Have a Conversation, not a Presentation

By Heather Baldwin

Titles are powerful things. If you’re giving a presentation to a CEO, you’ll probably be so nervous you won’t sleep the night before. But schedule the same presentation with the Marketing Manager and suddenly it doesn’t seem so painful. Or take the title “presentation” itself. It implies something formal, something requiring PowerPoint slides and something to fear. But call it a conversation and suddenly it’s a much more relaxing event. So the next time you’re invited to give a presentation, drop that word from your vocabulary and instead prepare for a conversation, suggests Robert Bly, author of Magnetic Selling: Develop the Charm and Charisma that Attract Customers and Maximize Sales (AMACOM, 2006). Here’s how to do it:

1. Flexible agenda. Prepare an agenda slide but make sure it’s flexible. If the prospect wants to discuss Item 4 before Item 2 on your list, be ready to go in that direction. Remember, it’s a conversation and conversations are freeflowing. Don’t let your mind get stuck thinking you have to discuss things in a certain order.

2. Restate your understanding of the customer’s problem early in the presentation. This restatement prompts the customer to agree with your assessment or to correct any misunderstanding and brings the customer into the conversation.

3. Build in questions to ensure the audience continues to participate in the conversation. You could put these questions on a PowerPoint slide, write them on a white board or easel or simply pose them verbally.

4. Focus, focus, focus. When a prospect speaks, give him/her 100 percent of your attention, just as you would if the two of you were sitting in a coffee shop. Focus entirely on the prospect, paraphrase or question to ensure you understood correctly – and to communicate that you understood – then address the issue raised.

5. Take notes. When an audience member raises a concern, makes a request, provides greater detail about a problem or says anything else that you need to remember, write it down. You can do this with pen and paper or on PowerPoint (keep open a blank slide that you can toggle to at any time to record these important issues and show at the end). Note taking ensures your follow-up documents will be filled with good, specific material. Moreover, the act of note taking is reassuring, visible proof to prospects that you are indeed paying attention to what is being said. And don’t forget to use it for yourself, too. Jot down questions as they occur to you so you don’t forget to ask them later on in the conversation.

“The key is to remember that you are not in the meeting to ‘give a pitch,’ as so many salespeople and consultants mistakenly believe. You are there to help the prospect solve a problem or achieve an objective,” Bly concludes. So next time you’re asked to give a presentation, think of it as a conversation aimed at helping a prospect solve a problem and you’ll be a much more relaxed and effective presenter – er, conversationalist.