Powerful Presentations: The Genius of Plain Language

A presentation is a performance. It’s your opportunity to get out front and dazzle an audience while you play the leading role. And the secret to an outstanding presentation performance is to keep it real.
 
Perhaps that sounds like a contradiction, but it is not–not when you realize that as lead performer, you are playing the role of trusted advisor and good friend.
 
As soon as you understand you are delivering your presentation in the role of trusted advisor and good friend, you’ll recognize the importance of using everyday, conversational language–the kind of conversational language friends use when they meet for lunch. There are lots of “you” and “I” and “we” in friendly conversation because real people use real language-and that includes personal pronouns. Lots of them.
 
There is very little passive voice in friendly conversation because real people generally speak in clear, uncomplicated, assertive sentences. There are few ten dollar words spilled over lunch because they interfere with the good conversation and friendly vibes.
 
Eliminate the business-isms. Friends don’t search for the longest word they can spout when a short, crisp alternative works better. Friends don’t talk to impress; they talk to express.
 
Real people engaged in friendly conversation use real, everyday language to communicate without pretension or an air of self importance. I call it shirtsleeve English. Use it.
 
Now that may be exactly what you think you are doing. But are you? Last month I worked with a group of bankers eager to tell prospective customers they provide, “Mission Critical Solutions.” A few days ago I received an e-mail from someone in computers whose department title is: “Mission Critical Solutions.” Last week, I met with an insurance company whose new branding requires everyone describe their latest product enhancements as — you guessed it — Mission Critical Solutions.
 
So, what should a listener understand by “Mission Critical Solutions”? Apparently, it means anything and everything — which translates into: it means nothing at all.
 
 Until now, your company may have prospered by having everyone spout the old favorites; “fundamental integrated research” is a goodie. “Unique value added solutions” is an old standby. “Committed to partnering with our clients” is probably in every sales presentation I’ve seen in the last decade.
 
But real people don’t talk that way. Nobody facilitates with the dishes or utilizes the car. When people want to be understood by people they care about, they talk real language. And so should you.
 
Eliminate the jargon, the platitudes, and the precious marketing-speak. Use the human touch to make human connections–because that’s where you’ll get the big payoff from this performance. Be easy to understand. Grab your audience with your sincerity. Inspire them with your real-ness.
 
Be real. Think of Bill Clinton and his down-home style that commands six figures for a one-hour talk. Consider Ronald Reagan who relied on simple conversational language to dismantle the mighty USSR. Remember Steve Jobs whose ordinary, everyday words were spellbinding. Not one of those great speakers used slang or was sloppy in his speech. Each used good, conversational English to make real human connections. The truth is, plain language can be pure genius.
A presentation is a performance. Be smart enough to keep your language plain and simple. Play the part of trusted advisor and friend-and that is what you will become. It pays.

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Turbocharge your Sales Presentation: 21 Ways to Open with a Grabber and Close with a Win

According to scientific research, an audience gives a presenter between 15 seconds to 2 minutes before deciding whether or not it is worth paying attention to the presentation. If that’s true–and we have no reason to believe it is not–we must wonder why so many presenters waste their most important opening minutes looking and sounding like everyone else.

We’ve all heard the standard and lacklustre opening that goes something like, “Good morning and thank you for inviting me. My name is fill-in-the-blank and I am very excited to be talking to you today about fill-in-the-blank. I represent fill-in-the-blank and my presentation is about fill-in-the-blank. But before I begin, let me tell you a little bit about…” Then follows a lot of boring and inconsequential background trivia.

By this time, the speaker has lost at least half their audience who–if their eyes are still open–are mentally writing their weekly shopping list or planning their summer holiday.

Indeed, it is a shocking reality that most presenters willingly and foolishly fritter away their golden moments. Perhaps attracting attention raises an internal alarm. Maybe being different is somewhat frightening. Then too, it could simply be a lack of imagination or smarts.

Whatever the reason, if you want to differentiate yourself from the competition–and rise above them–don’t you dare do it. First grab your audience with an engaging opening. Then, when they are paying rapt attention, you can tell them who you are.

