Dump The Script during Panel Presentations
Here’s something to consider: The next time you have to make a presentation in front of a panel, prepare the content as usual and then set it aside. Spend time practicing the dynamics of making the presentation. What you must do is to make an indelible impression on the panel.
We knew what to expect but it didn’t make it any less nerve racking.
Our on-time arrival went unrewarded as the group in front of us was still making their presentation. We sat down on plastic chairs at the only clean table in the break room and double-checked our inventory.
Several copies of the presentation? Check.
Gift bags filled with station merchandise? Check.
A stack of business cards? Check.
Courage and determination? Check and check.
The competition exits stage left and we are greeted and ushered in to a too large room. The “prospect” is a five-headed panel sitting behind their laptops at individual desks – lined up side by side as if the Supreme Court itself was now in session. But, the Supreme Court is not yet in session because the judges are trying to decide what to order at Starbucks. The seller and I introduce ourselves to each as they finish describing their lattes and iced coffees to a page.
Although no one says to, we take our place at a circular table in front of the laptops. As the assistant heads out, the seller thanks the prospect for inviting us to make a presentation and then she begins.
Make no mistake. The initial sales presentation in front of a panel is one of the hardest sales calls you will ever make. Here are five reasons why it’s hard:
Prospects act differently when they are part of a panel. Members of a panel are more conservative, reserved and difficult to engage. The decision makers on a panel will rarely exert their power while receiving a presentation and the underlings are very unlikely to step up to ask questions or make comments. While a seller may have developed a relationship with one of the panel members during previous meetings, that panel member is likely to shrink into the background so as not to appear biased in favor of one presentation team.
A panel typically includes out-of-towners. Folks fly into town to be a part of a panel because they believe they’ll learn more by seeing face-to-face presentations. The problem is that the travelers are out of sorts. They are thinking about people back at home or at the home office. They are thinking about the fact that they forgot their favorite shoes or that they didn’t bring work-out clothes. In short, they are distracted.
A panel sees a lot of presentations. The purpose of a panel is to get all the decision makers together and view presentations from all the competing vendors. By seeing everyone in a day or two, panels hope to come to informed decisions. Unfortunately, all those presentations end up blending together and a typical panel is unable to say which idea was presented by whom.
Panels don’t have much time. We are usually asked to make a presentation in half of our usual time. This is virtually impossible because we have prepared so completely that we have even more to say than usual. We’ve included pictures and video and creative ideas that the panel asks us to e-mail to them after the meeting. The resulting presentation appears rushed and incomplete – because it is!
We act differently in front of a panel, too. Most of us, who are fine in front of a person or two, act much more nervously in front of a panel. Our nervousness makes us more reserved and we become less interesting. Less interesting people tend to blend together in the mind of a panel.
Typically, we attempt to combat the effects of a panel presentation by preparing more completely than usual. Unfortunately, some of our extra work actually contributes to a less than positive experience.
Here’s something to consider: The next time you have to make a presentation in front of a panel, prepare the content as usual and then set it aside. Spend time practicing the dynamics of making the presentation. What you must do is to make an indelible impression on the panel. Here are five ideas on how to do it:
Bring refreshments. If your meeting is at 3 p.m. then bring coffee. But, don’t just bring cups of coffee. Roll in a cart with an expresso machine or bring a barista to prepare specialty drinks. If you are first up in the morning, bring a tray of pastries the size of a mountain!
Prepare your anecdotes. Perhaps, you have a forty-five second story that segues nicely into reasons why the prospect should hire you. Or, if you know the children of one of the panel members you might prepare a fun, relatable story about one of your children of a similar age. The point is to have a couple of these stories in your hip pocket that you can use at the beginning of the presentation to get the panel to pay attention to you and remember you.
Dress in character. This might be especially difficult for some as it calls attention to ourselves in a way that is dramatically different than usual. Of course, that is the point. If your presentation includes information about a Cinco de Mayo promotion you might dress as a Mexican soldier. If the presentation includes something about weddings you could bring along a bride and groom that make an appearance at exactly the right time. One of the best panel presentations that I was a part of included a skit that illustrates one of our points. We brought along six people whose sole purpose was to perform the skit. Of course, no one else did a skit and we were remembered with an order.
Bring a celebrity. Does your presentation include something about sports? Bring an athlete with you. Ideally, the athlete is dressed as his athletic self and not his street self but you might not get Carl Edwards to wear his coveralls on your sales call. Don’t think you know a celebrity who would go with you? You’d be surprised at who you know who goes to the same gym as Ralph Sampson (that would be me). Or, you might know somebody who went to the same high school as Dominique Wilkins (my old friend Bob.)
Stand and deliver. When invited to sit, let the panel know that you prefer to stand. Standing allows you to peer over the top of the laptops shielding the panel from your influence. Standing allows you to move around which forces the panel to watch you. While they watch they will be forming an impression of you that will allow easy recall. “Which company proposed that we include a stalk of celery with every purchase? Oh yeah, that was the guy who stood up the whole time.”
A presentation in front of a panel demands a show. So, get out there and perform!