The Wrong You

By Heather Baldwin

No doubt you know that every point in your presentation should address the question: What’s in it for you? – with the reference to you being your customers. In other words, it’s fine that your new widget operates five times faster than the previous model, but you need to translate that into what it means for your audience. The problem many presenters have when answering this question, or expressing what their product’s features and benefits mean to their audience, is that they sometimes address the wrong you. Here’s an example.

A CEO, whose company manufactures dental instruments, was preparing to take his company public and, in preparation, rehearsed his presentation with Jerry Weissman, author of Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story (Pearson Education, 2003). In his book, Weissman describes how the CEO “eloquently presented the strengths of his company, focusing in particular on the high quality of its products.” Weissman was role-playing a high-powered fund manager at Fidelity and listened as the CEO held up one of his dental instruments and said, “With this instrument, you can do better root canal procedures more quickly and with less pain.” A great benefit – if you’re a dentist. But Weissman was an investor, not a dentist. After recognizing his error, the CEO held up the instrument again and said, “So you can see that the thousands of endodontists across the country and thousands more around the world who want to do better root canals need instruments like this one, and they’ll have to buy them from us.” Now he had the right you.

Here’s another example. A different CEO, also preparing to take his company public and also doing a rehearsal with Weissman, showed the author a large, thick manual during the product portion of his presentation. “This is our product catalog,” the CEO said. “No other company in the industry has as many products in its catalog as we do.” That’s a great advantage if you’re a buyer looking for the supplier with the greatest breadth of inventory, but it didn’t make much of an impression on Weissman who again was role-playing a Fidelity fund manager. The CEO tried again. Holding up the catalog once more, the CEO said, “With this depth of product, we protect our revenue stream against cyclical variations.” Aha – the right you.

The message here is that when formulating your answers to the question: What’s in it for you, don’t lose sight of your audience. It’s easy to do in today’s complex market. Chances are you present to customers with many different needs, goals and biases. Don’t mistake today’s audience for yesterday’s.