Here’s what I mean. Imagine you sell privacy software. You could open with a story about a deep sea photographer who survived his last dive because he was saved by a shark cage. Then you might say something like: and that’s what we do for you. Our software is like a safety cage that protects you from predators.

Of course, you don’t have to open with a story. You could open by teaching your audience a simple musical round–and conducting them. Then you could say, “That’s what we do when we consult with you. We make things work in harmony.”  Or you could begin with a startling statistic or a quote from a famous person.  You might project a fascinating optical illusion on the screen and use it to lead into your message.

Clearly, the number of ways to begin is limited only by your imagination.

The key to a high-impact opening is to conclude it with a big point that leads smoothly to your Big Message.

Your Big Message, of course, is the most important thing you want your audience to remember about you. It is that strong statement that conveys your brand promise to the world.

No matter how you choose to open, do not give your opener any preamble. Do not start by saying, “Before I begin I want to tell you a story,” or anything remotely similar. Be bold. Be confident. Simply stand up and plunge in.

Once you have completed your opening and stated your message, then you may do the “Hello. My name is…” routine. And not before.

A great opening should take no more than three or four minutes. And please be fearless. Any and every audience is delighted by a well conceived, charming or entertaining opening–no matter how stuffy or conservative you may think they are.

So, here are 21 ways to grab your audience right at the opening. Keep in mind they are merely off-the-top-of-my-head suggestions to get you thinking about how to turbocharge your presentation.

1. tell a story

2. show an interesting quote from a famous person

3. show a video clip

4. post a startling statistic

5. play a game

6. read a news report

7. do a magic trick

8. conduct a group musical introduction

9. do a card trick

10. display a stunning visual

11. use a toy

12. announce a little known fact

13. demonstrate a mind-reading trick

14. sing a song

15. use a puzzle

16. take photos and display them

17. build something or take something apart

18. recite a poem

19. assemble a pie

20. play an instrument

21. talk about the weather

You’ll notice I do not suggest opening with a joke. Very few people tell jokes well and the ones who do are usually called comedians. Besides, most jokes are sure to offend someone–so it’s best not to tell jokes. Humor, yes. Jokes, no.

When you open with a grabber, your audience pays attention. Keep them interested with good organization, engaging slides and appropriate stories. Then close by circling back to your opening point and restating your Big Message.

A strong opening makes the difference between a snooze and a memorable presentation.  Chances are good you’ll get a standing ovation. Chances are even better you’ll win the sale.

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The Problem with Proposal Writing Centers: 4 Mistakes that Lower your Win Rate

You’ve got a reasonably good relationship with the prospect and in anticipation of an upcoming RFP, you met with the stake holders. You think you’ve influenced the design of the RFP in your favor. Or may be not. Maybe you just feel lucky to have been short-listed and you’ve received an RFP that’s right up your alley. Either way, you have an opportunity to nail this bid with a proposal that knocks their socks off. And then the proposal writing center steps in.

The proposal writers answer the questions, say yes to everything as they should, and deliver your proposal to you, confident they’ve done everything they can to help you win the bid. After all, they are good writers and this is their job. Right?

So what’s wrong? Just about everything that sets you apart and makes your proposal a winner from the very first page is wrong. In general, proposal centers just don’t give you what you need to win.

Sure they’re well written, but that’s rarely what it takes to win the bid. Even if there are no horrific grammar mistakes or mystifying paragraphs, it doesn’t really matter. Nobody reads a proposal from cover to cover unless it’s so badly written they are forced to slog through it just to figure it out. Nobody wants to read every word, nor should they need to.

But–and this is the big but–everybody reads the Cover Letter and the Executive Summary plus the specific section that’s of interest to them. Everybody. And when a proposal is well written, those two sales pieces–the Cover Letter and the Executive Summary–zero in on the buyers and make the sale on the very first page.

The Cover Letter and the Executive Summary are your sales peices. They are your billboards. They must be tight, engaging and persuasive.

To give them their due, proposal centers are great at assembling marketing material. If a reader wants to know everything, it’s all there somewhere. Of course, readers have their homework cut out for them in finding it, but the stuff is there. In contrast, sales documents address only what the reader is interested in.

