Creative openings

Creative openings

It's true that most of us are not often in the mood for a sales presentation. It's never a good time, there are always other priorities crowding in for our attention and limited time. Our prospects and clients are no different. In the seconds before your sales presentation begins, there's a fair chance that many of those in the room are there physically, but are miles away mentally. Distractions can fill the minds of your audience and your first real challenge is to bring them into the room with you and focus them on your topic and your objective.

Make a few opening remarks so everybody knows the guidelines: introduce all your team members to the listeners, tell them how long it will take, how you'll handle questions, etc. These opening remarks will clear the listeners' minds of any potential distractions and will ideally build some initial rapport and comfort. Then it's time for your creative opening.

The purpose of a creative opening in a sales presentation is to grab the listeners' attention and enable a logical transition to your subject. This could include an appropriate and well-told joke, a strong visual reference to a current topic or getting the audience to do something.

Sometimes, the way to grab attention in a presentation is to pretend to get it wrong. It's risky and it's theatre, but it will often grab attention.

In a highly competitive sales pitch a few years ago, the managing director of an IT company kicked off the presentation by talking about the client's business.

`When we first looked at your business,' he said, `here is what we thought it was about,' as he earnestly revealed a list of characteristics on the screen.

As he looked around the room, he could almost hear them thinking, `Another arrogant consultant know-nothing trying to tell us what our business is all about . . . they really don't understand us at all!'

Then he paused, blanked out the screen, and said: `But we were wrong!'

He then listed the real issues that could make or break the business on a whiteboard. He talked about the target market, the company's products, market position, and the environment the client wanted to create. It became obvious that the consultancy had done a great deal of research.

The relief was tangible. What he had done was to better position the correct issues by first defining the incorrect.

In the post-bid interview, the client said it was the way the presenter had demonstrated a deeper understanding of their business that gave them the confidence that the project would be delivered successfully.

Other companies had also done the research, but they failed to grab the decision-makers' attention in the same way.

Creative openings are not always essential, however. The one important point to consider when deciding on your creative opening is relevance. If you must use a joke, then tell it well and make sure it is relevant to the subject. One way to check that a creative opening is relevant is to ensure that you can bridge from the creative opening to the subject by using the words, `With that in mind, my subject is . . .' or, `That leads me to my subject . . .' You may not use those words in the presentation, but if they don't work, it's time to ask yourself if the opening is actually adding to the presentation or distracting from it.

A strong creative opening grabs the audience's attention, gives appropriate control and focus to the presenter and ensures your differentiating sales messages are more likely to be heard, remembered and acted upon positively.

Jeff Sheard is sales director for Asia-Pacific of Rogen International. Reach Rogen at:

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