Making a Stellar Presentation That's a Seller

These tips from our Sales Expert will help you adapt your presentation to your audience so you get a better response from prospects.

By Tony Parinello • Jul 7, 2010 Originally published Sep 9, 2002

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Last month, we jumped headfirst into the world of justifying your selling time when making presentations to your prospects. We quantified the financial, opportunity and political risks and balanced those risks with the real opportunity. If you haven't yet read "Deciding Whether to Make a Presentation," do it now because the following information on presentations that result in sales will be much more useful to you if you've read that column first.

The Audience You'll Be Presenting To
In my twenty-eight years of selling, I noticed a direct correlation between the probability of getting a sale and the audience of my presentations. The higher the level of person attending my presentation, the higher the probability was of making the sale.

With that in mind, understand that your best audience will always be individuals who have the power and the authority to make decisions on the spot. That may not always be the top officer of the company-the owner, president or CEO-but it could be. And if it is, let me warn you now: These individuals are notorious for having other key individuals "drop in" during your presentation. The VP of marketing "just happens" to be walking by as you begin your presentation or the top officer "just happens" to be wrapping up a meeting with the COO as you arrive for your presentation. ("You don't mind if Gail, my COO, sits in on your presentation, do you?")

Here are two suggestions for dealing with this situation:

1. Think ahead, take the proactive approach and, during your call to set up the meeting, suggest (by name and title) who should join in and when they should join in. The operative words here are "by name and title."

2. Think even further ahead, and take an even more proactive approach: Make sure you prepare handout material targeting, by name and title, everyone on this top officer's staff who could conceivably have an interest in what you'll be presenting. If someone "just happens" to drop in, that someone will feel welcomed and acknowledged. If the person doesn't show, you can give the material to your contact at the conclusion of your presentation. ("Here, Ms. Importanta-your VP of sales, Tom Sawyer, and your COO, Gail Storm, may find this material of interest.")

In either case, you'll look like a pro. (In the latter situation, don't be surprised if the top officer says: "Let me give them a call. Maybe you could spend a few minutes with them before you leave.") This is a very good reason you may not want to schedule anything else on your calendar for one or two hours after your presentation.

Adapting to Learning Modalities
Prior to your presentation, try to get a clue as to what the top officer's learning modality is. This is extremely important because there are three primary learning styles: visual ("Seeing is believing"), auditory ("I hear what you're saying") and kinesthetic ("I've got a good feeling about this"). One of these modalities will tend to dominate your target audience, and delivering the "right" message in the wrong format is usually a fatal mistake.

So, long before the meeting, hook up with the top officer's assistant (you remember-that all-important team player you've included in all your discussions) and pose the question that may well determine the fate of your sale. Here it is: "Would you say Mr. Big prefers information that he can see, information he can listen to, or information arising from give-and-take discussions on how other people feel?"

Take a moment to commit that sentence to memory. Write it down somewhere. Practice delivering it out loud.

If the answer is "information he can see," build your meeting around a sequence of visual displays. Back up your visual displays with detailed written documentation, but don't attempt to recite these documents or "summarize" them with long speeches. Visual people are bored to tears by this. String together a bunch of cool images, and be ready to move from one to the next quickly. Use very few words on each of your "slides."

Helpful Hints: Visual learners have certain easy-to-identify habits. They frequently use words that key into their preference for visual information. While interviewing top officers for my new book Think and Sell like a CEO, I observed statements like:

  • "I don't get the picture."
  • "Get the picture?
  • "Can't you just see it?"
  • "Here's my point of view on this..." (Don't be surprised if this CEO wants to sketch or doodle something for you; have a pad handy for such an opportunity.
  • "Why don't you just show me?"
  • "Imagine this..."
  • "That's brilliant!"
  • And the all time classic: "I had a vision."

Communicating with a person who has a strong visual preference can be fun, because you can almost tell what's going on in this person's mind by watching his or her eyes.

