Treat Sales Presentations Like Performances

Damnit, Jim! I’m a sales rep, not an actor!

You will see a dramatic improvement in the delivery of your sales presentations with the application of techniques from public speaking and dramatic acting. Sales professionals who want to deliver killer presentations would be wise to consider pressing their comfort zones a bit and exploring new ways to structure and prepare for these engagements.

The most effective and compelling sales presentations are disciplined and thoughtfully planned performances.

The shift is to approach presentations like performances and I’ve been fortunate to learn from two of the most recognized leaders in the discipline of effective public speaking.

The first is master coach Bill Hoogterp, founder of Own The Room in Montclair, NJ. I spent two months working with Bill and his senior team and had a chance to observe and participate in a number of day-long coaching sessions with their corporate clients. Own The Room boasts an incredible roster of repeat customers including the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn, Siemens and Twitter and the impact that their coaches have in the span of eight hours on individual speaking skills and executive presence is nothing short of remarkable.

The second experience was with the legendary Michael Port, renowned actor, speaker, trainer and author of the recently published Steal the Show. At the suggestion of my friend Jay Baer — a world class speaker in his own right — I attended Michael’s three-day Heroic Public Speaking workshop in Ft. Lauderdale with more than 300 other individuals and professional speakers determined to sharpen the saw and improve how they communicate their message to the world.

The idea of approaching speaking engagements (and by extension, sales presentations) as performances is one of the core concepts put forth by Michael Port. It’s a little uncomfortable. It’s a little weird. But the fact of the matter is that the most effective and compelling sales presentations are disciplined and thoughtfully planned performances.

Sales presentations are often the culmination of long, diligent sales processes in which great care is taken to uncover customer needs, align solutions, and craft a narrative that will tell a compelling story of delivering business value.

When it comes to show time, however, too often sales professionals just dust-off their most recent PowerPoint, change some logos and copy, and deliver their routine. The difference between “ehh, it was OK” and “wow — that was really something” is the degree of rigor, care and precision that is taken with the preparation, the content, and the delivery. In short — how much it is treated like a performance.

As you approach your next big sales presentation, here are some key tips and performance concepts to consider:

PREPARATION

The camera is the best coach. – Bill Hoogterp

Do the work. You’re not as good at winging it as you think you are, so practice and rehearse. With other people. Collaboration is incredibly important and constructive feedback is a gift — so ask for it. There is always something to improve, press your colleagues to tell you what it is.

You play like you practice. When preparing, try to replicate the conditions of your delivery. Role play like it’s live and don’t break character. If you blank on your delivery, stay with the audience and keep pressing forward, even when practicing.

Prepare thoroughly. People expect you to be incredibly prepared. When you’re letting it go and letting it come to you at the same time — people can tell. The space for that to occur can only be created with practice and preparation.

Rehearse. Presenters tend to push back on rehearsal. They think that it will make them stiff and the delivery feel staged. They’re right — when one tries only a little bit of rehearsal, that’s what happens. When you rehearse enough, though, you can step on the stage or into the meeting space and let it all go and be there in the moment. It will not feel staged; it will feel inspired.

Do it on camera. The best way to identify areas to improve is to take out your iPhone and film yourself delivering the material, little bits at a time. The camera is the best coach — there’s no place to hide.

CONTENT

Performance isn’t fake. Performance is authentic behavior in a manufactured environment. – Michael Port

Be clear in your objective and go there. Know what you’re going after and push through, that’s what moves a performance forward — the authentic pursuit. The audience wants to take the journey with you whether they’re conscious of it or not, even in a pitch meeting. They want to see the objective reached because they know that there’s something in it for them too.

Utilize the three act structure. Exposition, conflict, resolution. It’s been around for thousands of years for a reason. Let it be your guide.

Frame it out. First work out the following, then start creating your content:

  1. The big idea
  2. The promise of what they can expect
  3. How to convey that you understand the way the world looks to the people in the room
  4. How to articulate the consequences of not taking action
  5. How to demonstrate the rewards of achieving the promise

People don’t buy ideas, they buy protocols. They want a very specific process that has a beginning, middle and end; if your audience can see where it goes then they can see the delivery on your promise.

DELIVERY

Most people coast on talent. They never really go out and learn advanced techniques. – Bill Hoogterp

Be aware of filters. Your job is to get through to the audience. Everyone has filters that block the information coming at them; your job as a presenter is to get the filters down so your message can get through to them and help them see a new way of doing things.

Start differently. Almost everyone starts their presentation with “Hi my name is X from Y, it’s great to be here at Z and I really appreciate you taking the time today…” Don’t ever do that again. It sends the filters flying up. Open with a (short) story, an insightful question — something, anything other than what everyone else does.

Engage the audience. Use people’s names to keep them engaged or draw them back in if you see that their filters are up. Eye contact helps you connect with people, but lock eyes for a few seconds so you actually make that connection, otherwise you’re just skimming faces.

Give yourself some space in which to operate. Use the space you’re given — it’s your stage. Lean in to your message, and propel key points forward with forward motion. Stay off your heels — you’ll end up leaning back which weakens your position and makes you look unsure and amateurish. Stagger your feet a little, which will keep you from rocking side to side.

Punctuate with your voice and movement. There is no punctuation when speaking — you need to use the inflection of your voice and the movement of your hands and body to provide structure and contrast. Harmonize the movement of your hands and your body with your content.

If you care more about being in service than being impressive than you can do this. – Michael Port

There are scores of other tips and tricks that you can employ to up-level the quality of your presentation. I encourage you to seek them out and try them. Experiment.

The important thing is to accept that you can always improve and that a new perspective, a new approach, is often the way that improvement is shepherded in. The job of selling is, above all else, a job of communicating, of identifying obstacles to understanding and removing them, of seeing paths to clarity and illuminating them. Your performance is the story of that journey, and it deserves to be done well.

Break a leg.

[Originally posted on LinkedIn]