When you stand in front of an audience to present, the first two minutes of your appearance are golden. Everyone is paying close attention, listening for that golden nugget they hope you will reveal. Don’t waste those high-impact minutes with the standard and instantly forgettable “Hello. My name is…Thank you for inviting us.” That’s what everybody does. And that’s what makes you look like just another ordinary member of the pack.
To stand apart and make your presentation both powerful and memorable, begin with your message.
Everyone agrees a presentation needs a message. And because your executive team knows a good message is key to results, they huddled, focused, work-shopped and visioned to create a memorable message. They thought it through, talked it to death, and succeeded in crafting a catch phrase that passes the elevator test — you can say it in 60 seconds or less. You even have a branding book that spells it all out. Yet surprisingly, when it comes to your sales presentations, everyone carries on the way they always have: selling by platitude.
What happened to the message? Where is it? Who, in your audience could repeat it? Do your presenters even understand what a message is and why it is important for your audience to hear it? You want your audience to know you are different from–and superior to–your competitors. And that’s what a message makes clear. Yet in the presentations I see–and I see thousands–there are consistent problems getting that message across.
First, there are presentations that have no message. They usually go something like: so the first thing is…and the next slide shows… and another thing is… Those presentations are problematic not only because they have no message but also because they are an information dump–which means you talk lots and your audience remembers little. Secondly, there are presentations where, if I listen hard, I can find a message, but it is so deeply buried in a mass of content, an ordinary listener would be hard pressed to dig it out with a shovel. And finally, there are presentations in which presenters save the big message hoping to dazzle their listeners at the end with something like, “So what I really want you to know is…” –by which time it is too late. The audience has either stopped listening, forgotten what the whole thing is all about or simply fallen asleep.
Your message is the one BIG thing you want your audience to remember even if they forget everything else. Your message is what you would say after you say, “What I really want you to know is…” A message is not a tag line; it is always in sentence form. It is the confident assertion you would make if CNN put a mike in front of you and said you have one minute to tell the world everything they need to know about you.
Last week I was working with a new client on a shortlist presentation. They have a huge opportunity and somebody suggested I could help them get their presentation right. I began our session by asking them to tell me their message. “It’s about our technology” Martin said. “Give me that in a message statement” I told him. He thought for a minute then said, “Our message is about our technology.” Martin clearly had no idea what a message sounds like. So this is what I told him: A good message is a strong statement of fact that intrigues intellectually and resonates emotionally. A powerful message gets the people in your audience thinking, “wow!”
A good presentation opens with a good message. Then, to make the message memorable, the presenter answers the “why should I care?” question. In other words, the presenter tells the audience what it means to them; don’t expect them to make that leap on their own. Tell your audience what you want them to believe, deliver content that supports or proves your message, and your audience will believe it. Of course, every presenter on the team must talk the same language–and it has to be language the rest of us speak.
Put another way, the best presentations are message based; everything that follows–all the details and explanations–are merely proof of that message.
- begin with the message
- provide content that supports the message
- end with the message.
In the first two golden minutes of your appearance, start with your message. Apply it to your audience. Repeat your message. Then–if you didn’t do so as people arrived–introduce yourself. And everyone will hear you. Even more impressive, they will remember you and your message. And that wins sales.