Put simply, marketing material is for the buyer you don’t know–in case they are interested. Sales material is for the buyer you do know–because they are interested.  That means you understand the buyer’s need, challenges, and goals–and it must be clear that you understand in the proposal you write.

Mistake #1 is using a standard cover letter for every proposal. It reads like a template. It sounds like it could have been written for anyone but in truth, it was written for no one in particular; the reader is immediately irked. It is too broad, too vague, and too non-specific.

If I am your reader, I want to believe you’ve customized this entire proposal just for me. I want to believe you get me. I want to be romanced.

All things being equal–and they often are–the details and data and minutia in the later pages are simply proof that my initial emotional response is sound.  A great proposal first gets me emotionally. Then it gets me intellectually.

Mistake #2 is the Executive Summary that is not. They may call it an Executive Summary but it’s usually a company background, corporate history or brag sheet. It may be an overview of products, services and suggestions. It may be an introduction to a bunch of good stuff you promise you’ll explain later. But it is rarely an Executive Summary.

Here’s a shocker.  The Executive Summary summarizes. Yup. That’s what it does. And if I, as a busy executive, I didn’t want to read another word, I would know exactly what you propose and how and when you propose to do it–in two pages or less. And when the Executive Summary is dynamite, it’s a winner.

Mistake #3 is the tone. All too often, the entire proposal is written in third person. It sounds stuffy. It feels distant. It fails to engage.

Your proposal is the beginning of a relationship. It should feel warm and friendly and enthusiastic. The tone needs to reflect the relationship you hope to build.

Mistake #4 is ignoring the Four Buyers. In every buying situation there are Four Buyer types: executive, financial, technical and implementor. Rarely does the proposal center consider more than two of these. And while all four types may not be in a buying position, they are all in a veto position. Remember that and ignore them at your peril.

If you are keen to win the bid, your Cover Letter and Executive Summary will hit all Four Buyers and make their hearts sing. There’s an art to it–and it’s worth learning.

Proposal writing centers may have the greatest writers in the company–which is why I love to work with them. They are usually smart, skilled and seriously productive. Many proposal writers studied marketing where they learned to write killer copy and dynamite marketing materials–but they rarely come from sales.

Indeed, those great writers in your proposal center may be so busy writing well that they’ve failed to master the art of selling. That’s the problem.

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The Quality of Your Presentation Slides Speaks Volumes: 5 Mistakes that Shout “No Sale”

For the past several weeks, I’ve been working with a new client we’ll call CountOnUs Investments. They asked me to help them build a strong PowerPoint sales presentation to launch a new product. They also wanted follow-up coaching to be sure their presentation delivery was solid. It’s my kind of work: concept to delivery.  So far so good.

Discussion with the stake holders revealed that their target audience was sophisicated, high-end investors. 

Next we did a SWOT analysis–strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats–to choose the right positioning for the product and the words that would resonate with the target audience. Then we identified the differentiators, nailed the message, chose essential content pieces and found a metaphor that created a theme reinforcing the main message.

The final step in the development phase was to have the slides professionally designed with a visually attractive layout and a background metaphor that reinforced the message. My designer knows where I’m coming from and where I’m going, and he created a beautiful set of templates that fit our needs exactly.

We populated the slides carefully. Light on text. Heavy on message. Strong and persuasive flow. Titles that implied benefits. Excellent.

Then the stakeholders I’d been working with sent the slides to “the rest of the sales team” for input–folks who had been absent throughout the entire development stage. What came back was a lesson on how to wreck a dynamite presentation.

Maybe these people were well meaning, but they didn’t know squat about presentations. Clearly, they knew nothing about design, structure or persuasive elements. They knew even less about what turns an audience on and what turns them off.

The improved presentation screamed “amateurs”. It telegraphed “cheap”.  It hollered “tacky”. 

Mistake #1: Too much content

Everything they could think of was added to the slides. There was even a slide at the beginning that said: Hello. My name is Joe Blow and I’m here to introduce you to a new and exciting product. What? The presenter couldn’t remember his own name or why he was there?

