One of the best pieces of advice you can give a sales person or even a colleague giving an important presentation is to begin with the end in mind. Where have you heard that before? I am not sure Steven Covey used the phrase in the same way, but it can be incredibly powerful. What is it that you are trying to accomplish during a sales call or a key presentation? Once you have that figured out the rest is easy. Follow this simple formula. Start by telling the audience what you are going tell them, then tell them and finish by telling them what you told them. It is simple, right?
Just to back up this thinking and to give it some academic rigor read through last week’s Harvard Business Review blog on presenting to senior leaders. The message is simple. These people are very busy and have no interest in a theatrical production. They want to concentrate on the meat of the matter not all the charts, graphs and bullets you can squeeze into a PowerPoint presentation. What action are you requesting? Why are you requesting the action? How will it impact the business? What does the leader need to do? Please note that all presentations to physicians or other customers should be viewed the same as they too are just as important as internal leaders in your company.
Several years ago when a new CEO started his tenure at our company he set out some new rules for presentations. He said he had sat through way too many slides and way too much senseless discussion as he was making his way up the organization and now that he was the boss he wasn’t going to continue to spend his life that way. He emphasized that he had an open office policy and definitely wanted to be updated on key issues facing the business but just didn’t want to live through endless streams of slides. He insisted that all presentations should merely be a discussion of the issue, ideas for solving the problem and what it was he needed to do. He did allow a one page handout in order to illustrate financials or other points being made. The new environment clearly changed the game and challenged those who loved to build presentations without ever really having a purpose or an end in mind. Thinking became much more crisp and decisions were made much quicker. This is not for everyone but there was definitely a leadership lesson there for the entire organization.
Perhaps there is no better example of where this information overload is hurting the business than in the visual aids produced for the sales teams in the pharmaceutical industry. Despite the fact that presentations are much shorter than ever and rep access has dramatically declined, the sales tools are built as if every call is a 10 minute “sit down” where a rep can go through many pages of information. We need to get real. How many reps start a call by telling the physician exactly why they are there? When you promise something up front you need to deliver and that is a challenge. I know we work in a regulated industry that requires fair balance and discussion of safety issues but it must be understood that this needs to be handled within the “real world” that reps are living.
Perhaps this could be a challenge for 2013. How can you make your business presentations and sales materials crisper? By doing so you show a much greater respect for your audiences. You might be surprised how much more effective you become. Try it out. The shock impact alone may get people to pay attention. It will show the audience you are seeking constant improvement. You might also be surprised that you succeed in getting whatever end you had in mind.