6 min read

Make the right impression in a presentation

The Do's and Don'ts of speaking to senior decision makers

Last month, our Web class on presentations attracted more than double the usual number of attendees. This made me realize just how hungry sales people are for advice on how to develop and give sales presentations that make an impact – and win business.

When it comes to presentations, the two questions I’m asked more than any other are: 1) how to present to senior decision makers; and 2) how to use PowerPoint or presentation software effectively.

This month, we’ll be looking at both of these critical areas in depth. Today, let’s start by examining the Do’s and Don’ts of presenting to true senior-level decision makers.


While I’m sure most of you are already well aware of the Don’ts, you may be surprised to hear that I still witness many or even all of them in over 90 per cent of the presentations I watch and coach. Whenever you’re presenting to senior decision makers, remember:

1. Don’t draw negative attention to yourself. Nerves and enthusiasm can get in the way of a great presentation. On the one hand, you don’t want to come across like a frozen fish stick. But on the other, being too animated – such as unnecessary movement or fidgeting with your favorite accessory – can often distract your audience from listening to what you have to say.

For women, remember that you want your audience to concentrate on your face, not the new pair of shoes you’re wearing or the elaborate brooch on your jacket. For men, leave the change in your pockets alone. For all of you, keep your hands away from your face, as this can make people think you’ve got something to hide.

2. Don’t memorize your whole presentation the night before. A couple of days or a week before the big event, memorize your opening, key points and conclusion only. Practice your presentation enough so that you can forget about it for a few days, and then revisit it the night before as a refresher and to refine your points. This will help you sound spontaneous and conversational, and ensure you look like the expert you are.

3. Never, ever read your lines. This goes for both scripts and PowerPoint slides. If you’re reading or the lights are low to enhance your slides, you can’t make the eye contact that is vital to building trust. It’s okay to bring in a few notes summarizing your key points in short, single sentences. It’s also okay to take in a list of questions you may need to ask, or notes on the interviews you conducted before the presentation. Just don’t take a whole speech in with you, unless you want your audience to fall asleep.


So, what should you do instead to ensure a winning presentation?

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare. You‘ve heard that the three most important things in real estate are “location, location, location?” Well, when it comes to making a presentation, the three most important things you can do are to “prepare, prepare, prepare!”

Even though delivering a presentation to a senior manager or decision maker may not feel like a casual, friendly conversation to you, you have to make sure it sounds like one to them. Making this happen takes advance preparation – a lot.

Once you have your notes, slides and handouts ready, practice out loud to your sales manager, while you’re in the shower or when going for a walk. Make sure you’re completely comfortable with what you intend to say, and don’t memorize! Presentations aren’t required to be perfect. They’re about being genuine, and you can only be genuine about material you know inside and out.

I know, I know – many of you are thinking: “Notes? Practice? I don’t have time for that!” In fact, many of you probably never practice your presentations in advance, right? Consider this: if your presentation doesn’t win you the business, then it really was time wasted, wasn’t it? Given how much time and energy you put into obtaining a lead, making contact, building a relationship and setting up the opportunity to make your pitch, taking a few minutes while you’re in an airplane or walking the dog to practice could be the best way to save time you ever come across.

2. Begin at the end. First, let me fill you in on a little-known fact: 90 per cent of sales people get this one wrong.

Advertising guru David Ogilvy observed that the worst thing you can put into an ad for any product is a picture of the factory (unless, of course, you’re selling factories!). Why? Because no one but you cares about your factory – they just want to find out what the product it produces can do for them!

Well, the same is true for presentations. Never open with “let me tell you a bit about our company . . .” Nobody cares about you or your company! At least, not until they see how you can solve their problems or challenges. So don’t make your audience wait to find out why you’re there. The best way to captivate decision makers, engage them in your presentation and win more business is to begin with your conclusion, and start upfront with a review of their issues – and how you intend to help solve them.

While you’re at it, have a testimonial ready from a client in a similar industry or level to back up your successful track record in solving each issue you want to discuss. That way, when you describe your success, it’s not bragging. It’s the truth.

3. Make the connection. Don’t just list all the great features your product has to offer. Link the features to the concrete benefits they can provide, as well as to the specific customer need or problem they’re intended to help solve.

Don’ t assume that the client will make the connection themselves – trust me, they won’t. Plus, use simple, straightforward language whenever you can – something like: “You mentioned that you’re concerned about Problem A. We can solve that with Feature B, which does CDE. In fact, John at Company XYZ mentioned to me the other day that, when he was going through the same issue…”

It’s your job to connect the dots, and outline the benefits your customer will receive if your recommendation is adopted. Make these benefits seem vivid, obtainable – and real.

Afraid of talking about price? Why?

4. Talk about price. If you have all the decision makers together in one place, you’d be foolish not to talk about price. Why? Because when the decision makers are all in front of you (and believe me, this won’t happen often!), you can more easily gauge their reactions, and respond accordingly.

If your price is right, you’ll see their comfort instantly. If it’s too high, you’ll be able to see their discomfort. Don’t be scared of the discomfort, and by all means don’t ignore it. Instead, be as upfront about it as you can, and say something like: “I sense that you’re not comfortable with that price. Can I ask why?” By talking about their concerns, you’ll be able to resolve the issue on the spot.

Also, try to find ways to show them how not following your recommendation will cost them even more. Is there an example of a customer you can think of that didn’t go with your solution at first, but came back to you after discovering that doing nothing cost them more?

5. List your specific recommendations. Summarize all your specific recommendations at the end of your presentation, and prioritize them to reflect what you want your audience to remember the most. Concluding with general statements about how great your company is, how many employees you have and how many awards you’ve won will only succeed in losing their interest. Instead, focus on the bottom line. Report on your satisfied customers and their results – not on yourself.

6. Look everyone in the eye. If you look your audience in the eye when you speak, you will be both more persuasive and more believable. This may seem basic, but you’d be surprised how many sales people let their nerves get the better of them, and drop their gaze back to the relative comfort of their notes or PowerPoint slides just a few minutes into their presentations.

Force yourself to keep a fixed gaze on one person at a time as you finish each point. Don’t make scattered eye contact across the room as if you were watching a tennis match, as this will only make everyone feel equally unimportant. Instead, give everyone their own private eye contact moment during your presentation.

The longer the eye contact you establish with an individual, the more intimate the relationship. Once that intimacy has been established, they won’t mind or even notice when you shift your eye contact to someone else. And remember: you can’t do this if you’re reading!

7. Be brief! The fewer words you can use to get your message across, the better. Jerry Seinfeld says: “I spend an hour taking an eight-word sentence and making it five.” In Jerry’s case, shorter means funnier, and it seems to have worked pretty well for him. In your case, shorter is more memorable – and repeatable.

When you are clear, concise and 100 per cent focused on what the customer wants to hear, you’ll make a much stronger impression. More importantly, you’ll dramatically increase the chances that the customer will want to buy from you.

One final thought: customers buy based on how you act, and how that makes them feel. If you look nervous, act like a know-it-all or make them feel like they weren’t worth the effort of preparing for the meeting, the way they’ll feel won’t be good, and your chances of making the sale will drop to zero.

Colleen Francis is a certified sales professional advisor. You can catch her on the Web at www.engageselling.com.