Presentation Prep: Mitigating Mistake Risks

As you prepare for your next meeting, imagine that CNN will be there broadcasting it live. How does that make you feel? Nervous? Self-conscious?

Truth is, it shouldn’t matter. Facing your next meeting as if the whole world will see it let’s you take the bull by the horns: come what may, you are going to prevail regardless of any possible mistakes.

Of course, mistakes can happen and they come in many forms. So, what can you do to mitigate the risk of a presentation mistake happening?  Here are a few things…

Six Ways to Avoid Presentation Mistakes

  • Prepare for a Bigger Audience: The client says, “It will just be me at the meeting.” But then you get there and she’s brought along five others. Be calm…be flattered…and then step up to deliver because you were ready for this.
  • Meet in a Conference Room: Look around your own office. How many distractions can you count? Even the photo of your family can make your mind wander. Request a conference room meeting. People know where your client’s office is but, probably won’t know what conference room he chose for your meeting. That means fewer interruptions. You have their full attention (if they can be convinced to put away their phone for 20 minutes!).
  • You Set the Stage: I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve rearranged a room in order to maintain control of the meeting. Often, there are too many chairs, the room is a mess, it’s too bright (or dark), there isn’t enough presentation space and so on. If there is a phone in the room, disconnect it! Dirty pool? No. You were promised full attention so, taking a phone call would break that promise. You will reconnect it after you’ve delivered your interruption-free presentation. The point is that you have arranged the room the way you want it and that will allow you to feel comfortable right from the start.
  • Calm Your Movements: Too many times, I’ve witnessed people making exaggerated gestures, pacing too much and making other unnecessary movements. This conveys one thing: nerves. We’ve discussed the importance of practicing, so you shouldn’t be overly nervous, just excited. Stay calm and deliver.
  • Be Neat: Prepare documents well and have them laid out, ready to distribute at the right time. Neatness counts…trite, but true. Control when the documents are distributed so that they don’t’ become a distraction to your presentation (ever had anyone skip ahead because they had the presentation in hand?).
  • Use the Facilities: I know…you shouldn’t have to be told this like a parent to a 5-year old. However, so many times we are rushing to get to a meeting on time, we forget our biological needs until it is too late. That’s a distraction for sure! Scheduling time to use the facilities will ensure a) you get there early and b) you have some time to compose your thoughts in private, which is another way to bolster your confidence.

Mistakes Are Human…So Is Your Audience

You can’t avoid all mistakes, only mitigate the risks beforehand. But Murphy is always lurking and sometimes, the unexpected happens. When it happens to you, acknowledge it. I had a client who just before a meeting accidentally dipped his tie into a full cup of coffee. He made light of it with humor to acknowledge why he wasn’t wearing a tie, which got a positive reaction since everyone in the room had had something similar happen at least once in their careers. Now, everyone could move past that incident and not wonder for the next 30 minutes why he was tieless.

Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.  If you follow the steps above and do your homework prior to the meeting, you have taken a big step towards mitigating the risks of mistakes. And that should give you the confidence to deliver the presentation in the way you hoped you would.

Oh…and one more tip…watch your coffee!

Which of these steps did you overlook in your last meeting?  What was the result?  Reply below.  -sg


Timing a Sales Call

Many factors come into play at a sales meeting, and it’s impossible to control them all. But, one you CAN control is the timing of the agenda. By stating clearly at the beginning of the meeting exactly what you intend to do and how long the process will take, and then getting agreement to it, you command the situation and stay in charge of the meeting.

However, like many things…this says easy, does hard. Clients aren’t always amenable to your agenda and timing. Here are a few tips to make that easier to handle.

Ask for the Time

We’ve all done it….run out of time. This is especially disturbing when you don’t get to the “close” of a presentation. A lot of factors contribute to that happening but, I’ve found the biggest is when people don’t stick to their own timing.

Critical to this is asking, up front, how much time your client has, especially when you are greeted with “I don’t have much time today.” I recommend you probe further about this to eliminate the guesswork. “I’m sorry you are rushed today. How much time do you have for us to discuss your [fill in their critical need here].” At this point, you have gotten a commitment of time. That’s a start.

But how do you break up that time so that you accomplish your mission?

Set the Timing

Below is a chart with my recommended timing for a one-hour sales call:

Starting with your Opening Comments, everything has a time limit. Yes, the “chit-chat” at the start of the meeting always happens and it is a time to break the ice but, you have to know it is eating into your opening volley. Take up four minutes with introductions and you’ll have just one left to introduce your intended purpose.

Use this guide when putting together your agenda. Each element is critical because it has either your client or you delivering important information. That’s right….your presentation is not just about YOU talking. You’ll see that I dedicate 10 minutes right at the beginning to “Probing and Listening.” You might have entered the meeting thinking you’ve nailed your recommendations but, this is the time to find out new information and adjust your recommendations so that your information is relevant to their current situation.

Stick to the Timing

Each element in this presentation guide is critical so, don’t bypass one just to get to the other. Believe me, that’s easy to do. So many times, I’ve seen even veteran salespeople skip the last step…the closing! Many times it’s because they’ve run out of time. That’s a cardinal sin in my book. You are in charge of the time! Be sure you give yourself the space at the end to ask for what you came there for or, you risk the meeting being a waste of everyone’s time.

“Yes, but my client wanted to discuss some other stuff and that messed up the agenda.” It happens…a client wants to go on and on about issues that may, or may not, be relevant to your presentation. Again, you have to take control here. “I understand that these are important issues and I’m happy to address them. However, given the time you’ve allotted us today, can we either extend our time or, focus on [critical issue] today and I can return to discuss those issues?” Either way, you’ve just regained control.

“But Steve…what if they don’t give me a full hour?” Sure….60 minutes is a good bit of time and clients may not give it to you. So, once you find out (hopefully well in advance of the meeting) how much time they do have, scale the timing to fit it. But keep the proportions the same so that you can be effective delivering your presentation and reserve time at the end for questions and the closing.

You may get only one shot at this meeting so, stay in control of it by organizing and adhering to your agenda.

Using this timing chart as a guide, let me know how your next meeting goes with a reply below. Thanks! -sg