Words like:"brilliant," "flash," "show," and "see" are more likely to have a greater impact on a "visual" person than on people in the other two categories. Remember: If they can't see it, they won't believe it.

If the answer is "information he can hear," build your meeting around verbal presentations, explanations and responses. Your role will be to offer information in such a way that the top officer can take it all in and then follow up with requests for more information on specific areas of interest. Don' forget that you're doing so at the top officer's sufferance-encourage him or her to interrupt and redirect your presentation as often as seems appropriate.

Helpful Hints:Auditory learners love to "listen" to the words that are being said and the way that the entire message is being delivered. The auditory CEOs I interviewed for my new book used words and phrases like:

  • "Listen to this..."
  • "Let me tell you..."
  • "Let me ask you this..."
  • "My question is..."
  • "My opinion is..."
  • "Tell me..."
  • "I want you to hear from my Vice President..."
  • And the all time classic: "Turn your ears on to this!"

Top officers who have a strong auditory preference will be extremely sensitive to the pitch, tone and volume of your voice. Never use a droning "monotone" voice when speaking to an auditory learner. This is a bad idea in general, but it's the kiss of death when interacting with someone for whom speech and hearing is the primary channel for communication. Always modulate your voice to avoid any "sing-song" style that incorporates only two or three vocal "notes." Pause-for a good two seconds or longer-when making an important point. Don't raise your volume when you're trying to make a point; instead, raise or lower the pitch of your voice.

If the answer is "information arising from give-and-take discussions on how other people feel," try to build your meeting around brief statements and demonstrations that are followed immediately by question-and-answer periods solicited from the other individuals in attendance. Don't pressure the top officer for a commitment on any point; the point here is to open lines of communication and build the relationship through interaction.

Helpful Hints:Kinesthetic learners have an inherent need to get the "feel" of your message. They're usually extremely easy to spot. (I was able to identify this type of learner during my interviews simply by the way they shook hands with me. It's very typical for the kinesthetic learner's handshake to be accompanied by a touch on the forearm; their handshake usually lasts longer than those of visual or auditory learners.) Kinesthetic learners really do like to touch, and they really do use phrases like:

  • "That feels right"
  • "That just doesn't feel right"
  • "My gut feeling is..."
  • "My sense is..."
  • "I don't feel comfortable with..."
  • "I haven't had much hands-on time with..."
  • "How do you feel about?"
  • And the all time classic: "I felt it in the tip of my toes."

Kinesthetic learners put a premium on emotional connection-feelings and person-to-person contact. They enjoy connecting on a "gut" level. Your challenge is to find a way to help this person connect on this visceral level with your ideas and strategies. Don't focus on the logic or external elements of the situations; focus on the relationship, on earning trust, and on this person's comfort level. Expect digressions. Expect to be asked questions about your personal values and experience. Be as well versed as you can about the challenges this person faces; show empathy and understanding to every such challenge that arises in the conversation.

It's important to note that in dealing with any business contact, we are always tempted to communicate by means of our own primary learning style. Unless you are certain you're dealing with someone who shares your learning modality, overcompensate in targeting your material to your contact's way of accessing information.

Also, be prepared to deliver everything you have in the way of promotional/informational material on and about your company and its products, services and solutions in all three of these formats. If other individuals are present, you'll have to determine and pay attention to their preferences as well, while remembering that the top officer is your chief audience member. (Hey, no one said this was going to be easy.) Remember all this, and you'll be on your way to making a stellar presentation that's a seller!

Anthony Parinello is the author of the bestselling book Selling to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer. For additional information on his speeches, Sales Success Kits and newest book, CEOs who Sell, call (800) 777-VITO or visit

Tony Parinello

Tony Parinello has become the nation's foremost expert on executive-level selling. He's also the author of the bestselling book bearing the name of his sales training program,Getting to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer, 10 Steps to VITO's Office,as well as the host of Club VITO, a weekly live internet broadcast.

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