Coping With Last-Minute Changes

By Heather Baldwin

What a nightmare! You’re about to give an uplifting, motivational presentation to a group of salespeople, but before you get started the sales manager goes on a tirade and demoralizes every person in the group. Now what do you do? Well, not long ago it happened just like that to David Richardson.

Richardson, a professional speaker, executive speech coach and president of Richardson Resource Group in Scottsdale, AZ, was hired to give a motivational speech to a group of salespeople. He prepared an uplifting speech aimed at “stimulating and encouraging these sales professionals in all elements of their personal and business lives,” he recalls. But everything changed when the sales manager got up to introduce Richardson and instead spent 30 minutes berating, belittling and raging at his team’s inability to achieve quotas, make sales calls, contact customers – you name it. “He singled people out by name, pointed directly at them, and proceeded to list their specific failures one by one,” says Richardson. “Then he turned to me and said, ‘Okay, Dave, now get up here and motivate these people.'” Richardson realized then that his original speech wouldn’t work and that he would need to switch gears. Fast.

Every sales professional gets thrown off track with last-minute changes from time to time. It may be a room change, and the new room has too much ambient light, overcoming your portable projector. Or perhaps you are allotted an hour for your presentation, and when you show up, your contact hurriedly informs you that “something’s come up” and now you have only 20 minutes. Or, you are scheduled to present to the CEO, and five minutes before your presentation you’re told the vice president of operations, whose concerns you know to be much different than those of the CEO, will be sitting in instead.

If you’re prepared, change is no sweat, says Richardson. First, he says, identify the real problem. If the last-minute change is due to a real crisis in the customer’s business, “it’s possible their focus will not be fully on your presentation.” If that’s the case, ask to reschedule. Second, always have a back-up plan – a flip chart in case your projector doesn’t work or the room is too bright; shorter versions of your presentation in case your time is suddenly compressed.

Finally, be familiar enough with your technology that you can quickly re-vamp your slides to address fewer or different key points. However, Richardson cautions, “Above all, do not remove the powerful examples, analogies and stories you have designed to validate your points. You may shorten them, but don’t delete them.”

So how did Richardson handle that motivational speech? He tossed the script out the window, brought a flip chart to the front of the room and began a discussion of each key point the sales manager had addressed. “I listed each problem on the flip chart and then conducted a discussion with the group, generating ideas on how each of these concerns could be resolved,” he says. In the end, the team left the meeting upbeat, armed with concrete solutions that would help them boost sales. Ironically, Richardson adds, “The sales manager said this was the best presentation he’d ever seen, and he has become one of my favorite clients.”