Know Your Stuff
Since you’ve learned some of the basics of “talk” under a variety of circumstances (Editor: Covered in previous issues The Business of Speaking and 8 Qualities of Successful Talkers.), you’ll find you should be much more at ease when you get up to make a presentation in a class, office or boardroom. However, there are some special techniques, unique to business presentations, you should be aware of if you want to turn in a truly superior performance.
Before he even walks into a business office, James Vaughan, President of Related Designs, Inc. in New York City, always goes through a preliminary preparation routine which includes, above all, “doing my homework so thoroughly that I expect to have plenty of information at my disposal which will never be used in my presentation. I typically present only fifty to sixty percent of what I’m ready to give.”
He also does a last-minute check on the way he looks, primarily because businessmen can be among the most critical of a speaker’s appearance. “I don’t over- or under-dress,” Vaughan says. “Anything that draws attention to yourself should be avoided-no big jewelry or bright colors. Always be sure your fly is zipped and your shoes shined. Also, the last thing you should do before you walk before a group is to check yourself in the mirror-especially in bad or windy weather-just to be certain everything is on straight.”
In the same situation, a woman will want to wear an outfit appropriate for the occasion and to make a last-minute check in the mirror on her hair and make-up and see that her seams are straight.
Visual Aids and PowerPoint
Two key areas that make business speeches distinctive are the use of visual aids, PowerPoint presentations, and the special preparation of notes that can be used smoothly with these props.
Since he frequently takes slides, graphs, or other graphic material up to the podium, James Vaughan pays particular attention to the way he carries these things. “I try to appear relaxed and in control of all my visual aids,” he says. “If you look like a garbage collector, with items spilling out of each arm, you automatically lose impact in your talk. I would recommend buying some professional-looking containers, such as a large black zipper case with handles for large boards, graphs, and charts. And if you tape things together, be sure you practice putting them together smoothly before you give your speech. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself trying to cram boards into too-small packages or having to carry them separately when you leave, and this makes you look disorganized. Try to leave as compactly as you arrived.”
Once you get into the room where you’re making your presentation, Vaughan says, it’s very important to be certain that the scale of your visual aids is adjusted to the number of people in your audience. For example, you’ll probably want smaller graphs and photographs if you’re talking to only ten people than if you’re addressing fifty or a hundred.
As far as slides are concerned, they should be projected onto a screen or wall that’s high enough so that no heads block off the picture. “Also, there’s a fine line between producing something too sophisticated, which could overpower the audience or could give you technical problems in keeping control of the presentation; and creating something so ‘rinky-dink’ that you appear to be poorly prepared.”
Check and double-check the arrangement of your slides, and go through the entire program with the projector just prior to your presentation to be sure that everything is in order. “If a slide comes through upside down, that destroys the momentum of your talk,” he explains.
Another important principle in doing a slide presentation at a class or business gathering is to “keep things moving,” he says. “Television has given almost everyone a shorter attention span these days, so don’t let any picture linger before the eyes of your listeners for too long, or you’ll lose them.”
But just in case you happen to move too quickly for any of the people in your audience, he suggests using a projector with a device that allows you to back up the previous slide for extra viewing and explanation.
He also tries to arrange his slides in such an order that they tell an interesting story, which moves logically from one point to another.
Some additional suggestions for making the most of your visual aids are:
Keep visual aids:
? Colorful, but don’t let them upstage you
? Justified by the content-not too many or too few slides
For effective PowerPoint shows:
? Don’t read the slides to your audience!
? Make your text large.
? Choose colors that make the text easier to read.
? Use bullet points instead of full sentences.
? Don’t let the text or graphics fly around too much.
? Avoid charts and diagrams that are hard to see.
Graphs and Charts
Slides aren’t the only visual aids available for you to use in a business report, and, in fact, Vaughan recommends that you not rely solely on slides or any other single graphic prop. “It’s possible to tell a business story in many different ways, and the more means you use, the more people you’re likely to reach,” he says. “Some types of visual media get through to some people but leave others cold. So try at least two or three methods in presenting your talk.”
Some people, for example, may respond more readily to cardboard graphs and charts than they do to photos or slides. So if your talk lends itself to both methods, you should include both.
Earlier in the above article, the author mentions one very key point, one that numerous articles and books on good salesmanship all confirm, and which we wanted to highlight here, and that is: Know your stuff! Vaughan says he prepares by, “doing my homework so thoroughly that I expect to have plenty of information at my disposal which will never be used in my presentation. I typically present only fifty to sixty percent of what I’m ready to give.”
