PRESENTATIONS AND CONVERSATIONS THAT GET RESULTS
By Darlene Price
Copyright © 2012 Darlene Price
All right reserved.
Chapter One The Most Important Element of All
You've got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around. —STEVE JOBS
When I conduct executive-level presentation coaching programs aimed at persuading tough decision makers, I often begin by waving a crisp $100 bill around the room and asking the participants, "Who would like to win this?" Several hands shoot up in the air, folks sit up a little straighter in their chairs, and all eyes are fixed on the green oval portrait of Benjamin Franklin. Once I have their attention, I continue, "In the next thirty seconds, you'll win $100 if you can answer this question correctly: What is the most important element of every presentation?" I set a thirty-second timer for all to see. The competitive outgoing types immediately shout out their answers: "Body language!" "Voice tone!" "Professional image!"
"All good guesses," I reply, "and critical elements to success, but not the most important." The guesses continue. "The opening?" "The close?" "The content?" The timer is ticking. I urge them on. "Think about it," I say. "Of all the elements that make up a successful presentation, what is most important of all?" They look befuddled. "Humor?" "Good visual aids?" "Oh I know! It's the presenter's level of expertise!" I nod my head, but they sense my disappointment. The last few take a stab. "Preparation?" "Storytelling?" "Props?" The thirty-second timer buzzes and I return the bill to my wallet. The correct answer? The audience.
Believe it or not, in the hundreds of presentation coaching programs I have conducted over the course of twenty years, fewer than ten people have won that $100 bill. Why? Self-focus versus audience focus. According to my audience surveys, which also number in the hundreds, failing to speak from the audience's perspective is the most common strategic mistake presenters make. The audience responses indicate that it's the primary reason a sale is not made, a budget not approved, a proposal not agreed to, a request denied. The presenter fails to align with the audience and speak from the decision makers' point of view.
Under normal circumstances, most of us probably strive to maintain a sense of compassion and understanding toward others. We know the importance of listening and empathy when building a healthy relationship. We know that to truly connect we have to see things from the other person's perspective. Unfortunately, when it comes to delivering a high-stakes presentation where our reputation, level of success, and possibly even our job is on the line, our individualistic desire to survive and thrive dominates. All of a sudden, in front of a group of decision makers, including our boss, the company's senior leadership, plus our customers, we become self-focused. We want to look good, sound smart, and be perceived as confident, credible, and in control. We want to make a great impression, win the order, close the deal, earn their trust, get the vote, or gain the funding.
There is nothing wrong with wanting these outcomes. The key is to realize that these payoffs are the consequences of an audience-focused presentation. They are not the main goals. If we become too self-focused we design and deliver a presentation from our own perspective, not our audience's. We choose the content we want to talk about; create the slides that feature our favorite points; present the data we think makes us look smart. But the primary goal of a presentation is to persuade the audience by speaking from their perspective. The most effective and most influential presenters I work with, from entry-level sales professionals to chief officers of major corporations, begin the presentation process by asking, "Who is my audience?"
By getting to know your audience first, addressing what is important to them, and solving their issues, I promise you will win much more than a $100 bill. From your boss and coworkers, you will win respect, recognition, and career advancement. From your customers and prospects, you will win trust, confidence, and most likely their business. So what does this look like?
Talk to a man about himself and he will listen for hours.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE: LEARNING ABOUT DECISION MAKERS
Judy, an award-winning chief information officer of a large hospital, is a master at knowing her audience. As a CIO, she is responsible for managing a highly complex computer network that keeps everything running smoothly, from ordering medical supplies to ensuring patient safety. One of Judy's software vendors (a client of mine) asked her if she would be willing to give a presentation and product demonstration to one of their prospects, another large hospital, which was considering investing in the same software. The deal was worth more than $10 million to my client, and the senior account executive had his entire year's quota riding on this one opportunity. I was invited to work with Judy on the preparation process.
