Do you want to appear knowledgeable in front of your customers? Get specific about statistics.
Rather than say, "Most of my customers prefer..." try “More than 75% of our customers find that...". They are both true, but one sounds more quantified and specific. You don’t have to be exact; a close approximation works for all but the most analytical customers.
This also helps if you have a small customer base. You can make your point honestly, while giving your argument weight. After all, if you only have 4 customers, and three of them prefer something, that’s still 75%!
During any persuasive presentation, the audience is much more likely to pay attention and buy in if they understand the value you bring to them. This doesn't mean a list of features and benefits; it means creating a link between your topic and their needs. Try using a "Value Link" opening. In your opening paragraph:
- Start with what you know or heard from the client ("I heard you say that...")
- State how your proposal will solve that problem ("So let me show you how...")
- Then, state your solution or recommendation clearly and confidently ("What I recommend is...")
People will pay attention if they understand you're bringing them value, not just information.
On the television show CBS This Morning last week, Google's Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen generated considerable excitement when they announced "New Age Digital Grants" that would be awarded to people and groups who use technology to solve problems. Eric Schmidt really believes in this, for he has donated $1 million of his own money to the effort. You can read more about the interview on the CBS This Morning website.
Schmidt and Cohen have written a book, The New Digital Age, about the role of technology in solving problems, and they were on the show to promote it. But I think there’s going to be more to this grant program than just promotional potential. I suspect we’ll be seeing it in the news as time goes by.
But the thing that got me most excited about the interview was a remark Schmidt made in response to a question about a recent Thomas Friedman op-ed on hiring at Google. Friedman’s op-ed was based on an interview with Google’s top hiring manager, and it made the point that Google hires for cognitive ability, leadership, humility, and ownership. It evaluates candidates on these dimensions before even attempting to assess their expertise.
But when asked, Schmidt took the idea even further. Most hiring managers, he said, try to hire people based on what they’ve done in the past, while Google tries to hire people based on how they are likely to deal with the future.
And what’s the most important skill for dealing with the future? Effective communication! “It turns out the smartest people sometimes can’t really communicate very well,” said Schmidt. “So we actually select not just for intelligence, but also for the ability to communicate with each other and work as teams. Nobody is a solo actor at Google anymore.”
Nobody is a solo actor at Google anymore! What a concept. In survey after survey, hiring managers say they prize effective communication skills above nearly all other traits and abilities. And yet Schmidt is right. They say they want communications skills, but they continue to hire for expertise. It looks to me like Google is on the right track here. In an age of complexity, when teamwork is absolutely necessary, expertise without communication skills is worthless.
There was a time that expertise, combined with secrecy, was a key to job tenure. You could make yourself indispensable by being the only person in an organization who knew how to perform a critical function. There are still people in organizations who believe that, or at least who behave like they do. But that time is past. If the NSA can’t keep its work methods secret, nobody can. The modern organization cannot afford silos. Employees need to share, and they need to share effectively. They need effective communication skills.
Communispond offers an array of effective communication performance solutions, which can improve teamwork, increase employee self-confidence, lower stress, increase productivity, reduce the number and size of make-good jobs, and increase customer retention – all through improved communication. We are glad to welcome Eric Schmidt to the ranks of the communication believers.
One of the most important pieces of information a sales person can know about their prospect is how her financial calendar works, and define her organization’s fiscal year. Why does this matter?
- Many buying decisions are held off until budgets are set. They may not know if they’ll have the money to purchase anything.
- The end of the fiscal year can be a good time to sell (money left in their budget) or a terrible time (nothing to spend until the new budget cycle kicks in). Before spending a lot of effort or exerting closing pressure, it’s good to know where they are.
- Don’t assume their year works the same as the calendar. Traditionally dead times, like the end of the calendar year or around holidays, can be busy times in companies with different fiscal time frames.
Don’t forget to ask the question, “When is your fiscal year end?”
The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."
What he meant (although he took 200 pages to say it), is that the words and terms we use to describe things shape how we see the world. If you don’t use the same words as others, or if you talk about things in a different "language" than your audience, they won’t understand you.
Check your presentation for jargon and acronyms that your audience might not understand. Try to speak to your customer or audience members in advance and find out any terminology or words that are unique to that group, and use them to connect more effectively.
On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana on re-entry, killing all seven crew members. Edward Tufte, the foremost theorist of information presentation, published a booklet titled The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, in which he argued that bad design of their slides prevented NASA engineers from communicating to NASA management that the Columbia crew faced a life-and-death situation. This may represent the single most critical need for presentation tips ever recorded.
Many people took Tufte’s booklet to be an attack on PowerPoint, but I think it was more an attack on ineffective use of PowerPoint. PowerPoint is like any tool. You can use it well or you can use it badly. The trick is to know the difference. At Communispond, we have reviewed thousands of presentations with an eye toward communication effectiveness, and we have learned some rules of thumb for creating slides that communicate. I can’t turn you into Edward Tufte, but I can give you seven presentation tips on how to design slides so they convey rather than obscure your message.
Presentation Tip: Use Upper and Lower Case. Study after study of legibility has shown that people read upper and lower case text more readily than they read capitalized text. And for titles, you should use initial capital letters. It's a widely accepted convention, and it's also more readable than either all uppercase or all lowercase.
