Presentations: Why a Method Actor beats a Salesperson

The core of your sales presentation starts after the “Curtain Rises.” And if you’re cued up properly, the true performance should be fun and end in a sale.

However, many a customer-favored sales team has crashed and burned in their performance, losing all in a bad show. There are likely a sextillion ways to fail here, so we’ll skip that list and focus on how to perform to win.

First, stop thinking like a salesperson and become an actor. And not just any actor, but a Method actor.

Method acting is based on reality, and empowers authentic, powerful performances. It differs from acting styles based on falseness or pretense. The Method requires acting in the moment to affect a change in the other performers.

Compare these differences between an actor’s approach to a presentation and a salesperson’s:

  • An actor engages with stories — a salesperson spouts data
  • An actor plays to the responses in front of them — a salesperson grinds through a spiel
  • An actor takes their audience on journeys to successful outcomes — a salesperson pitches deals
  • An actor dramatically arcs the performance from situational present to desired future — a salesperson places equal weight on all points, A to Z

In a Method acting approach to presentations, salespeople persuade customers by telling a compelling story they want their business to experience.

So if you weren’t born a natural raconteur, you can use the basics of Method acting to perform sales presentations more successfully. The following basics may take some work to get comfortable with but once you do, your customers will thank you with more signed deals.

Arc of the presentation — build the scene

Method actors know that all characters must end the scene in a different place from where they started, either emotionally, psychologically or physically. This journey is the dramatic arc of the scene.

Without that arc, the scene is flat, boring, and begs the question “What’s the point?”

Salespeople must also work the arc of their presentation, which starts by presenting the customer’s current business situation, specifically the:

  • Problems customers must fix
  • Improvements they want to make
  • Perils of making the wrong choice, or no choice at all

By the end of the presentation, customers must end up at a different location — their desired outcome. This is the customer’s future perfect state, when their problems have been fixed and their improvements made, or both.

NOTE: This destination is not a handful of desperate, unattainable sales promises. It is the vision of what customers may attain; a clear declaration, and a feeling of possibility.

So the arc of the presentation describes how the sales offering will take customers from where they are, to where they want to be. And it does so in a compelling manner that engages the customers in the moment.

To engage customers, ask them where they want to go today from a business perspective. Ask them to explain a simplified version of what it looks like — you already know this from your early due diligence so it shouldn’t be new. But you want them to briefly explain it here because they’ll have to see it themselves, in this moment, to explain it to you. And that’s the frame of mind you want them in as you begin your presentation.

With their future in mind, you can show them how you will help them get there with your offering.

For the arc of the presentation, identify three aspects of your proposal that have the greatest impact on your customers’ business. Shortly after the customer’s description of their perfect future, address these three aspects in ascending order, with the most important last.

With each point, build from the customer’s present situation to their desired future. Paint the benefit picture for every feature description. Tie the three aspects together in a head to tail progression, i.e. the first leads to the second, the second to the third. The goal is to build an inevitable momentum.

The picture perfect future, with your offering as the key essential, is the simple and logical conclusion to this build.

This has been an overly simplified description of the process, and it will take skill and practice to get good at it. However, working the arc of the presentation pays off in ways that can help overcome a weak offering compared to competitors, or secure the sale with premium pricing.

Be in the moment — eye to eye

Being in the moment for a Method actor means they are doing more than listening, they are hearing what is said and meant, as well as what’s not said.

Salespeople must do the same. The easiest way to achieve this is with eye contact.

  • Look customers in the eye when they are speaking
  • Look at customers when you are speaking
  • Look at your sales team when they are speaking

This may seem overly simplistic but it is a powerful non-verbal communicator that you and the entire sales team are listening.

But go beyond eye contact: pull everyone in the room into the scene. Don’t let any customer remain quiet for the entire presentation: pointedly ask them a question about the topic at hand.

Routinely question customers if what your team has just presented makes sense to them, or if they have any questions, or if they can see how your offering would work for them.

Never allow a customer to remain totally silent by the end of the presentation, they may turn out to be your “spoiler” once you leave the room.

The power of the true you — no one is perfect

Like Method acting, authenticity in the sales presentation is paramount to nearly everything else. The presentation is the customers’ “sniff test” where they find out if they can work with you, if they can trust you, as well their opportunity to understand the specifics of your offering.

This authenticity can be challenged instantly when customers ask difficult questions. The sales team’s prepared response is to answer it straight on, unambiguously instead of dancing around the truth.

Equivocating about errors or drawing out long answers can trash credibility and trust in the blink of an eye, and once lost, is rarely regained during the presentation.

Of course this doesn’t mean blurting out your firm’s dirty laundry but it does speak to the maturity of owning up to past mistakes, accepting responsibility for their cause and as importantly, stating the corrective actions put in place to mitigate future mishaps.

Owning up to errors and mistakes is what connects us all together. Customers have had their share, and for a sales team to not have any separates them from truthful reality.

Summary

A Method actor will succeed in presentations many more times than a salesperson because the Method actor focuses on the process unfolding in front of them. They pay hyper attention to customers’ spoken and non-verbal reactions. And they behave honestly in the truth of the moment.

While salespeople may not want to invest in Method acting lessons, using a few of its basic tenets can produce more successful presentations with satisfying results. Give them a try, they can only make you better.

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