When the big day came, it was obvious Judy and her team had done their homework. She and the senior account executive had interviewed members of the prospect's team over the telephone and discovered their specific business challenges and key objectives. In Judy's opening speech, she looked directly at the visiting chief executive officer and his staff, called them by name, thanked them for coming, and warmly welcomed them. She revealed a flip chart sheet labeled "Your Wish List." It was composed of the prospect team's top ten problems, which they hoped the software could solve. Judy clarified and verified the wish list with the group, added a couple of more last-minute requests, and said, "Now that we've confirmed exactly what's important to you, we can ensure a tailored presentation that meets your specific needs. Let's get started."
Throughout the day of presentations and product demonstrations, Judy and her team of presenters referred back to this list. They showed how every feature and function of the software solved an issue on the wish list and helped the prospect attain their objectives. It's no wonder that at the end of the day, the visiting CEO stood up to thank everyone and said, "This is the best hospital tour I've ever experienced. Every question and issue we came with has been addressed. You've proved the value of the software and it delivers exactly what we're looking for. I see no reason to keep us from moving forward with the purchase." He turned to the senior account executive and said, "What's the next step?"
Bingo! Judy and my client got exactly what they wanted by giving the audience what they wanted. This principle of reciprocity is known as the Golden Rule of Presenting.
When is your next presentation? To ensure you achieve the outcome you want, take the time to get to know your audience. Use the following ten questions, as Judy and her team did, to analyze your audience and address what is most important to them.
TEN CRITICAL QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT YOUR AUDIENCE
1. Who are they? Connecting with your audience means understanding them on a professional and personal level. Know their names, roles, titles, responsibilities, and day-to-day work activities. Find out the basic demographics such as their age range, education level, professional experience, economic status, cultural influences, race/ethnicity, and political leanings. What is the gender ratio, men to women? Will the decision maker(s) be in the room? Do these individuals have the authority to buy your solution or approve your proposal? If possible, take the time to find out some personal information. Do the attendees get along and like one another? What do they have in common? Are there any avid sports fans in the group? What are their special interests and hobbies? Are they parents and/or grandparents?
2. What are their expectations and why are they here? Find out what your audience expects to gain by attending your presentation. What are their individual motivations? Are they willing and eager participants, or is their attendance mandatory? How interested will they be in what you are talking about? Considering audience expectations is a vital part of crafting a persuasive presentation. If your audience members arrive needing and wanting one thing, and you as the presenter deliver something different, regardless of how good you are, it's likely that they'll be disappointed.
Marty, the vice president and general counsel for a major online retailer, was asked to present to the company's board and executive committee on the topic of privacy. A customer was suing the company due to an alleged breach of privacy, so in their minds it was a burning topic. These individuals had canceled plans, delayed trips, and moved appointments to attend the meeting. Marty, wanting to promote his own agenda at the meeting, began by saying, "I know many of you are eager to hear about privacy, and we'll cover that later in the presentation if time permits, but I would like to spend most of this hour reviewing our contracting policies." There was almost a riot. The chairperson spoke up at once and insisted Marty stick to the issue the audience was there to discuss. In a very public and embarrassing way, Marty learned to stick to the topic and meet the audience's expectations.
3. What are their main issues and challenges? Discover what keeps them awake at night and causes them headaches, hassle, and frustration. Be able to pinpoint the problems that are causing them financial loss, decreased customer satisfaction, low morale, and operational inefficiencies. What do they need to be more successful, meet their business metrics, and fulfill their goals? As the Native American proverb goes, "Walk a mile in their moccasins." Show them you understand their unique situation and empathize with their problems. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"
4. How does your message solve their problem? There is an old adage that says every audience is tuned to the same radio station: WIIFM, which stands for "What's In It For Me?" What are you doing for the people in your audience? Be able to state confidently how the audience benefits from your message. What purpose does it serve in terms of helping them? Now that you know the audience's main issues, be sure you can show them how your product or idea resolves their concerns and makes life easier for them. This satisfies the other two questions the audience is asking: "So what? Who cares?" Do not expect the audience to figure out the benefits for themselves, regardless of how obvious the advantages seem to you. Clearly and overtly articulate how your solution will help them.