Presentation Tip: Use Two to Four Colors for Text. Using the same color of text throughout can be boring, and boredom lowers alertness levels. But using too many colors can overwhelm the audience. Two colors per screen is very effective. If you need a third and fourth color for headers, headlines, or special emphasis, that's fine.
Presentation Tip: the Rule of Four Bullets. Never use more than four bullet points per screen and never more than four words per bullet. Anything more can dramatically reduce the audience's comprehension and increase the strain of trying to understand the points. The one exception is the technique of “building” the bullets. When you have a single screen that adds the bullets as you present them, you can use more than four, because people are never trying to take in more than one at a time.
Presentation Tip: Use Pictures. Photos, clip art, or cartoons can make points that would take forever to get across with words, and they can do it more dramatically.
Presentation Tip: One Graph Per Slide. Graphs can be a great way to show trends, relationships, and proportions. But putting more than one on a slide increases the effort required by your audience to interpret.
Presentation Tip: Minimize Special Effects. Animations and fancy transitions can be effective when they are used sparingly. But more than one special effect per presentation may be too many. In addition, special effects take the focus away from you.
Presentation Tip: Save Details for Handouts. One way to provide the audience with some of that mountain of information you have assembled is to put it in handouts to distribute after your remarks. They can study the details later.
If you care about making effective presentations, keep your edge by subscribing to Communispond’s free weekly e-newsletter, The Echo. Every issue provides a helpful tip for improving your presentation and communication skills.
We've all been there. The sales call we've carefully planned for weeks is about to start, and the prospect says, "Something’s come up and I only have 20 minutes till my next meeting". What do you do?
Many sales people will be determined to make the most of the time and dive right in to their presentations, hoping to get through as much as they can in the time allotted. This can overwhelm the customer and not really answer her questions. The customer’s subtle messages are overlooked as the salesperson is so focused on her “make or break” pitch.
A better solution is to breathe deeply, swallow frustration, and smile. Then say, “Of course. I’ve come prepared to show you what we can do, but why don’t you tell me your priorities, and we can focus on those to make the best use of your time?”
You’ll build good will with customers, save time talking about things that aren’t of concern to them and, if you’re successful, buy more time or a second meeting.
Dale Carnegie was perhaps the most famous modern teacher of presentation skills. He had a quote which is important to all of us:
"There are always three speeches, for every one you actually give: The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave."
Only through practice can you hope to get close to having all three be the same. Don’t forget rehearsal is more than just flipping through your PowerPoint slides minutes before show time.
There are two common views of persuasion. The first view sees persuasion and the speakingskills that achieve it as manipulation. This is wrong-headed. I am not saying you cannot use effective speaking skills to manipulate people. I’m just saying it’s self-defeating. The manipulation of another person's point of view will last no longer than it takes the person to discover the manipulation. Persuasion, on the other hand, can last forever.
The other view of persuasion is provided by the dictionary definition, which doesn’t mention speaking skills at all. The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (Second Edition) says “persuade” has two meanings in modern American English:
1. to prevail on (a person) to do something, as by advising or urging
2. to induce to believe by appealing to reason or understanding; convince.
But the dictionary definition hides an important part of the persuasion process. Persuasion works by acting on the emotions, at least in part. It’s important to plan a coherent case, of course, but organizing your points and creating your slides is only half the task. The effective presentation of your case requires a set of physical skills known as speaking skills. These are skills that can be learned and improved through practice.
These speaking skills include (but aren’t limited to)
- arm placement
- voice projection
- eye-brain control.
Don’t wait you’re actually presenting to perform these speaking skills. Rehearse them beforehand. Practice in front of a mirror, or make videos of yourself. Keep doing it until your body knows what it feels like to project your voice to the back of a room, to keep your shoulders back and your head up, to keep your hands at your sides unless you're gesturing. When you're gesturing, use your whole arm and gesture away from your body. If this sounds like work, it is. And that's part of the secret of reducing whatever anxiety you may have about public speaking. When you work, you burn off nervous and excess energy.
Also, when your body knows what it feels like to be this way, when you are actually relaxed with the posture and gestures of a confident speaker, you will be developing what we call “muscle memory.” In this regard, learning speaking skills isn’t very much different from learning roller skating, saber fencing, high diving, or boxing. All these endeavors involve putting your body into certain positions until those positions feel natural. When they feel natural enough, you can combine and recombine them in new ways. Note, however, that at your presentation nobody's going to punch you or thrust a sword at you, and you won't have to jump off a high diving board. Does that make a big presentation seem a little less scary?
Our Executive Presentation Skills® program teaches both halves of the persuasion process. We teach the planning half by working with you to develop or refine a presentation based on your own job. We teach the speaking skills half by having you practice the skills while we record you on video. Then you can see for yourself how well you perform, and we have something to refer to when we evaluate your performance.
When a customer shares information, a wise salesperson plays the information, and shows good listening skills. Here are some tips for making this standard skill more powerful:
- Quote the customer. When the customer uses emotional words like “mission-critical”, or has a specific term for something (such as associates instead of employees), use that term back to them when summarizing.
- Note not only the facts, but the feelings. Sales people play back facts very well, but we sometimes miss the emotions that accompany them. For example, the customer may say they want 12 of something, but they don’t sound very happy about it. Find out why.
- Don’t just ask if you have summarized correctly. Take it a step further by asking, “What else should I know?"
Don’t try to close a sale without summarizing first. You might miss an important piece of information, and the customer will feel you’re just hurrying to the close.