It’s an audition because customers have choices; you, the competition, or not making a choice at all.
The role you are auditioning for is that of “most compelling choice” — you want your offer selected and a sale made. The stage is your customer’s office; and all that remains is to prepare your performance, just like an actor for an audition.
However, many horrific things can happen if you don’t know your presentation’s logistics before you show up. While you may hyper-train and rehearse your part, you can still under-prepare, which is a common script for disaster.
When it’s showtime, getting the “need-to-know” information” before going on stage can mean the difference between a sale and a humiliating failure (NOTE: there’s a free checklist below).
SHOWTIME PRESENTATION: What you “Need-to-Know”
You’re seeking advance knowledge about the people and place you’ll be performing in. Without that information, walking into a presentation is like going on stage naked: Not one’s first choice.
Here are five presentation need-to-knows:
#1 KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Strangers Not Allowed
Never guess who will be viewing your performance, or you’ll suffer like an unprepared actor. However, most customers don’t volunteer the information you need.
Occasionally they’ll provide an agenda but that’s only to make it easy for them to compare you to the competition. This leaves you in the position of asking for the information you need. So ask.
1.) Ask your contact who may be in the room during your sales performance. Imagine how you might prepare differently knowing the CFO was planning to be there.
The key is asking who “might” be there as you accept the fact schedules change but advance knowledge is what you’re after.
Make sure to get their titles as your contact may only provide their names – your preparation won’t differ for a Jane, John or James but should for the President compared to a purchasing assistant.
2.) If your contact doesn’t know who may be at your presentation, politely prod them to ask around.
It’s OK to request a little effort from those scheduling presentations as it’s crucial for you to know as much as you can in advance.
Of course surprise attendees may show up when you present but there are ways to deal with that (I’ll address that in an upcoming article).
#2 KNOW THE ROOM
No Stumbling in the Dark
When you present you’ll fully engage your audience if you know the room in advance. So your preparation must include asking:
1.) Which room will be used for your presentation and how is it configured? You’re seeking the logistics for:
* Seating – Is it around a conference table, behind their desk, or facing a proscenium stage? Will there be enough seating for the customers attending plus the people you’re bringing?
* Projection screen – Does the room have one, or must you bring one?
* Lighting – Can the lights partially dim? Are there blinds/curtains to help block direct sunlight that may washout the screen?
2.) If the presentation is important, and time and distance allow, consider asking permission to visit the room in advance.
You’ll get a first-hand look at the lay of the land and feel more confident not only with the logistics, but there’s also a lessening of performance fear when you see the stage in advance.
#3 KNOW THE TECHNOLOGY CONSTRAINTS
Bullet Proof Your Feet
In most presentations you’ll have technology to contend with, such as a presentation slideshow. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot during the presentation, or worry anxiously beforehand. Find out what you “need-to-know” in advance:
1.) Will your customer require you to use their projection equipment? If they do, you’ll need to answer these additional questions in advance:
* Will your presentation slideshow have to run on their computer system (to use their projection unit)? If so, is it compatible with the platform they’re running? (i.e. you have a PowerPoint in a later version than they do – you’ll want to save it in their version)
* Will you have time before the presentation to check that your slideshow works as expected on their system?
* How will you get your slideshow file to them? (i.e. if it’s a large file that won’t make it through email, you may have to use a file transfer service like YouSendIt.com, or arrive earlier with a USB thumb drive and transfer the file manually)
* Do they have a wireless presentation pointer, or do you bring your own?
2.) If you’re presentation must run on their system, and contains proprietary information that you don’t feel comfortable leaving on their system, ask if you can use your laptop with only their projection unit for the presentation.
If that’s not possible, take the time after your presentation to delete your slideshow from their system, though this is not a complete solution it does provide some peace of mind.
3.) Will you run a demo requiring live Internet access? If so, you’ll have less heartache by bringing your own cellphone connection to the Internet, rather than trying to connect through your customer’s wi-fi or Ethernet.
With that said, you will want to ask your customer before the presentation whether your cell carrier gets good reception in their conference room, or wherever you’ll be presenting.
Nothing like needing that Internet connection for your presentation and surprise! You’re in the middle of your carrier’s dead zone.
#4 KNOW YOUR POSITION IN THE AGENDA
Matinee, Mid-Week or Prime Time?
Your appointment in your customers’ agenda can have a huge impact on their receptiveness to you.
While you’ll be given the day of the week and time of your appointment, don’t be a slacker; ask and try to get the following information. Knowing it will enable you to develop a customer, rather than only a sale.
1.) How many other presenters will your customer audition and where is your appointment within that group? (i.e. you are the first of five on day one, followed by another six on day two) Here are some presentation strategies depending on where you appointment falls in the group.
* Presenting early in the group, before many of the others: Consider emphasizing your offering’s strengths that point out the competitors weaknesses. This is always a good idea but becomes even more important in this position.
* Presenting just before lunch or at the end of the day: Prepare to make a shortened version of your presentation in addition to the one that fits your scheduled time. You’ll know when the time comes which presentation to make. Because while competitors may take more time than your customers expect, you don’t want to be the ones to torture them by making them sit through their lunch or long past the end of their work day.
* Presenting early morning first thing: If appropriate for your personality and the presentation context, consider bringing in coffee and donuts for the customer and yourself (or whatever you determine is appropriate). It immediately makes the meeting less formal, gives you the opportunity to connect on a more personal level before you get down to business. This is one of the reasons it’s so important to find out who and how many customers will be attending so you can bring the right kind and number of treats.
* Presenting on a hot day: Similar to the above but bring ice cream as the treat.
* Presenting immediately after lunch: Espresso anyone?
* Presenting late in the afternoon: Cookies or fruit to raise everyone’s energy levels.
2.) Although customers generally don’t ask which day and time you’d like to present, if they do there is only one best answer “Whenever it’s most convenient for you (the customer) and the other decision makers.”
All other answers are based on you, the seller’s availability and may be less convenient for your customer.
#5 KNOW YOU’RE PREPARED
1) Use the Checklist to capture your need-to-know knowledge when customers invite you to present or you’re confirming your appointment.
2) Complete as much of the list as you can the first time but don’t stop there. Go back to your customers for all your “need-to-knows,” updating the list as needed before the appointment.
3) If you use a slideshow, develop or customize it using the focus and clarity your Checklist brings.
4) If you have other team members in your presentation, use the Checklist to notify and bring them up to speed.
5) Rehearse using the Checklist as a guide, for yourself or your entire team.
6) On the morning of your presentation appointment, or just prior to stepping in, review your list of “need-to-knows” and refocus on the topics that must be addressed.
Preparation before performance means knowing your audition logistics first. Start working on audition logistics the moment you receive your appointment to present.
Give yourself an edge by doing the smart and helpful advance work, or sow the seeds of your own destruction like an actor who walks into an audition ignorant of the “need-to-know” information.
Make sure you find out the following.
#1 Know your Audience —strangers not allowed
#2 Know the Room — no stumbling in the dark
#3 Know the Technology Constraints — bullet proof your feet
#4 Know your Position in the Agenda — matinee, mid-week or prime time?
#5 Use the Checklist as a prompt to find out your audition logistics
Once you know your audition logistics, you can avoid playing the fool and begin the preparation that will make your performance sell: rehearsal.