Why You Should Avoid Saying “Great Question.”

I was at a nice restaurant recently and when the first person at the table gave his order, the waiter said, “Very nice choice.”   In fact, the waiter said, “very nice” or “good choice” to everyone at the table . . .  except me. 

I ordered the fish. The waiter just nodded and walked away. I felt a little offended.  He didn’t tell me I made a nice choice.  The rest of the meal, I wondered if I had ordered poorly.

Similarly, it’s not a good idea to say “That’s a great question” when someone asks a question during a presentation.  Once you say “great question”, you’re put into the position of having to say “great question” to everyone who asks a question. 

After all, everyone thinks they’ve asked a “great question.”  Failing to say so to everyone, once you’ve said it to one person, will seem like a snub.  Also, so many presenters say “That’s a great question” that it often seems patronizing and insincere.

Of course, we understand why people say “great question.”  They want to connect with their audience and prod more questions.  One of the most uncomfortable parts of presenting is when you open the floor for questions and no one speaks up.  So the thought is that by giving the question positive reinforcement, other questioners will volunteer.

Rewarding questioners is a good idea. But you don’t need to do it patronizingly with “That’s a great question.” Instead, reward the questioner by treating the question as if it were a great question.  Smile at the questioner, nod your head seriously, and give a strong answer.  Most importantly, don’t do anything to indicate that you think the question is stupid.  Don’t snicker or roll your eyes.

If you’re giving interesting and lively answers, the questioners will want to ask more.  And you won’t have to tell everyone that they’ve asked a great question.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Five Keys to Making Your Pitch Like a Test Drive

Buying a car is easy. You go to the Honda dealership. You say, “I’d like to test drive the new Civic.”

The salesman says, “Sure. Let me get you the keys.”

You give it a spin and you get a feel for it. You know pretty quickly whether the car is right for you.

Hiring a service provider for your business is much more difficult. You can’t take an architect for a test drive. You can’t ride around in a lawyer.  You can’t hop inside your accountant and give him a spin.

That’s why your sales pitch should do everything possible to give your prospect the closest thing possible to a test drive. Everything in your pitch should be aimed at giving your prospect a sense of what the experience of working with you will be like. 

There are five keys.

Key 1. Focus your message on a solution to the prospect’s key business problem. The prospect is not hiring a law firm. It’s buying a solution to a troublesome legal problem.  Your main job in a pitch is not to show your credentials. Your main job is to give the prospect a sense of your proposed solution to their business problem.

Key 2. Keep your message simple. From the prospect’s perspective, one of the main experiences of working with you will be meetings, conference calls and other forms of spoken interaction.  Your prospect wants to know if you are able to speak to her in a way that is simple and easy to understand. If your presentation is simple and user-friendly, that says a lot about what it will be like to work with you. It says that you’ll be user-friendly. And that’s good.

Key 3. Be passionate.  If you’re hired, the prospect is going to have to spend a lot of time with you.  If they see that you’re passionate, then they’re going to sense that spending time with you will be a pleasure. What if you’re not passionate about your work? Consider a new line of work.

Key 4. Be interactive. Make sure that the prospect has plenty of time to ask questions and discuss your ideas. Q&A is a test drive of the intellect.  The more interactive the presentation, the more the prospect gets a feel for what a meeting with you would be like. That’s a good thing.

Key 5. Rehearse. Good preparation is obvious to the prospect. If you show up well prepared, it gives your prospect a feel for how well you’ll be prepared for them on a daily basis.

Follow these five keys and you’ll give your prospect a sense of what it will be like to work with you. It’s the closest you can come to giving your prospect a test drive.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Try Giving Your Next Presentation “Naked.”

Everybody has a dream. Mine is that more people will present naked.  And why not? Presenting naked takes less preparation and, if done right, blows the audience away.

“Presenting naked” is stripping away the trappings and “layers of clothing” that presenters use to hide their insecurities.  No PowerPoint. No lectern.  No notes.  Take a flip chart if you want. But nothing else.

You walk out in front of your audience — fully clothed. Stop. Wait for quiet. Then you passionately lay out a stripped-down message. The bare simplicity, relevant stories, and energy blow away audiences because most speeches are so dry and complicated.

Easier said than done?  Not really.  It only takes guts and a little know-how.  Presenting naked is easy if you know how to create a listener-focused presentation, how to rehearse, how to leave room for questions, and how to speak with passion.

