Next time, try to have a point

It was a line in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. John Candy played the travelling salesman who never shut up and told endless stories. Steve Martin finally confronted him and his words are a lesson for any sales presenter who thinks that everyone has to be enthralled by their talking:

"Next time you tell a story, try to have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener."

Decision-makers within enterprise, government, service providers, vendors, and, of course, channel partners, assess both formal and informal sales pitches and presentations on a daily basis.

At Rogen we would, at a guess, rehearse between 100 and 200 business presentations every week, most of them related to selling something. A quick poll of our consultants showed that the inability to find the "point" in a presentation is still a major issue.

When under the hammer getting a tender or sales presentation together, a reliance on technical detail, and the old adage, "If in doubt leave it in," kills many potentially focused and persuasive sales pitches. Whether it's a heavily worded slide or overhead, or simply a long segment of talk, far too often it's impossible to answer the relevant question: "So what?"

The best role a sales-team leader can play during rehearsal for a final sales presentation is to listen to each segment and ask that question,"So what?" Keep asking it until the bridge has been built between what the presenter is saying and what it means to the listeners.

No slide, for example, should be shown unless at the end of it, the presenter can complete the sentence which begins, "What this means to you is . . ."

If there is no answer, there is no place for that slide in the presentation.

Try it next time. You will cut out not only a large number of slides, you'll be able to drop entire segments of your presentation.

More importantly, your listener - often a decision-maker - will probably feel, "There's something in it for me."

But don't be fooled into thinking that once you've chopped half of your sales presentation, you're on a guaranteed winner.

In a presentation it's often the hidden messages in the words that do the damage.

Language that at first might seem clear and persuasive can have its own undercurrents of tone and mood, delivering a message quite different to that planned. So words that you deliver with the best intentions can be received in totally the wrong way.

We picked up these examples in recent rehearsals with clients who were pitching for new business:

Speaker says: Let me just briefly skip through . . .

Listener thinks: This next bit is going to be dull.

Speaker says: The choice you have to make in the next few days . . .

Listener thinks: Thanks for reminding me. I do have options other than you, don't I?

Speaker says: Our relationship has had its ups and down, but . . .

Listener thinks: Thanks for reminding me.

Speaker says: We've learnt a lot in the 10 years we've had your business . . .

Listener thinks: Ten years! It's time for a change.

Speaker says: The problem that you have is extremely complex.

Listener thinks: Perhaps I'd better hire someone who will find it easier . . .

Watch for the sub-messages hidden in your language and get it right in the final rehearsal.

To paraphrase one of the giants of the advertising industry, Bill Bernbach, "A good communicator worries only about what the listener will hear." Put yourself in the shoes of the decision-maker and ask yourself, "How would I hear these words?" Ensure you have a strong, clear "point", or value proposition - one that is differentiating and motivating. Then you're well on the way to a winning sales approach.

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