Presentation’s Crystal Ball

By Heather Baldwin

Ever wish you knew beforehand what an audience will think of your sales presentation? New York-based Presentation Testing can tell you. No, they don’t employ a battalion of psychics to predict the outcome; instead, they measure the reaction of an audience using the same type of technology used to measure the effectiveness of political speeches and the believability of potential witnesses in trials. They then provide second-by-second feedback that shows exactly where your presentation is strongest and where it still needs work.

Here’s how it works. Presentation Testing gathers an audience representative of the one to which you’ll be presenting, and that audience then sits through your presentation, either live or on video. During the presentation, each audience member holds a dial and turns it up or down in response to one question, such as: How interested are you in what the speaker is saying?

“If they’re fascinated, they turn the dial up towards 100; if they’re bored to tears they turn it down towards zero,” explains Rich Thau, president of Presentation Testing. “Every member of the audience has the number on their dial captured at every second.” With that information, Presentation Testing charts the average of the ups and downs and superimposes it onto a video of your presentation. So when the line heads south, you can see exactly where your presentation breaks down.

An employee benefits company used the technology to test reaction to a sales presentation. “We found that at three distinct points in the presentation – when the speaker used an analogy – the lines all tracked up high for about 15 to 20 seconds, then they kept dropping and dropping as he continued drawing out the analogy,” said Thau. “We determined that it wasn’t the analogy that was the problem, it was that he beat it to death. This is something you would never know without the dials.” Better to unearth those kinds of problems on a test audience than on a real prospect!

The cost of the service varies depending on what you need, but for Presentation Testing to recruit a dozen audience members, prepare the speaker, do the live testing, interpret the data and provide the report afterwards would run between $10,000 and $15,000. If that sounds like a lot, consider what you could lose if you don’t close the sale because of a simple problem like those long analogies.

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