Presentations: Setting the Stage

The following is based on a true story. Names have been omitted to protect the idiotic.

A roomful of customer decision-makers are about to view a short-listed supplier’s sales presentation. The supplier, who prides itself on safety, has setup their equipment and organized the room for their high stakes presentation. The tension feels like the moment before a summer thunderstorm.

The lead salesperson starts the presentation off with a brief safety talk – a clever idea that demonstrates the supplier’s commitment to safety because safety is very important to these decision-makers.

The lead salesperson walks around the table as he speaks and midway along the table — he trips over his extension cord running from his laptop to the wall outlet — and falls to his knees.

He jumps up and dusts himself off in a silence any museum would be proud of.

In that heavily pregnant pause, the primary decision-maker stands up and without a word leaves the room. The remaining decision-makers look at each other and silently do the same.

The sales team, now alone in the room, packs up silently and goes home. No second chance, no sale.


Knowing how to physically set the stage for a presentation can have a huge impact on your performance’s success. Although the stage is your customer’s conference room or office, there are smart choices to be made that can avoid losing your customers’ focus, your credibility, and the sale.


Early or Don’t Show

One of the “5 Need-to-Knows for Sales Auditions” is knowing where your customer’s office is located. If you’ve prepped correctly, you’ll know how to get there, how long it normally takes, and how much extra time to add for traffic.

Arrive at least 20-30 minutes before your scheduled time because customers know there are only two reasons why you’d be late: 1) you’re dead, or 2) you didn’t want to be there in the first place.

Plan accordingly and you’ll get into the groove of professionally hanging out in lobbies, which is much better than the alternatives.

Taming Butterflies

The Good News about Performance Jitters

For some presenters the first thing they do on arriving at a customer’s office is to find the bathroom and head straight for it. It’s natural to have pre-show jitters before going on stage to present.

It’s important to recognize that butterflies in your stomach are your friends. They get the adrenalin flowing so you’ll be energized when presenting.

It’s likely you stayed up late rehearsing or polishing your presentation slideshow so you’ll need that extra boost. And having that energy doesn’t mean you’re jumping about uncontrollably or speaking in tongues. Just that you’re alert, engaged and really paying attention to what’s happening around you.

With that said, you should be worried if you don’t have butterflies before going onstage.

How to Harness Butterflies for Your Good

Here are three simple ways to get your butterflies working for, instead of against you:

1)    Rehearse thoroughly beforehand — this gives you confidence, a clear path to follow, and avoids excess stomach acid

2)    Relaxed concentration – instead of focusing on how nervous you are, focus outside yourself, put your attention on your physical surroundings, the weather, your customer’s situation and how you’re going to solve it.

3)    Ponder the 400 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy, or the 300 sextillion stars in the universe (that’s a 3 with 23 zeros after it). These are really big numbers and all you’re doing is making one sales presentation— does it really matter in the big picture?


As soon as you arrive at your customer’s location, ask your contact to get you into the presentation room as early as possible. It’ll help you set up the room in a more relaxed frame of mind.

Getting the Seating RightSetting the Room

Plan your seating arrangements by reserving the best seats for your customers. Those are the ones directly facing your presentation screen.

Next, assign your team to the seats that face customers; these seats will have their backs to the presentation screen. Make sure when your team is seated they don’t obstruct any customer’s view of the screen.

You want customers to easily look from you to the screen and back to you again — without having to turn their heads wildly as if they’re watching a tennis match.

Lights & Blinds

Once you’ve planned your seating placements and setup your projection unit and computer, check for light spilling onto the screen and washing out your image.

Adjust the lighting and/or blinds to make the screen’s surface as dark as possible without making the room itself too dark that everyone is falling over themselves.

If your customer doesn’t have a screen, avoid projecting onto a whiteboard as it’s a glaring surface. Try to find a blank wall to project onto.

Or if you’re forced to, look at temporarily removing a picture on a wall — but don’t be surprised to find it was hiding a gouge in the wall or stain on the wallpaper.

Safety always in mind

Take care to route power cords away from the room’s traffic path and keep access to door clear of briefcases and equipment bags.

Bring a power strip with multiple outlets and use it for all laptops and project units, but keep its cord tucked safely away.


Arrange materials for when they’re needed

Make a stack of business cards, one from each of your team, and place one stack on the table in front of each of customer’s chair.

When customers enter the room they’ll have all your team’s cards in one go.

For materials and handouts you intend to distribute during the presentation, don’t place them on the table. Customers may pick them up as they first enter and will blow your chance to hand them out when you intended.

Place those handouts on an extra chair or on the floor. They’ll be ready for the exact time to pass them out to customers.


The presentation is your sales Showtime. Excellence can seal the deal, or a failure can end all hopes. So, set the stage for success:

  • Arrive backstage early, 20-30 minutes before your scheduled time, or don’t show.
  • Butterflies are good news if you harness them by:

1)    Rehearsing thoroughly beforehand
2)    Practice relaxed concentration by focusing outside yourself, on your physical surroundings, the weather, your customer’s situation and how you’re going to solve it.
3)    Ponder the 300 sextillion stars in the universe  & not worry

  • Prepare the room for success by:

1)    Placing customers in the best seats with your team facing them
2)    Adjusting lights and blinds for best visibility on screen, and safety in the room

  • Keep safety always in mind by placing cords & briefcases out of traffic paths
  • Manage handouts so they’re handy for when you need them, but customers don’t inadvertently pick them up early

IMAGE by chris durant

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