Thursday, March 30, 2006

Don't just "present" your ideas... sell them

Good post at Librarian in Black on the perils of Ego Centric Presentations.

First of all... love the <rant>, </rant> tags. I am going to steal that outright and not give credit. Sorry. I'm in marketing, and that's what we do. 

Most presenters aren't professional speakers, teachers, actors, jugglers, entertainers, magicians, etc. They don't know the #1 rule about performing, which Sarah has stated very well here in terms of a conference context -- the audience is the most important person in the room, not the chuckle-head on stage. No offense to the chuckle-head, said role having been one I've played a couple hundred times. Often, in retrospect, not as well as I'd've liked/hoped to.

Sometimes it's because of nervousness, usually it's lack of experience or training. In only a very few cases, IMO, it's lack of talent or ego-centrism. Most people who get up in front of a group of people really *DO* want to help that group understand something and go away informed or enlightened or amused or entertained or some combination thereof. But because they haven't been trained in how to sell their ideas (which is what Sarah is asking for, essentially), they merely present. Which is what they've been conditioned to do by many things, including the very verb that describes what they've been asked to do: "presentation."

A "presentation" is very, very passive. "Here's my stuff." Thump. You put it on a table or a screen and there it is. "Selling," with all it's negative connotations when done wrong or in a sleezy manner, is highly active when done well and appropriately. It is a relationship model activity. It relies on knowledge of your audience and a desire to affect a change in their behavior, not just in their state-of-mind. At the end of a sales process, you want your customer to have done something differently, to have made a "buy" decision.

To all "presenters" out there, I challenge you to think about your next presentation in this way -- are you asking your audience to buy something? Are you asking them to take an action? Are you expecting a change in behavior based on the materials you've provided? If the answer is "no" to all of those questions, you're not really making a meaningful presentation. You're telling a story. The best you can hope for is to be entertaining.

The art of good salesmanship is a career in and of itself. So taking you from a flat, static "presentation" to a great, interactive, action-oriented "sales pitch" style is not a one blog post. But there's one thing you can do to shift your attitude in that direction better than any other single action -- listen.

One of the ballsiest moves I ever saw at a conference was when the presenter started his routine with the Q&A. He said (approximately), "The rest of my talk doesn't matter if I don't answer your questions on this subject. So rather than give 10 or 15 minutes out of the hour to your questions, let's start with them. If we use up the whole hour on a good discussion, that's way better than listening to me prattle on for 45 minutes." He took a few questions (about 5), the answers to which lasted about 20 minutes. During the course of his presentation, then, he was able to skim some slides very quickly, as he'd already gone over them in the "pre-Q&A," and he was also able to personalize
the presentation at several points by referring to questions people had asked. It spiced up the whole thing very nicely. And he still left another 15 minutes at the end for more questions. It took guts... but good selling does.

This is a good topic. I may come back to it later in more depth.

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