Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

LAST WEEK, we talked about developing presentations, the importance of knowing your audience and whether the purpose of the presentation is to inform or persuade. I had asked one of my new salesmen to develop and deliver a presentation so I could critique it, deliver feedback, and finally to assure myself that he could be effective in front of clients. After reviewing content during the week, I set up a digital projector in the conference room and asked him to deliver the presentation to me and two colleagues as though he was delivering it to a real audience. He set the stage telling me that his presentation was to be persuasive and delivered to contractors who were familiar with traditional methods of laying concrete floors.

I certainly understand why he might be nervous delivering any presentation in front of his bosses. Despite a rocky start, by the end of the presentation, I felt he had given a reasonable account of himself. Notwithstanding, it was painfully clear that he had no knowledge of effective presentation skills and this is an area he will need a lot of help with.

His presentation was moderately technical with a lot of information on each PowerPoint slide. It was somewhat painful to have to sit and listen to him read the entire contents of every slide in his presentation. As I pointed out afterwards, I (and his audience) are intelligent individuals, all perfectly capable of reading the contents of each slide. Indeed, it might be fair to suggest that delivering a copy of the presentation without his delivery might have parlayed the information in a more efficient manner.

It is always tempting to allow a visual presentation to lead the verbal delivery. Let’s not forget that the audience have come to listen to a real person talk knowledgeably about the product. Reading directly off the slide does nothing to convince the listener that the presenter knows anything! In planning an effective presentation, content should always be developed before playing around with PowerPoint slides.

As an aside, I recall delivering a sales presentation in Cebu to over 1,000 participants some years ago. When the power in the hotel tripped, my laptop shut down, and I was left on stage to continue my verbal delivery. Fortunately, the topic was one that I was extremely conversant with, and the lack of a few colored slides made absolutely no difference whatsoever. I felt my poor salesman would have been completely lost had his presentation suddenly stopped. Without his slides, I think everything would have come to an embarrassing halt!

One more point about showing slides throughout a presentation is that it becomes very tiring on the eyes of the audience. Further, the audience eventually become mesmerized by the slide content and stop listening to the presenter. I was taught a trick, nearly 20 years ago which has proved to be extremely useful. (I fail to understand why Microsoft don’t promote this technique!) If you are showing slides, you can press the letter “B” on your keyboard and the screen will blank out. (Press it again and the slides reappear!) This takes away the tiring glare of the slides, and allows the audience to focus on your words. It also makes it much easier to respond to questions raised during the presentation.

Familiarity with the presentation material is essential. Throughout the years that I taught presentation skills, I made one point very clear. Even the most seasoned of presenters will be nervous if they do not know the content of their presentation. It really isn’t enough to rely on PowerPoint slides to lead you though the content. Rehearsal prior to delivery and investing time to become conversant with both topic and presentation materials will help enormously in this area.

Audiences, whether technical or non-technical, will always be more interested in information they can relate to. With respect to this presentation, it would have been so much more effective had the presenter focused on the problems and issues faced by contractors in laying industrial flooring. He could then have moved on to discussing ways that these problems might be overcome with the new and proposed products.

Developing presentations is not difficult. Indeed, they follow, especially when persuasive, the same outline as an effective sales call. Commence with some brief introductions, and then cover problems, difficulties, dissatisfactions and concerns which the customer might face. Then focus on the positive outcomes of addressing these problems before making a short and concise presentation on how your products can be used. Q&A sessions should follow, but for heaven’s sake, make sure you are prepared to answer all the questions you can predict will be asked.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.