Full paragraphs had been excerpted from their brochure and a variety of text-heavy white slabs had been inserted onto our excellent dark templates.

Mistake #2: Lack of a coherent theme

The original templates used a sports theme as a background graphic. The metaphor subtly reinforced the company’s big message about winning strategies.

The new version ignored all that. One screen had a sillouette of a man in a phone booth; I can’t imagine why. Another had three ladders completely unrelated to content or message. What were they thinking?

Mistake #3: Lack of visual appeal

Cheesy clip art was stuck in everywhere and the screens were so heavy with text, it made my head spin. White boxes with tiny graphs photocopied from somewhere showed up too. Sentences, footnotes, little graphs and explanations on dozens of slides with no apparent flow or logic. Asterisks. Bold. Underlines. Italics. A full shopping cart of fonts to go.

Mistake #4: Juvenile screen transitions

But that’s not all. The designers of these new slides were not content with simple bullets or keywords on screen. Every line of the text arrived from a different angle, whirling and twirling across the screen. Kids love those transitions; professionals don’t.

Mistake #5: Meaningless titles

And the titles–those carefully crafted titles–had all been changed to questions. What a waste of prime real estate! One title read: Why CountOnUs? Why indeed, I thought.

“Can we use this?” my client asked. “Not on my watch,” I said. “Nobody could deliver this convincingly.”  Happily, they ditched the improved version.

The Lesson

Good slides, I mean really good slides, say volumes about your company without you uttering a single word. They tell your audience you are thoughtful, professional and solvent. They convey an attention to detail.  They announce that you know what you are doing and take what you do seriously. They say you have invested time, effort and money in your product because you believe in it. They make you look good.

Equally important, good slides keep your audience’s eyes on you while you present, because there is nothing on screen to get in the way of your conversation.

Bad slides say the opposite. They invite questions you never want raised–about your authority, your credibility and your funding. They introduce skepticism. They argue against everything you are saying.

In essence, the quality of your slides speaks volumes. Be sure your slides speak highly of you.

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The Secret of Winning Sales Presentations – Turning Listeners Into Buyers

Know your audience. You’ve heard that many times and you know how important it is. In fact, before you prepare your presentation, you go to the target buyer’s website and find out all about their company and what they do. Good for you. But that’s probably not good enough to win the bid.

What you may not have known is that what your audience does is less important than who they are.

This is the crux of it: whether your potential buyers build trucks, sell medical equipment or distill beer, as individuals sitting in your audience, their personal point of view is predictable. That’s a valuable fact–because it means you can target your presentation perfectly. Indeed, when you can predict what your audience is thinking, when you look at a group of buyers and understand their individual mindsets, you are on your way to a win.

So here’s the secret: knowing your audience means more than identifying their industry sector or job description. It also means understanding that within every audience you have four kinds of buyers. Whether there is a single buyer in front of you–or a dozen–these four buyer mindsets are in the room and must be addressed. And while not every person in the audience has buying power, they do have veto power–which means that if you don’t get it right, you lose.

Reaching each of your listeners in a way that resonates–intellectually and on a gut level–is the secret to getting every listener onside so you can move ahead of your competitors.

The four types of buyers in every presentation audience are:

  • the executive who thinks about the Big Picture and long-range relationships
  • the techie who thinks about technology
  • the financial person who thinks about cost and numbers and payoff
  • the implementer who thinks about people issues.

Now that you know who is sitting in those chairs, you want to know how best to reach them so every listener turns on, tunes in and wants you to win.

If you’re smart, you will choose your content–in whichever order you prefer–to address the needs and interests of the four buyer mindsets in your audience.

Your Big Message should speak to the executive.

The Executive Buyer is looking at the long-term relationship and thinking about how your company fits with theirs. They are more interested in high level concepts than in detail. They want to feel you are a good match for today and well into the future. They want to like you because they are looking for a long-term relationship.

To get the Executive Buyer in your corner, go to their website and check out their vision and mission statements. Then tweak your Big Message so it fits with the buyer’s vision. Don’t quote their vision statement word for word, but do use some of their language or concepts so your message resonates intellectually and emotionally with the Executive Buyer. Open with that Big Message and get the Executive Buyer onside right at the start.

