Sometimes you get cues from the audience. People shuffling through your handouts, talking to each other, using their cell phones or blackberries are cues that something is not right with your presentation. When people start to leave your presentation, you know something is not right. Either you are going too slowly or your presentation is not interesting. There is not much you can do about making your presentation more compelling, but you can speed up your presentation. Speeding up is something that you should practice when you are preparing for your presentation.
Here is a situation that happened to me in 1996. I was about to give a presentation to a major brokerage form in New York City. There was a meeting just before our presentation in the same room and with some of the same attendees, including the CIO. When we were asked to enter, I started setting up my laptop, plugging in the overhead and the power. While I was setting up, I engaged in polite conversation, mentioning that I loved New York and that we had a great Italian meal last night at 40th and 5th Avenue. The CIO looks at his watch and says to me “Time’s money, you’re wasting it!”
This is a major audience cue. There were two ways to react. One was to ignore the comment, continue to setup the laptop and then proceed to bore them with my standard 45 minute presentation about our company background, our expertise and our product. Instead, I closed the laptop and looked squarely at the CIO and said “Tell me where it hurts.” He described his business problem in about 2 minutes, which was that he wanted to offer his brokers the ability to view client statements on the Internet, instead of having to rely on printed copies of statements. He was personally embarrassed by an existing software vendor who promised to deliver this capability and demonstrate it at their previous annual nation wide meeting of all the brokers. Unfortunately, the software vendor implemented a weak solution and the demonstration was a total failure. I responded by asking if the incumbent software vendor’s system – an archive of all printed statements – was required to be part of the solution. The answer was yes.
So, I architected a design in about 20 minutes, describing how our expertise and our product could be integrated with the existing archive to deliver customer statements in real time over the Internet. The CIO picks up the phone and calls the archive vendor and says “I got this guy here from Toronto telling me he can do this and that with your system. Is that true?” He puts down the phone – my life flashes before my eyes – and says to me “You got my business.”
Before this meeting, we were selling our “product” for $45,000. Because I read the audience cue and reacted to it instead of ignoring it, we signed a consulting contract for $450,000.