Guide Them Down the Decision Path

By Heather Baldwin

In a sales presentation your job usually is to help the audience make a decision. And the best way to do that is to walk audience members through the decision-making process, gently guiding them toward your solution so in the end they feel as though they made the decision. “You can push people to act, but the harder you push, the more pushback you’ll get,” says Nick Morgan, founder of communications coaching company Public Words ( and author of Give Your Speech, Change the World (Harvard Business School Press, 2003). “Smart speakers lead audience members down the decision-making path, letting them do the hard work of committing themselves.” To accomplish this, your presentation needs to walk your audience through the five decision-making steps, which must occur in the following order.

1. Audience members must recognize there’s a problem and understand how it relates to them. Without that realization, says Morgan, there’s no need for the audience to commit to a change. So begin your presentation by telling a brief story that illustrates and frames the problem. Maybe you had a conversation with one of their disgruntled customers, or a positive experience with a product from a rival company. Whatever the story, it should be real and relevant.

2. Provide a thorough and honest analysis of the situation. This step corresponds to the fact-gathering process people undertake when they know they have a problem. Dive into a straightforward summary of their customer satisfaction data. Analyze their production line or examine the ins and outs of their supply chain. “The key here is not to pull punches,” says Morgan. “Tell it to the audience members straight out. Don’t point fingers, but don’t avoid painful truths.”

3. Present your solution. If it’s not controversial, just present your solution in a simple and straightforward manner. If it is controversial, describe three alternatives and tell in order why each one won’t work. Then describe your solution, including any pitfalls. “The point is to walk audience members through the decision-making process. If there are other obvious alternatives and pitfalls to your own, don’t avoid them,” says Morgan. “If you do, audience members will discuss those pitfalls at the water cooler after your presentation and all your hard work will be for nothing.”

4. Spell out the benefits of the choice you want audience members to make. You’re goal here is to help them visualize the good things ahead. Don’t threaten about what will happen if they don’t go with your solution; rather, help them over the difficult hurdle of actually making the decision by painting alluring pictures of the success that awaits them.

5. Get audience members started on the action steps you want them to take by giving them a small, easy step they can take right there in the room. “Once people make a decision and take a modest step toward realizing the benefits of that decision, they’ve done the hardest work,” says Morgan. “The rest may take all of the second quarter and involve a lot of long hours, but it’s relatively easy by comparison.” The small step might be filling out a diagnostic exercise that shows where opportunities for growth exist, or writing down on a 3×5 card the things they could accomplish in the time they save each day with your solution. Whatever it is, that one small step in the direction of your solution is a big step towards getting a yes.