Deliver the rest of your presentation in three sections or topics, each of which should speak to one of the other three kinds of buyers.

Since people buy from people they like, it is important that each type of buyer hears something that speaks to them directly–that resonates for them. Make yourself likable. When you speak to the needs of each type of buyer, everyone thinks you are terrific. When they like you, you have given them a strong reason to buy.

One topic speaks to the techie in the audience.

In this section, you’ll want to point out the sophistication or superiority or originality of your technology or your specs. You will talk about its reliability or whatever it is you think will resonate best with a technical mindset.

One topic speaks to the financial person.

Here you point out ROI or cost savings or increased throughput for financial gain to the buyer. You know your best financial wins; be sure your financial buyer hears them.

One topic addresses the implementer in the audience.

In this section you’ll talk about the short learning curve or ease of implementation or whatever it is that makes your product or service attractive to a buyer most concerned with the people issues in the organization.

Know your audience. Of course. And now you do. What’s more, you can predict what your audience is thinking which means you know precisely what you need to present to win. But shhh. It’s a secret.

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Leaders Know: The Time has Come for Canned Meetings

Generally, I’m against all things canned. I oppose canned presentations, canned telephone scripts and canned pitches. I balk at canned speeches, canned workshops and, well, any communication that sounds canned–like it was written for anyone with a pulse who might be dumb enough to tolerate it. Not for me–and I make that clear at every opportunity.

But this is different. And I can’t, in good conscience, ignore the fact that it is exactly the right time for canned meetings. Here’s why.

Today, I checked into my Sales Playbook Group on LinkedIn and Paul Castain, our fearless leader, had posted a plea. One quick read and I was convinced.  Here’s what Paul wrote:

“What if each of us were to take our sales skills and harness them for the ultimate good and . . .

1) Have a “Canned Sales Meeting” sometime this month where we ask all the participants to bring a few canned or non perishable items to donate to the local food bank.

2) We take that network that we’ve been sitting on and we pass this concept along to them and ask them to pass it along to their network. Think Linkedin connections, Twitter and Facebook friends, people from your local chamber, your suppliers etc

3) If you’re a blogger, perhaps you could encourage your readers to host a “Canned Meeting” and pass the word on to their network.

Perhaps you can use your Jedi sales skills to sell your boss on making your next meeting, a “Canned Meeting”? The point is to use that gift you were given to do some additional good. The food banks get slammed this time of year folks and this will make a huge difference to someone.”

That’s what Paul said, and I agree. Let’s do it. Let’s use our skills, our networks, and our creative savvy to collect the cans that will make a difference to people who need them. With the holiday season almost upon us, there couldn’t be a better time.

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Presentation? Don’t Just Stand There. Do Something!

One of the most common questions I am asked in a coaching session is, “What do I do with my hands?” I am always tempted to respond, “I don’t know. What do you do with your hands?”

It’s not that I’m stumped.  And I’m certainly not trying for a know-it-all attempt at being glib.  I have an important point to make: be yourself. Do whatever it is you always do with your hands when you talk. Do what comes naturally.  Do it because a good presentation feels like a conversation which, in this case, is a conversation between speaker and audience, albeit slightly one-sided.

A presentation should seem natural, look real and feel authentic–like any conversation between friends. 

When friends talk, they don’t jam their hands into their pockets or hide them behind their back. They don’t fold their hands nicely at the belt-line in choirboy position. Nor do they grip a script or a table ’til their fingers turn blue. And they don’t tie their hands to their sides for fear of accidentally moving a digit in public. They gesture.

Friends in conversation use hands to punctuate points, convey enthusiasm, excitement or sincerity–or whatever emotion it is they want to convey.  Yes, friends convey emotion–and so do good speakers.  Sometimes they use the right hand, sometimes the left, sometimes both–but be assured, hands are part of the action.  Hand gestures are an integral component of the body language of friends.

And there’s more. Studies show that confident people use their hands when they speak. Nervous people rarely do. So gesturing when you speak may, in fact, be a subliminal clue to your audience that you are comfortable and confident–a very good message for a presenter to send.

