The best presentation is you

Whatever we do for a living, it nearly always involves selling our ideas, our organisations and ourselves.

Whatever we do for a living, it nearly always involves selling our ideas, our organisations and ourselves. Roly Grimshaw and Bakhtiyar Pataudi offer three ways to make presentations that end with new and strong relationships.

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When making a presentation to new corporate clients, new investors or new customers, the key ingredients of a good pitch are so obvious and yet so overlooked. Here are three things you should always keep in mind as your prepare to go face-to-face with your audience.

Aim to connect, not to impress.

So many pitches are organised around a list of subjects that the presenter feels must be covered, often because that is what has been asked for in advance. However, rapidly running through a list of checkpoints is not an effective presentation.

This should be your primary goal. You want your audience to say, after the presentation is over, that what you said both makes sense and is of value to their business. More than that, if you used any memorable anecdotes or stories to illustrate your central ideas — and your audience can reiterate them — you have achieved far more than all those presentations that sound either over-rehearsed or spoken in such a mechanical way that you sound as if you are speaking by rote.

Don’t start preparing your presentation by listing all the things you could say. Instead, start by considering what you want your client to recall afterwards and build your discussion around those points. This will immediately boost your chances that your audience will connect with you and recall the highlights of that connection.

If you’re not sure what your audience might be interested in, it’s far better to open with a question or two (for example, ask what problems they are facing that your experience might help them solve) rather than proffering a long list of your accomplishments. One lawyer we know suggests opening a presentation by saying, “If we are to be able to help you, we need to agree first of all on your objectives.” The fact that his firm is one of the most experienced in its field can come later as evidence of a key message that adds value to the client.

Add some chemistry to your competence.

Your second goal should be to stimulate a desire in your audience to work with you in the future. You should want them to feel that there is ‘good chemistry’ between you, that a strong future relationship is both possible and desirable. To achieve that, many people attend training courses that claim to improve their interpersonal skills, teach them how to read body language and present them with a model set of behaviours that will purportedly help them ‘look good’ in front of others.

More often than not, such approaches cause more harm than good because they only cause the presenter to put forth a false image. Impressiveness is not the same as phoniness. In a world of trusted adviser relationships, if the client sees any hint of artificiality, credibility will be dashed.

The fact is that, by the time we have entered the business world, we have all developed an individual style and a way of interacting with others that is unique. If we can identify what makes up that natural style and build on that as our model of excellence, we will come across as ourselves at our best. Don’t make the mistake we observed in a tax partner in one accountancy firm. He enrolled in a bevy of ‘look better’ presentation seminars. All the must-do lists he received from his instructors ended up making him nervous when he had to actually practise them in front of prospects or clients.

When comfortable and in his own skin, he shined as a guru on his subject field. When under pressure to ‘look good’, according to the standards of the courses he took, he would seize up with nerves and come across as confused and insecure. Again, you’re going to be more successful by clicking with your audience rather than striving to be the slickest presenter in the world. Build on your own natural style, and the client will see you as part of a team that is competent and works well together.

Collaborate. Collaborate. Collaborate.

Always focus on what really matters to your audience and play to their underlying needs. Cultivate a relationship from the very first meeting with your audience, and you will build long-term value that will far outstrip the bold claims and promises that others might make in an opening presentation meant to dazzle more than delight.

Estate agents, for example, so often seemed to be inclined to offer potential clients the reward of a high selling price for their house, in order to get the business and beat competition. It’s the first thing they talk about with a new prospect. Yet, a preoccupation with a high price tag might actually turn off a new client. For example, it may be that the client needs to sell her house in order to relocate for a better job. Selling her house quickly may be higher in her priority list than getting the tip-top price. The lesson? Underlying intentions are often only established through face-to-face dialogue, not through predetermined presentation.

Whether you are winning business or attracting investors, inspiring colleagues or influencing outcomes, focus on building a relationship based on trust and on delivering value. That takes collaboration, not just selling or fine presentation.

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