5. What do you want them to do? What is the call to action? The purpose of presenting is to persuade. Ideally, your talk will influence people to act in response to your message. Otherwise, why make the effort? Ask yourself: "At the end of this presentation, I want my audience to ____________." Fill in the blank with your single clear-cut objective beginning with an action verb. For example: "At the end of this presentation, I want my audience to:
* Recommend my product to decision makers
* Request a detailed product demonstration
* Buy my product
* Approve the budget
* Fund my project
* Vote "yes"
Remember Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz? Even though the book is more than two hundred pages long and the movie lasts nearly two hours and features a cast of colorful characters, Dorothy is striving for one single overriding objective: to go home; to get back to Kansas. Every scene, conversation, song, and dance is motivated by that single clear-cut objective. What is your Kansas? Think about the single most desired action you want your listeners to take away after they hear your message. By doing so, you reap mighty dividends. Not only will you be able to direct your listeners' thinking and craft the content accordingly, but you will also be able to state a clear call to action at the conclusion of your presentation and achieve a measurable outcome.
6. What is the single most important idea you want to communicate to this audience? Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the well-known American songwriting duo, perfected this technique. They created a string of popular Broadway musicals in the 1940s and 1950s. Legend has it that before they began composing, they asked themselves, "Which tune do we want them whistling when they leave the theater?" This decision determined which scenes featured the song, which character sang it, and how often the audience heard it. I recently attended a production of The Sound of Music, and sure enough, I hummed "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" all the way home. What phrase, idea, or proposition do you want your audience to remember after your presentation?
I once prepared a computer manufacturer's CEO for his keynote address to 1,500 salespeople. He emphatically stated that the main "tune" he wanted them all whistling as they left the conference was, "Build customers for life." He wanted his sales force to believe it was the company's mission and their job to deliver outstanding customer service. We composed the presentation around this theme. His speaking points, slides, stories, and statistics all pointed to this main idea. It's no surprise that when I interviewed dozens of salespeople afterward and asked, "What's the main idea you took away from your CEO's speech?" every reply included, "Build customers for life."
7. How much does your audience already know? Be sure to find out how much they know about your topic so you can gauge your content accordingly. The amount of details and type of content you include in your presentation should depend on your audience's knowledge level. A presentation describing the effects of a new heart medication requires far less detail when your audience is made up of patients as opposed to cardiac surgeons. The key issues to consider are the audience's level of familiarity and comprehension. With that in mind, ask yourself two questions:
How familiar is my audience with the topic of my presentation? Is my audience likely to understand my terms and concepts, or should I plan on explaining them?
You don't want to talk over your audience's head, and you don't want to talk down to them, either.
8. What are your audience's attitudes about you, the topic, and the environment? Several years ago, I coached two corporate presidents, Anne and Larry, from separate and unrelated companies, in the very same week. Both leaders were delivering presentations that were seemingly the same: a thirty-minute, all-employee state-of-the-corporation address, delivered live at their headquarters and broadcast via the Internet to remote offices. Anne's company had a stellar year. The firm gave out unexpected bonuses; they were featured in multiple trade publications as a "Most Admired Company." And, based on employee satisfaction surveys, they were rated as one of the best companies to work for in the state. Anne was respected and adored by a grateful workforce. No surprise, when she walked on stage, the applauding fans rose to their feet. Larry, on the other hand, faced an entirely different situation. His company had posted a devastating multimillion-dollar loss in the previous quarter. He'd laid off hundreds of employees, and rumors were flying that more "head-whacking" was to come. Remaining managers had taken a pay cut, and disgruntled employees were blogging negative comments. As you can imagine, Larry's audience had an entirely different attitude about him, his topic, and the overall corporate environment than did Anne's.
As you prepare, ask yourself about the likely attitudes of the people in your audience. Are they likely to be supporters and advocates of your ideas who are positively disposed to you and your message? Are they opposed to your ideas? Are they undecided, neutral, uncaring? What emotions, biases, prejudices, and opinions do they hold toward you and your topic?
Excerpted from Well Said! by Darlene Price Copyright © 2012 by Darlene Price. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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