Prepare. Know your product. Know your pitch. It’s one of the first rules of successful sales.
Know Your Stuff
You have to learn your products or services-and what works and doesn’t work in selling them. One of the only ways you can learn that is by talking to your colleagues and reading everything you can about the experiences of others. Many successful people have told me this same thing about the secret of successful sales.
One person who told me this is the late Jack Kent Cooke, formerly one of the richest men in America, who learned this at the age of fourteen. Jack’s wealth has been estimated at between $600 million and $1 billion, and his holdings ranged from the Chrysler Building in New York to the Washington Redskins football team.
We were having lunch in Washington when he told me of his first sale. It happened in the bottom of the Depression, when Jack was a kid in Canada and nobody had money to buy anything. It was no time to begin a career in sales. But Jack’s mother needed $2.50 to pay the family phone bill, and she didn’t have it.
So Jack went out and got himself a job selling encyclopedias from door to door. The books came with a kit telling you how to sell them successfully. With the wisdom and confidence of a fourteen-year-old, Jack ignored the tips, certain he could make sales on the strength of his own charm and persuasiveness.
Well, anyone who knows Jack Kent Cooke knows he has plenty of both, but you need more than that, especially at age fourteen. So he struck out, a miserable failure in his first experience at business talk, with a store owner named Mr. Pickering. Then he decided to take a look at those instructions. He sat down and read them thoroughly, taking two hours out of his day to do it.
In his approach to his second prospective customer, he hit the jackpot-because he followed the suggestions in the sales kit. He closed the deal with the clincher question. “Where would you like us to ship the books?”
Then he went back to Mr. Pickering, and the result was exactly the opposite of his first encounter with him. Pickering bought a set of the encyclopedias, too. By the end of the day Jack was able to rush home and give his mother not just the $2.50 for the phone bill, but a whopping $24.50. “I think that was the proudest moment of my life,” Jack says today.
He was successful because he followed two rules of sales:
? Know what you’re selling.
? And once you’ve closed the deal-don’t keep selling.
And here’s another key rule in talking to make a sale: Sell the advantages of the product, not the features of the product. Don’t talk about how the toaster has this dandy microchip for consistent “doneness.” Talk instead about sitting down to breakfast with a steaming cup of coffee and a golden-brown English muffin.
Good speaking and presentation in a business setting may be more important to your future than any other kind of public address because those businessmen listening to you may well have the power to decide your future with the company or stack the odds in favor of your securing a lucrative contract. Your audience will be listening not only to what you say; they will also be listening and looking to evaluate the way you say it. Your style of presentation will tell them a great many things about your personality and abilities: Are you well-organized? Articulate? Can you simplify difficult concepts or do you tend to get confused by complexity?
No matter how much more you learn about business speaking techniques, I would suggest you always keep some of these fundamental points in the forefront of your mind: Be prepared. Keep it moving. Make it clear.
With these principles and a little practice under your belt, you’ll be hard-pressed to do a bad job, and you may well surprise yourself and further your career by turning in a superior performance!
Spontaneous presentations-how-tos for when you’re caught by surprise and not prepared.
If you’ve been caught off guard, all is not lost! The challenge facing you is more difficult, but you can still do a decent job on your feet if you just keep calm and go through a simple mental procedure for on-the-spot speech preparation.
Here’s the brief mental procedure I go through when I’m caught off guard:
*Begin at the end. Fix your mind on the topic you need to talk about. Settle immediately on the conclusion you want to reach. Don’t worry at this point about how you’re going to get there.
*Next, select one or two, or at the most three, points you want to make that relate directly to your conclusion. Think of a simple word or phrase that describes those points, and don’t clutter up your mind with any of the details that may qualify or describe each point.
*Select a brief, simple, straightforward opening that describes what you hope to say. Don’t get tricky! If you try to tell a story or a joke, you’ll probably stumble all over yourself. You’re not prepared so your main line of defense must be to simplify, simplify, simplify!
*If you have a minute or so before you actually have to speak, run over in your mind your conclusion, those one to three main points, and finally your opening.
*In the very last second or so, before you actually open your mouth, concentrate solely on your opening remarks-and nothing else. The chances are, if you get started smoothly, you’ll move fairly easily through the short talk you’ve constructed in your head.