How to Create Your “Naked” Presentation

Most presentations stink because they fail to focus on the audience’s true needs and interests. We’ve all sat through horrifyingly bad business presentations.  The worst I can remember was when I was a utility lawyer attending a meeting with about 50 utility executives in Birmingham, Alabama.  We were there to hear a three-hour presentation on anti-trust law by a lawyer from another firm. It was horrible.  He cited dozens of cases and delved into all sorts of economic theory that may have appealed to anti-trust lawyers and professors but had no appeal to utility executives.

I could hear the Blackberry’s clicking under the tables. No one was listening because the presenter didn’t focus on what the audience really wanted or needed to know – how to avoid jail.

How to Focus a Message

Naked presentations focus like a laser on audience interests.  Here’s how to quickly focus a message. On a blank sheet of paper, write down the three most important questions that your audience needs answered. Choose your questions carefully because they are the heart of your naked presentation.  Simplify your questions as much as possible.

If you’re delivering an anti-trust presentation to utility executives, you might focus on these questions:

  • What can you say to your competition?

  • What can you do to your competition?

  • And can you say in internal e-mails about your competition?

Determine the answers to your questions

Fill out your presentation by answering the questions and telling stories to illustrate your answers.

Here’s how it might sound.

I’m here to talk about anti-trust issues in the utility business. And I’m going to talk about three things:

  • What can you say to your competition?

  • What can you do to your competition?

  • And what can you say in internal e-mails about your competition?

Let’s talk about the first issue. What can you say to your competition? 

Then write on the flip-chart two or three things that you can and can’t say to your competition.  Tell stories illustrating your point. Move on to point two.  After point three, recap the core ideas.  Leaving time for questions, you shouldn’t speak for more than 20-30 minutes.

Applying the Model to Sales Presentations

While this model won’t necessarily work for everything, it can be far better than most presentations.  How about a sales pitch? I worked with a senior vice president of sales for a large distributor of airplane parts. He had a meeting to pitch an airline on the idea of outsourcing the airline’s parts-management process to his company.  The natural tendency for many sellers is to begin the presentation with a description of the company and the service offering.  Usually those presentations are deadly boring.  

In helping him with his presentation, I asked, “What are the three simple questions that your prospect would most likely ask?”

My client thought for a moment then came up with three questions his client would have.

  • Why can you do this better than us?
  • How can this save us money?
  • How can this generate more revenue for us?

“That’s your presentation,” I said. “Just tell him that you’re going to give a presentation about how you can make his company more competitive. Then outline the three questions and answer them, telling stories about how you’ve done the same for other airlines.”

That’s what he did and he blew them away.

That’s what a great “naked presentation” does. It gives what the audience wants, nothing more. Strip it down. Tell stories. Take questions.   Dump the theoretical crap. Dump the company history.  No one cares.

Leave Plenty of time for Audience Q&A

Too many presenters leave just a few minutes at the end of their presentation for questions.  In fact, many of my clients have confessed that they limit the time for questions because they’re afraid of being stumped, embarrassed by a question, or losing control of the presentation. 

But naked presenters understand that the goal isn’t to control the audience but to help them. Questions aren’t to be feared. They’re to be embraced.  There’s no better way to connect with an audience than to allow them free rein to ask as many questions as they want.   A good “naked presentation” allows at least half of the allotted time for questions. 

Jack Welch, one of corporate America’s best communicators, sometimes will go further than that.  Sometimes he will speak at executive roundtables and deliver what I consider the ultimate “naked presentation.”  Rather than delivering a speech, he will walk into the conference room, sit down at the front and say, “So what do you want to know?” And he fields questions for the entire period. 

He gets raves for his “naked” approach.

Rehearse and Deliver with Energy

“Naked presenters” also know they must do more than inform; they must sell ideas.  That means speaking with passion. And that means rehearsing out loud.  Rehearse until you can deliver like you’re having an animated dinner conversation with a close friend. Practice strong eye contact. Record yourself and make sure that you sound excited, like you’ve just discovered something wonderful.

Naked presenting is simple and authentic. It’s just you, chatting passionately without props and telling stories about the stuff that matters most to your listeners. 

Maybe someday everyone will present naked. That’s my dream.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Five Ways to Make Presentations “Q&A” Friendly

The best parts of most business presentations are the question and answer sessions. Of course, it’s a good idea to tell your listeners to “feel free to ask questions at any time.” 

But there are several strategies to ensure that your audience engages in lots of Q&A. Here are five.

Reserve half of your time for Q&A: If you have a 30-minute presentation, you should prepare no more than 15 minutes of “lecture.” Too often, Q&A is treated as an afterthought: “We’ll take questions at the end.”  But Q&A is when the audience can seek answers to its most important questions.  Why not give them plenty of time for getting those answers?

