“The beginning is the most important part of any work, for that is the time at which the character is formed and the desired impression more readily taken.”
There is an English proverb that states, “From little things are great things brought to pass.” When Harriet Beecher Stowe was introduced to President Lincoln in 1862, he reportedly remarked, “So you are the little lady who started the big war.” Sometimes a little thing is the catalyst for the big things. In sales presentations, introductions only take a few minutes and are often viewed as a small part of the presentation process. But, like the extraordinary influence of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, introductions can have a huge impact on the overall success of a sales presentation.
After setting buyers at ease with small talk and pleasantries, sellers should begin their presentation with a powerful introduction. The introduction is one of the few portions of the presentation in which presenters have the total focus and undivided attention of their audience. Part of the reason participants are so focused at the beginning of the presentation is because they naturally experience audience anxiety in anticipation of the presentation. They have fundamental “who, what, when, why, and how” questions they want answered about the presenter, the topic, the timeframe, and the purpose of the presentation.
The five questions presentation participants instinctively want answered are:
- Who are you?
- When will you be through?
- What are you going to talk about?
- Why should I listen?
- How are you going to make this intersecting?
Compelling introductions answer these five questions by following these simple steps:
- Introduce yourself
- Refer to a timeframe
- Set an agenda
- Prove a Corporate Capabilities Statement
- Quickly review client needs and pains
Step 1: Introduce Yourself
This is how you gain your audience’s attention and preemptively answer questions about who you are, what company you are with, what credentials you have, and what product you represent. Initially providing this information seems fundamental. Unfortunately, most presenters do a poor job of early identification and jump into the presentation without answering these important questions.
If a presenter has impressive credentials, he should not be shy about discussing them. By mentioning credentials, salespeople build credibility and communicate expertise that will potentially be of value to the buyers.
Some presenters believe that including personal and family stories in their introduction will personalize the presentation and “warm up” the audience. Be careful. While these topics can be fun to talk about for the presenter, if they do not relate to the interests or business of the audience, they can potentially bore buyers, waste time, and more importantly, squander the best opportunity a presenter has to make a first impression.
Step 2: Refer to the Timeframe
Audience participants typically allot a specific period of time for a seller to make a presentation. Participants want to know that the presenter is aware of and committed to the timeframe. Most presenters don’t even mention timeframes until the end of the presentation when time is running out or when they realize they are going to run out of time. The introduction (not the conclusion) is the appropriate time to communicate to buyers an awareness of the timeframe.
Communicate and confirm an awareness of time by posing a simple question to the audience: “I understand that we have until 11:00 A.M., is that right?” That simple question confirms two things: first, the allotted timeframe, and second, that you are aware of it.
Step 3: Set the Agenda
This provides your audience with a mental map of both the direction and purpose of the presentation. By setting an agenda, presenters put participants at ease, answer questions about what is going to be addressed, and avoid potential disruptions.
Example: “Let me set the agenda. I am going to take a couple of minutes and introduce [the company]. Then we will review [the product or service], followed by a brief conclusion and a short question/answer period.”
Setting an agenda is important enough that many presenters provide agenda handouts prior to a presentation or review the agenda using PowerPoint. Regardless of what means you choose to use when setting an agenda, be sure to do it.
Step 4: Provide a Corporate Capabilities Statement
This is the heart of your introduction. The corporate capabilities statement represents the strategic side of the introduction and provides participants with the intangible benefits of the represented business or corporation. The corporate capabilities statement introduces and summarizes the benefits of doing business with the company represented, and has three points of emphasis:
1. The company’s background, stability, and reputation.
2. The company’s experience and expertise.
3. Intangible, indemonstrable benefits (i.e. customer service, technical support, etc.).
Although important, corporate capabilities statements should not be long or elaborate. The purpose of the corporate capabilities statement is to add power to the introduction and give buyers a compelling reason to listen to the presentation. This can be accomplished with a brief but strategically delivered corporate capabilities statement.
Step 5: Quickly Review Client Needs and Pains
Many presenters find it helpful to conduct a quick needs analysis before delivering the bulk of the presentation. This provides presenters with an opportunity to either identify or review the primary buying motives of the attendees and match buyer needs to product or service solutions.
However, in a large group setting, conducting a needs-analysis can be risky and lead to inner-participant discussions (that exclude the presenter), sometimes even to inter-departmental arguments. The risk associated with conducting a needs-analysis to a large group is losing control. To avoid this situation, make every effort to determine needs prior to the solution presentation. Bottom line: Do your homework, and come prepared.
The introduction is the perfect opportunity for presenters to start off with a bang. Because in the first few minutes of a presentation participants are focused, alert, and attentive, presenters need to make the most of this opportunity. By implementing the above five steps, presenters cover all the bases of an effective introduction.