Pay attention to friends talking.  Watch how they use their hands. It doesn’t look orchestrated or contrived.  It looks like they are comfortable being themselves.  In other words, their hands are a natural extension of their words.

It may be impossible to be a compelling speaker without freeing your hands. At least, I can’t think of one, probably because it’s unnatural for the presenter and uncomfortable for an audience to watch.  So if you’ve ever asked yourself, “what do I do with my hands?” I suggest you do this. Stand in front of a mirror and have a good conversation with yourself. Be friendly. Be warm. Be the best you you can possibly be, and watch how your hands move. You’ll probably find they are a lively companion to your conversation.

If that doesn’t work for you, turn on a tape recorder, sit down with a friend and talk–while you let the tape roll. Then watch.

When it comes to presenting, I’m not suggesting you memorize hand language. And I’m not suggesting you flap around like a seagul taking flight either.  I am simply suggesting you free yourself to be yourself.

Use your hands to gesture, to punctuate, to add dimension and authenticity to your presentation. In other words, don’t just stand there. Do something!

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Emotional Selling: 6 Tips to Trigger a Buying Response

When you are in sales, especially in a tough marketplace, you search for something to give you an edge. Perhaps you’ve heard about emotional selling and know you are supposed to appeal to the buyer’s needs, wants and fears. But you may not be sure how that applies to you. Still, you want to know more so you can get out front and kick-start the buying process.

Research tells us that potential buyers are more likely to make a buying decision when they feel an emotional connection with the seller. To you, that means making use of sales behaviors proven to trigger a positive emotional response in the buyer.

So how do you make an emotional connection with a complete stranger–quickly and surely and effectively? Here are six ways to connect emotionally and trigger a buying decision.

1. Talk to the buyer like a friend (and use lots of personal pronouns).

When researchers studied the determining factors that stimulate buying behaviors, they discovered that above all, buyers want “a friend in the business”. True, many buyers justify their purchases with facts and figures–but the reality is, they buy on emotion. What’s more, they prefer to buy from friends. It’s your job to be that friend.

Since friends use ordinary, everyday language when they talk to each other–I call it shirtsleeve English–you must do the same when you sell. Friends use lots of pronouns too, because pronouns are emotionally connecting. So eliminate the jargon, the business speak and the marketing bumph. Use lots of “you” and “I” and “we” and “us” when you talk.

Be careful not to appear phony or too familiar or it can instantly fracture that new relationship you are just beginning to build.

2. Be a good listener.

People like people who speak their language. They feel immediately connected when they hear themselves reflected in another person. Psychologists call it “mirroring”.

Ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. Then use some of the very same words your buyer has used–so they’ll feel they have found a friend in the business. It’s a subliminal tactic that works amazingly well.

3. Use emotional words.

Use words that convey emotion to trigger a buying response. Let your enthusiasm show. Don’t let anyone tell you it is unprofessional to be passionate or enthusiastic. Emotional words make emotional connections, and to position yourself as “trusted advisor” authentic emotion counts.

4. Create a mental picture in the buyer’s mind. 

Help the buyer see the positive results they’ll get with your product or service by using language and images that create a mental picture. When a buyer can “picture” good results, you stimulate a buying mood.

5. Use stories and anecdotes.

Don Hewitt was the long-time producer of the successful TV show 60 Minutes. Hewitt was a visionary with a four-word business plan: tell me a story.  Hewitt knew that no matter their age or background, listeners are engaged by stories. Everyone loves a story and better yet, they connect emotionally with the story teller.

You can use that truth to your advantage. If you can tell an appropriate story that is interesting, moving or amusing, you can trigger an emotional response–which pays off in sales.

6. Convey warmth and energy–and smile often.

Warmth is contagious. Energy is engaging. Smiles beget smiles in response.

Inject warmth and energy into your conversation and watch buyers warm up and become enthusiastic too. They’ll be more interested in what you have to say and more eager to become your customer–and that’s precisely what you want.

Research tell us that when you know how to stimulate positive emotions, you have the power to trigger a buying response. That’s a fact.

