02nd Apr 2009

Use Sales Skills to Give Effective Presentations

by Karen McHenry

Even if your job title isn’t “Sales Executive”, there’s an element of sales involved in everyday business interactions. Sales techniques can be particularly useful when preparing and giving presentations. Key to effective presentations is body language, understanding the audience, and giving the right communication signals.

Words + Body Language = Successfully Communicated Message

Presentations appeal to both our sense of hearing and our sense of sight. The words that a speaker uses are important. However, effective sales people and presenters recognize that the spoken word combines with body language to create an overall message. Body language can’t be underestimated as an important component of presentations.

When making a presentation, you should avoid body language that conveys discomfort or unfriendliness. Examples include: keeping your hands in your pockets, clasping your hands behind your back (i.e., military “at ease” stance), and folding your arms in front of you. It is essential to maintain an open and friendly expression on your face, and to maintain eye contact with the audience.

By combining a well crafted presentation with neutral body language, you greatly increase the likelihood of communicating your message successfully.

Know and Involve the Audience

Before you prepare even a single word of a presentation, you should know who your audience is. This will allow you to tailor your message to the specific group you will be talking to. Sales people know that they may have only one chance to meet with a prospect – knowing as much as possible about the audience beforehand increases the chance of success.

In the event that you are asked to give an on-the-spot presentation, it can be useful to ask the audience a few short questions at the beginning. This will allow you quickly modify your message and also perhaps anticipate potential questions.

Audiences have an incredibly short attention span – on the order of 13 seconds. People in sales have learned to repeatedly engage the audience over the course of a meeting. This same principle applies to presentations. There are a number of different techniques that you can use to involve your audience:

  • Try using a prop to get the audience’s attention and interest.
  • Ask “check-in” questions during the course of presentation. For example, you might ask, “How important is that to you?” or “What do you think of that idea?”
  • Tell interesting stories. While people may be conditioned to resist a sales pitch or a dull presentation, few can resist the pull of a good story.
  • Walk around the presentation space. This movement increases interaction with the audience. In addition, it requires the presenter to maintain better eye contact with the group.

Joe Tragert, Director of Market Development at an information services firm, makes numerous presentations. He is constantly “selling” new product ideas to various internal groups, customers, and prospects in a variety of venues. These range from a few people in an office, to a few hundred people at an industry conference. “The basis for a successful presentation is knowing what the audience is interested in and sharing your vision or detailed view with them in a way to which they can relate,” Tragert said. “Encouraging audience input as much as is practical is a great way to get new input for your ideas, and also to get your ideas across to that audience. When people are engaged in the information exchange, they tend to retain more of the information you provide.”

Simplify Communication Signals

When crafting the content of your presentation, focus on keeping it simple and easy to understand. It is a good practice to avoid jargon, legalese, and acronyms. When sentences are simple and short, they are easier to remember. Sales people often treat talking points as sound bites that will be easy to write down and remember. The same principle applies to non-sales presentations. Organize your thoughts, be succinct, and don’t be afraid to repeat key ideas more than once.

Also bear in mind that you may be communicating more than your message. Be aware of anything which could be a distraction from your presentation – this might be noisy jewelry, coins that rattle in a pocket, or clothing that is distracting. Simplifying your message also applies to your appearance.

The measure of a good salesperson is how many deals he or she closes. The measure of a good presenter is the enthusiasm of the applause. By applying sales techniques, such as body language, involving the audience, and simplifying the message, you are sure to deliver more engaging and dynamic presentations.

Karen McHenry consults to the software industry on strategy and new product development, writes on business, technology and career issues, and teaches at Endicott College.

Copyright © 2008 Karen McHenry

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