values? In Chapter 2, you'll learn how to find this information quickly and effectively. You'll also learn how a No P.A.I.N. = No Gain Analysis will make your presentation directly relevant to the needs and interests of the audience.
Step 2—Strategize. By the end of your presentation, what do you want the audience to understand or act upon? Until you can answer this question in a single, declarative sentence, nothing else you do will produce a winning presentation. The Presentation Action Planner introduced in Chapter 3 will show you exactly how to design a strategic goal that gets results.
Step 3—Organize. Clear organization of your material will make it easier for the audience to understand and retain. The presentation needs to have a clearly defined introduction, body and conclusion. In Chapter 4, I will show you how to write an introduction that overcomes audience preoccupation, builds rapport and establishes your value proposition. You'll also learn how to reinforce your message, provide the three necessary types of closure and motivate the audience to action.
Step 4—Vitalize. Vitalizing a presentation means bringing it to life. Chapter 5 shows you how to make your presentation more interesting with illustrations, narratives, analogies, examples and case studies. One mistake even seasoned presenters often make is to believe that "the facts speak for themselves." You'll discover ways to make certain the audience has a way to translate statistics and pieces of information into everyday experiences they can understand. You'll also learn what will help your audiences believe what you're saying.
Excerpted from Rainmaking Presentations by Joseph Sommerville. Copyright © 2009 Joseph Sommerville. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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