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Organize a Powerful Sales Presentation: 7 Steps to the perfect pitch

Like any good performance, a presentation must have a beginning, a middle and an end. Plus, it must be easy to hear, so your audience “gets it” and responds positively. Let’s be clear; you present to sell.

To deliver a winning sales presentation you must:

  • differentiate yourself from your competitors
  • convince your audience you are worth listening to
  • deliver information so that it is understood and appreciated
  • grab your audience and keep them listening from the very first word.

Too many presenters waste their most important opening minutes with the standard “Thank you for inviting us” quickly followed by the “My name is…” and sailing right into the “I’d like to introduce you to our team.” If that’s what you do, you are achieving the exact opposite of what you intend. First, you sound like everybody else. Secondly, your beginning is instantly forgettable. And finally, you have given your audience good reason to disengage right from the get-go. Indeed, you are seriously out of tune with the needs of a listening audience.

When you want to win, you need a perfect pitch. Here’s the how and why in 7 easy steps.

Step 1: Begin with your Big Message–the one you have polished until it sings.

Benefits

Research tells us that most people confronted with a stream of information forget almost all of it. In fact, you’d be lucky if your audience remembers two or three specifics from your presentation. In reality, the details you present are not the essential factor in making the sale. Your Big Message is. Open with your Big message and your audience will remember it.

Your Big Message is the main thing you want your audience to know about you. It is the strong statement of fact that sets you apart from your competitors and resonates with your audience so they listen up and respond positively.

Your Big Message is the big reason–in sentence form–that convinces your audience they need you. Polish it, refine it and open with it before you get to a word of content–even before you introduce yourself. Once you state your message–if it’s a good one–your audience is engaged. Now you may introduce yourself.

Step 2: Organize and deliver your content around three–maximum four–main topics. These are the topics or subjects that support or prove your message.

Benefits

People understand information only when they can organize it into a coherent structure so it makes sense. Make remembering easy by organizing information into three distinct topics.

Imagine your message is something like: Our equipment is better built, more reliable and easier to use than any other on the planet. The topics you then choose must support or prove that message. So let’s say for this message your three topics are technology, design and return on investment. That’s it. The rest of your content must go under those three headings.

Now, whether you are asked to present at warp speed or are expected to speak for twenty minutes or considerably longer, you can bet your audience will forget the detail, the minutia, the facts and the figures. Short or long, a well planned presentation follows a three-topic structure. The difference between them is in the amount of detail you put under each heading.

So–and this is the kicker–no matter how long your presentation is, when it is structured in three sections–or maximum four–your audience remembers your message because you opened with it. What’s more, even if they forget all the details, they will remember you talked about three big concepts that prove your message: technology, design and return on investment. And after all, that’s what is really important.

Step 3: Reinforce your big message with a visual metaphor.

Benefits

Pictures are more memorable than words. Pictures can instantly engage your audience and subliminally reinforce the message you want to convey.

Words matter. Visuals make a difference. The more careful you are in tying everything together with an underlying theme, the more memorable your pitch becomes. If, for example, your big point is that you are the best at putting all the pieces together, you might use a carpentry image as a background throughout and reinforce your message with titles that tie in to the image–titles that begin with words like Building or Crafting or Cementing. Or if you want your audience to know you have a specialized team to work on their behalf, you might use a sports metaphor with a team picture as the background on your slides. Your topic titles should then fit with the sports theme.

Picking appropriate titles to match your theme adds a touch of creativity while highlighting your underlying message.

Step 4: Use your slides as a visual aid, not a reading exercise; eliminate as much text as you can.

Benefits

Good eye contact is the key to connecting with your audience. You cannot connect when everyone is reading from the screen. If you must, use bullet points to keep yourself on track or to point out key features or benefits. Eliminate sentences or anything else that requires reading.

Do not give your audience text to read while you speak. Research explains that people process visual material and verbal material in different areas of the brain–on separate channels. Listeners can digest information on only one channel at a time–which means that if they are reading, they cannot listen to you.

Research also reports that the more senses you can stimulate, the more you improve information retention. If you can stimulate the visual cortex with a striking picture while you orally deliver information to stimulate the hearing sense, you have doubled the chances of your audience remembering anything you say.