Don’t put off raised hands: When someone raises a hand with a question, drop everything and answer it.  Even if the question deals with something that you will address later. You want to make it clear to the audience that you welcome questions. Putting off questions – such as putting them in the so-called “Parking lot”— sends the message that you consider questions a bother.  If the question is a little out of order, give a brief answer and tell them that you’ll deal with it more as the presentation goes forward.

Keep the slides to a minimum: Having too many slides sends the message that the presentation is very tightly packed and that you probably won’t have time for questions.  The audience thinks, “Wow, this guy has 60 slides. If I ask any questions, we’ll never get out of here.”   If you have fewer and simpler slides, it sends the message that the presentation is “roomy” and has plenty of time for audience interaction.

Look happy to get questions: Smile at the questioner and nod with interest.  The reason that you’re giving a presentation is to help the audience understand.  You should be thrilled when someone asks a question. Act thrilled.  You don’t have to say “great question.”  Just take the question seriously and not like it’s an interruption. Smiling at the questioner is like rewarding a dog for sitting on command.  Once rewarded, the chances are the audience will ask more.

Ask yourself a question: Sometimes presenters will ask for questions and no one in the audience will raise their hand.  First, we recommend that you wait.  Often, if you sit silent for 10 seconds or so, people will begin to raise their hands.  But you can also “prime the pump” by asking the first question: “One of the most common questions we get is. . .”  That will often get the Q&A session going.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Six Thoughts About Last Night’s Debate

  1. I watched the entire thing from beginning to end without a break. On the other hand, I couldn’t watch any of the speeches at the conventions without a break.  Conclusion: hearing people speak in a Q&A format is much more interesting than hearing people speak for an hour without stopping.
  2. McCain is far better in this format than in a canned speech.  When he’s reading a speech, he seems stiff and phony. When he’s speaking in response to questions, he connects in a personal way. Even though Obama reads a TelePrompter better than anyone in history, he also came off better in this more informal setting. Conclusion: the less formal the better.
  3. With the economy in such a dire mess, I was particularly interested in hearing plans for fixing the economic system.  Conclusion: listeners in a burning house are very interested in hearing the plans of a firefighter. 
  4. I thought Obama did a better job of walking the stage. He would approach the questioners and address them personally.  McCain seemed to be trying to connect with everyone, turning around in a herky jerky manner.  Conclusion: Stay calm.
  5. I found it distracting that McCain paced around in the background when Obama was speaking. Maybe he had to do that because of his war injuries. If that’s the case, then I’m sorry.  But it did bother me. Conclusion: When someone else has the stage, focus your attention on him or her. To do anything else seems rude.
  6. Brokaw’s protests that the candidates were violating the rules seemed silly. Who cares?  They were keeping it short. The format was working fine.  Conclusion: Brokaw is a grumpus.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave Half Your Time for Q&A

If you have 30 minutes on an agenda, don’t plan to speak for more than 15 minutes. 

You read that correctly.  Leave half your time for Q&A.

Usually, the most exciting part of a presentation for the audience is the time they get to ask questions.  It’s your listeners’ chance to talk about what’s truly on their mind.

But I also think it should be the most exciting part of the presentation for the speaker.  It’s your chance to hear whether they’re buying into your argument.

Let’s say that you’re trying to persuade your audience to give you money for a project.  You’ve made your argument and then you stop and take questions. The first question is “Can you explain to me why you need so much money for this plan?”

If you’re the presenter, you should be delighted. Here’s your chance to answer an objection and get your listener over the hump to buy into your idea.

Guy Kawasaki, the venture capitalist and internet guru, urges speakers to follow the 10-20-30 rule. Limit your presentations to ten slides and 20 minutes. And limit your type size to 30 point or larger.

It’s important to note that Kawasaki wants you to limit your presentation to no more than 20 minutes even if you have a full hour to speak!  The point is that Kawasaki wants most of the presentation to be an interactive experience.

Want to have a great presentation?  Don’t talk for more than half of your alloted time.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Persuasion Tip from the Wizard of Oz

Remember why Dorothy and her gang were off to see the Wizard?

It was “because, because, because, because, because of the wonderful things he does.”

It turns out that the word “because” is incredibly persuasive when answering questions and making requests.

In the new book “Yes: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive”  authors Noah Goldstein, Steve Martin, and Robert Cialdini, detail an interesting study of the persuasive power of simply using the word “because” when giving a reason.

