Business people often say the presentation of any concept or sales call is as important as the content, in some cases even more important.

So what are the ingredients of a successful presentation? What practical insights are there on how to improve your personal skills? What do you need to know to create presentations that not only get rave reviews, but also succeed in getting recommendations approved and vigorously supported?

business pitchIn 30 years of teaching presentation effectiveness at one of Canada’s premier business schools, we’ve had a real life lab in what works, and what business owners, executives, and sales people really need. They told us they want a way to reduce the time required to prepare a presentation significantly. They want to know how to respond to challenges and objections from the audience; and, they want to stay in control of the situation and not have their meeting hijacked. And of course everyone wants to know how to control the nerves and fear of standing up to present.

This is a rich subject for discussion. Let’s start by looking at what we see are the biggest mistakes people make every day.

As a starting point, please realize that nobody wants to talk about your product or service! Your business is the most important thing to you, but your prospect’s or client’s business is the most important thing to her. A good rule of thumb is to talk a lot about them, and very little about you. Your audience wants to know one thing only: how is your product or service going to help me compete in a dynamic, cluttered, and puzzling market. So don’t tell them about how fast your widget processing speed is, tell them how much faster their product will get into customers’ hands and start pumping out cash.

Start your presentation with a promise of value. We feel so strongly about this we insist that all our clients begin their presentations with these exact words, “At the end of this meeting you will have…” Make it as relevant as you can.

A good trick is to find out what the audience’s biggest frustration is with your product or service category, and build a promise around solving it. You might say, “At the end of this meeting, you will have a proven solution to your inventory problem, which will increase stock turns by 14 percent.” Be focused. Be specific.

End your presentation with a clear request for meaningful action, and double your chances of getting a positive response by demonstrating that you have skin in the game too. This simply means that you will ask your audience to do something, and promise to do something meaningful in return.

Here’s how that might go: “Bob, I’m asking you to purchase twelve dozen of our gizmos for delivery by the end of the month, and in return I will provide our advanced training for the whole team a week before the stock is delivered.”

Simple rules that will make a real difference in how well your presentations and sales calls go: talk more about the customer than about your company; start with a promise; end with a clear “ask” and another promise.

Why does this work? Well, when we talk to heads of companies large and small and ask them what bugs them most about sales calls and supplier presentations, they tell us (and very frankly I might add): people who don’t understand their business; lengthy meetings with no clear outcome or value proposition for them; and no commitment by the supplier to contribute to success.

There’s an old sales guy motto you might recall right about now: the customer is always right. In this situation, it’s worth paying attention to.

ducttapemarketingbadgeKen Burgin and Elizabeth Walker are the Marketing Masters (, a full-service marketing and advertising partnership that helps build busy businesses. Send your ideas on How to Thrive in Times Like These to or, or call 1-866-908-5720.


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