Don’t worry about forgetting something. This is your stuff and you could talk about it for hours. What’s more, if you do leave something out, your audience will never know.

Step 5: Do not print your PowerPoint slides to use as handouts. Create separate, reader-friendly documents.

Benefits

A well written handout is proof that the presentation you delivered is valid and true. PowerPoint slides are designed to be visuals–the complete opposite of reading documents. Slides are horizontal; documents are vertical. Slides are on dark backgrounds; documents are on white paper. Slides use huge fonts; documents use reading fonts no bigger than 10-12 point because bigger than that is actually harder to read on paper. There’s lots more, but you get the idea.

And while Microsoft suggests you use your slides as a handout, it’s a big mistake to do so. Handouts that look and read like real documents provide a huge advantage because they are readable and people actually read them. Imagine that! Feel free to include all the facts, data, detail and minutia you want, and distribute them before the Q and A.

Step 6: End your presentation by returning to your opening Big Message.

Benefits

Your Big Message is the hook on which everything else hangs. Once you finish delivering content, repeat the Big Message you began with–to remind your audience what sets you apart. What’s more, when you end where you began, your presentation has the seamless and satisfying quality of a good performance.

When that’s done, it’s time for Q&A.

Step 7: Practice with a professional coach to be sure you present with warmth, energy and real language. It’s all about your “likability factor.”

Benefits

A skilled coach can make the difference between an amateur performance and a professional one. Remember, your goal is not to be slick, it is to be likable–which requires a careful blend of confidence, energy and enthusiasm.

It’s hard to assess your own performance. It’s nearly impossible to gauge how likable you are to an audience. A professional coach will check to be sure you make good eye contact and speak conversationally, that your body language is open and welcoming, that you appear warm and friendly. A good coach will make sure your voice is pleasant, that your passion shows, and that your delivery hits all the right notes.

When making the sale is important, practicing with peers may be fun, but it’s unlikely to give you the specific and effective feedback you need.  You want a professional’s insights to help polish your delivery.

Follow these 7 steps and become the likable, memorable, easy-to-hear presenter you know you can be. That’s a perfect pitch!

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Write Right: Essential Business E-Mail Etiquette

A lot of people say that since email is a relatively new technology, the old rules of business writing don’t apply. The fact is that a lot of people are dead wrong. Sure, you can ignore the rules if you choose–but be aware you do so at your peril.

Unless your readers are still passing notes in study hall, they are not likely to be amused with short-cuts, cryptic acronyms, or downright laziness. Indeed, the way you handle your business e-mail tells your customers a lot about the way you do business.

Everything you have learned about letters applies to e-mail. The big difference is that a reader averages 7-9 seconds before deleting. Obviously, grabbing immediate interest is essential. Be nice. Be thoughtful. Be safe. And remember that your SUBJECT line is the most important line of all. That’s where your reader decides to open your note–or delete.

Here are 15 quick rules for writing e-mail right.

E-MAIL Essentials

1. Create instant interest in your subject line.

2. Be brief. Aim for a single screen; avoid scrolling.

3. When forwarding e-mail, delete everything but what is necessary for context–put the reader in the picture.

4. Do not e-mail anything you would not want to see published in your local newspaper.

5. Return e-mail as promptly as a phone call.

6. Don’t be lazy. Correct spelling. Proper sentences. Punctuation.

7. Since all caps are a nightmare to read, use caps and punctuation as you would in any other document.

8. Always respond to e-mail addressed TO: you. A one-word reply will do.

9. Expect a reply only from people on the TO: line; expect no reply from people on the CC: line.

10. Ask permission before forwarding.

11. NEVER send chain letters.

12. Keep confidential e-mail confidential.

13. At work, assume you are being watched and use email only for legitimate purposes.

14. Do not distribute to everyone simply because you can.

15. Do not tolerate racist, sexist or lewd comments on email.

E-mail is no longer a new technology; it’s a core business tool and there is simply no excuse for getting it wrong.  If you write to sell, or to support, or just to stay in touch, you’d better know the rules. Write right and reap the rewards. It’s not only a nice thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

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