In the study, a stranger would approach a someone waiting in line to make a photocopy and ask “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”  In that case, 60 percent of the people allowed the stranger to cut in line.

But if the stranger gave a reason (“May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush”), 94 percent allowed the stranger to jump ahead and make copies.

Here’s the interesting part. In a third trial, the stranger made the following request: “May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies.”  It was a meaningless reason! Yet the compliance rate was 93 percent.

The point is that the simple use of the word ‘because” increased compliance, even if the reason wasn’t particularly meaningful.

Now I’m not saying that you should give meaningless reasons in response to questions or when making requests. Of course you should have a meaningful reason.

But giving a reason – any reason — dramatically increases your persuasiveness.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

How to Prep for a Non-Presentation “Conversation”

“We just want to meet your team and get to know you.  The meeting will be a conversation. We don’t want you to prepare a presentation. See you Wednesday.”

That’s the message one of my clients received this weekend as they were invited to come and discuss a large opportunity. They want me to advise them in how to proceed.

Of course, you have to do what the prospect wants. If they don’t want a presentation, then no presentation it will be. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t prepare. You should prepare for the questions like you’re going to be delivering a presentation.

Here is what I recommend. 

  • Pick three key messages and make sure that you find a way to weave those answers into the conversation. You will get a couple of “softballs” like “So what is your approach?” or “What are the key distinguishing factors about your firm?” Those are questions that you can turn into a mini-pitch that lays out your “story” in three key messages.
  • Gather the team and brainstorm all the possible questions you might get.  Determine who will take each question when it arises.
  • Come up with answers. Make sure that you know how to give tight answers, not rambling ones. The best answers are one or two sentences with some explanation.
  • Make sure that you establish a light fun tone for the conversation. This should be fun and everyone should exude a sense of passion for the opportunity.  The goal is to make them think your team will be a fun group to work with.
  • Practice the answers.
When a prospect says they want something informal, that can be a trap. Don’t think that you can avoid preparation. The best sellers are always rehearsing.

 

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Do You Believe John Edwards Has No Love Child?

Watching John Edwards interviewed about his confessed affair, you have to admire the man’s ability to communicate.  Everything about him conveys a sense of believability.  

He makes unwavering eye contact. He speaks with total committment and energy in his voice. He varies his facial and vocal energy. When asked questions, he gives straight, simple answers. There appears to be no attempt to evade.

And when he says he has no love child, I want to believe him. 

But he has the problem that many extremely polished communicators have. He’s almost too polished. 

Do you believe him?

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Five Keys to Prompting Questions in a Presentation

The best parts of most business presentations are the question and answer sessions. Of course, it’s a good idea to tell your listeners to “feel free to ask questions at any time.” But there are several strategies to ensure that your audience engages in lots of Q&A. Here are five.

  1. Reserve half of your time for Q&A: If you have a 30-minute presentation, you should prepare no more than 15 minutes of “lecture.” Too often, Q&A is treated as an afterthought: “We’ll take questions at the end.”  But Q&A is when the audience can seek answers to its most important questions.  Why not give them plenty of time for getting those answers?
  2. Don’t put off raised hands: When someone raises a hand with a question, drop everything and answer it.  Even if the question deals with something that you will address later. You want to make it clear to the audience that you welcome questions. Putting off questions – such as putting them in the so-called “Parking lot”— sends the message that you consider questions a bother.  If the question is a little out of order, give a brief answer and tell them that you’ll deal with it more as the presentation goes forward.
  3. Keep the slides to a minimum: Having too many slides sends the message that the presentation is very tightly packed and that you probably won’t have time for questions.  The audience thinks, “Wow, this guy has 60 slides. If I ask any questions, we’ll never get out of here.”   If you have fewer and simpler slides, it sends the message that the presentation is “roomy” and has plenty of time for audience interaction.
  4. Look happy to get questions: Smile at the questioner and nod with interest.  The reason that you’re giving a presentation is to help the audience understand.  You should be thrilled when someone asks a question. Act thrilled.  You don’t have to say “great question.”  Just take the question seriously and not like it’s an interruption. Smiling at the questioner is like rewarding a dog for sitting on command.  Once rewarded, the chances are the audience will ask more.
  5. Ask yourself a question: Sometimes presenters will ask for questions and no one in the audience will raise their hand.  First, we recommend that you wait.  Often, if you sit silent for 10 seconds or so, people will begin to raise their hands.  But you can also “prime the pump” by asking the first question: “One of the most common questions we get is. . .”  That will often get the Q&A session going.

 

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email