By Jerry Weissman
Joe DiMaggio, the baseball immortal, was once asked by a reporter, “Joe, you always seem to play ball with the same intensity. You run out every grounder and race after every fly ball, even in the dog days of August when the Yankees have a big lead in the pennant race and there’s nothing on the line. How do you do it?” The Yankee Clipper replied, “I always remind myself that there might be someone in the stands who never saw me play before.”
Like baseball games, many business presentations must be delivered repeatedly, to multiple audiences. For example, a salesperson may have to present a new service to many different clients. Under these circumstances, it’s difficult to keep presentation fresh and vital. In part, this is a matter of energy and focus. When you have to make the same points for the third, or tenth, or fiftieth time, it’s hard to feel the same sense of enthusiasm, spontaneity, and excitement as the first time. It’s all too easy to become bored with your presentation and let your attention flag. When you go into autopilot, your presentation comes across as “mailed in,” with the result that your prospect feels uninvolved, unmoved, and unconvinced.
The challenge for the salesperson is to find ways to overcome this downside. Emulate Joe DiMaggio; treat each and every presentation as if no one in your audience has ever seen you present before. Strive to achieve “the illusion of the first time.” This phrase comes from the jargon of stage actors, who often have to perform the same role in the same play hundreds of times while conveying to each new audience the sense that every speech and action is completely spontaneous.
Contrast the theatrical approach to that of the world of journalism. In journalism, an article that can run any time in any edition of a publication is called an “evergreen.” This relegates the content of the article to mere filler. Never, ever make your presentation an evergreen. As Shakespeare had Hamlet say, “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.” Create the illusion of the first time, every time.
The key to creating that illusion is to modify your presentation for each new audience. Fortunately, as a sales person, you enjoy a freedom that stage actors don’t have: you can reshape your script and give every performance a new dose of freshness and spontaneity. Does this mean that you have to change your recurring presentation each time? Not at all. You can customize the core material with the techniques that follow. Use these very same techniques to customize a one-time-only presentation, as well as every presentation you ever give to every audience.
Use External Linkages: External Linkages are words, phrases, stories, and other materials that you insert throughout your presentation to make it fresh for each iteration of every presentation to every audience.
- Direct References: Mention specifically, by name, one or more members of your audience. Gather this information in advance by doing research about the companies in your target audience on the Web. You can chat with several participants just before your presentation in what is known as “schmoozing.”
- Mutual References: Make reference to a person, company, or organization related to both you and your audience. Collect this information in advance.
- Ask Questions: Address a question directly to one or more members of your audience. Make the question only about opinions rather than facts. Your questions are meant to create involvement, not to be a quiz.
- Contemporize: Make reference to what is happening today. Find relevant stories on the Web or the daily newspaper and work them into your content.
- Localize: Make references to the venue of your presentation. Cite local companies or businesses.
- Data: Make reference to current information such as population or market data that links to and supports your message.
- Opening Graphic: Start your presentation with a slide that includes your audience, the location, and the date.
External Linkages is but one of many narrative techniques that you can use to make your presentation fresh and alive. They are often implemented the least, yet it is the one technique that provides the biggest bang for the buck. Incorporate them in your presentations and watch your audiences come alive.
Jerry Weissman, President of Power Presentations, Ltd,is a leading corporate presentations coach. He is the author of the bestseller, “Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story” and coaches businesspeople on how to handle any kind of presentation: sales meetings, Q & A sessions, board meetings, press conferences, and more.
[From Connection Magazine – April 2005]