Presentation versus Conversation

15.3 billion trees are cut down each year across the globe. I dare say a number of these wind up being used for business presentations that quickly make their way to the paper shredder. Like me, you have probably sat through that massive deck or presentation; you know the one, 60 plus pages where your eyes gloss over at about page 6. And where the presenter is hell bent on getting through it in an hour. I worked for a firm that was all about the presentation. The bigger the better. At one point we were taught to memorize it, complete with specific page transitions. It was kind of a one solution fits all and we were delivering it whether you wanted to hear it or not. As I look back it was probably this that created my distain for a presentation for all occasions. Let’s face it, some people need a presentation as a guide for their thoughts, not having a presentation would be like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. For others who have the enviable skill to speak extemporaneously and in detail without the assistance of notes and slides, a presentation is like a straitjacket that needs to be avoided at all costs. For the latter, Irish people call it “The Gift of the Gab,” others have a few choice names for it as well.

Having been on thousands of sales calls over the years I was often joined by my key linkages at meetings. A few days before the meeting, I would get that e-mail that would say, “Hey can you share the presentation for the call?” Most of the time I would be responding that there was none. I would have loved to have been in the room when they read the e-mail, as I am sure it was a mixture of disbelief and worry. No presentation, what are we going to do? What will I tell my leader? Where is the proof that we are working on this account? With the product that I sold; it was rarely a one call close. Much had to be done before we got to that point. Usually, we needed first to have a conversation, build rapport, learn about the prospects business, and ask lots of questions about how they did things. Who their customers were and what their thoughts and perceptions were about our organization? What were their financials like and how was their business run, and finally were there any technical hurdles that needed to be overcome to make a deal work? After that conversation and with the answers we received, we could then and only then begin the process of putting together what we wanted to present, fitting their needs with our services. On occasion, clients would tell us they had no interest in marketing, and right there, we could eliminate upwards of twenty pages. Simply put, to present before we asked the right questions would be like slinging, you know what, on the wall.