This article was originally posted to BrightCarbon.com.
A poor presentation is rarely a presenter’s fault. Though the blame often falls on them, it is usually the slides that are doing the real damage. Only once the slides are compelling, clear and persuasive, can the presenter really make the impact that everyone is hoping for.
But even once you’ve got a great presentation, there is still work to do. As a Sales Manager training your team, improving their performance and enabling them to hit their numbers is down to you.
So, how do you make your presenters better presenters?
No one is a naturally great presenter. While it’s true that some people are able to ‘wing it’ and get by on their charisma alone, this is a rare talent – and an approach that doesn’t always go down well with an audience. For most people, becoming a better presenter takes old fashioned hard work and time. However, there are techniques you can use to make the process more effective and more enjoyable for everyone involved.
Presentation rehearsal is one thing – asking sales teams to click through slides and run through narrative by themselves is a great way for them to become familiar with the material, but it won’t raise the quality of their performance in and of itself. Rehearsals should be the ground work before a more comprehensive, group coaching session. Taking the time to run through the presentation in front of peers, and refining the delivery based on their feedback is when you really start to see results. Just like a dress rehearsal, if your sales team don’t know their material thoroughly before this point, you won’t get the most out of the time, so make sure you encourage them to spend time learning the slide content before you concentrate on delivery.
It's hugely important to work on presentation coaching in groups. Ideally, you would have a group of sales reps who are each learning to deliver the same presentation. In this scenario, each rep is given the opportunity to experience the material as a presenter and as a prospect, and they will very quickly see how they need to hone their delivery to better communicate with the audience. If only one rep is learning to deliver the slides, the group should be formed of colleagues – ideally a mix of those with a good understanding of the subject matter, and those without. This will allow feedback that focuses on clarity of delivery as well as accuracy of content.
We learn best in a group of peers – each sees something slightly different, which enables a balanced and broad review of the delivery. Even for seasoned sales reps, the prospect of presenting to colleagues isn’t an enticing one, so it’s important you encourage an atmosphere that is sympathetic, supportive, while still critical enough to be effective.
Get Everyone Involved
Where there are multiple presenters, everyone gets a chance to present, and a chance to watch and critique. Where you only have one presenter, it’s a good idea to get a couple of other group members to have a go too. This not only takes the pressure off the rep, and can boost their confidence, but also allows them to see the material from the prospect’s point of view.
While the chance to present in front of an audience is helpful, I’d argue that the most beneficial element of a coaching session is the opportunity to watch how others present, see what they do well and where they go wrong. As you progress, the entire room’s delivery will improve as one presenter builds on the quality of the last.
Once you’ve got everyone together, it’s important to get going and begin running through the slides. This isn’t the time to talk about whether the message is right or whether the design looks perfect, you’re here to focus on delivery. Hopefully your team has learned their material, but even if not, encourage them to begin presenting anyway. They will learn the slides as they go through, and it’s more efficient than having the rest of the team sit around and wait.
Run through the presentation once without interruption, and encourage those watching to make notes. Provide feedback after the first run and invite comments and suggestions from those watching. The second time you run through, direct the presenters to focus on putting into practise the comments that came up. I’d suggest the first few run throughs are uninterrupted; you want the presenters to become comfortable with the flow and the audience to get a feel for the presentation in its entirety.
After a few run throughs, begin to interrupt if a mistake already commented upon creeps into delivery: stop the presentation, suggest a correction and give the presenter the opportunity to retry that section. As you progress, begin interrupting for any mistakes, even if they haven’t been brought up so far.
Your role as Sales Manager encompasses facilitating the session. Don’t allow others to interrupt a run through, and make sure you militantly chair feedback sessions. Invite comments from others, but don’t let the session descend into a free-for-all. There needs to be ground rules so the learning experience is seen as fair, organised and effective.
Receiving criticism isn’t easy; all feedback should be constructive and never personal. To be truly effective, it also needs to be mutual. I like to follow the positive-negative-positive pattern, which I’ve found allows you to critique whilst supporting confidence. Make note of two or three positives and one or two negative elements from each delivery. Begin by summarising the delivery and picking out a couple of positive things you noticed. Invite the group to do the same. Then move on to areas that you think could use some work, presenting each as a learning opportunity, not a criticism. Again invite the others to do the same, and address any comments you think unduly harsh or damaging. Finally, sum up with a final, strong positive from your observations.
It is important to follow this pattern each and every time. Negative comments alone will damage confidence, while positive comments alone reduce your credibility and the effectiveness of the exercise. As you progress and the strength of delivery increases, you will find your negative comments become more and more minor, whilst your positive comments become more significant.
Encouraging group feedback keeps the session interactive and enjoyable for all. Slowly, you will see the strength of the presentation delivery increase, as presenters learn from one another’s mistakes and build on their successes.
A Sales Manager’s role encompasses anything and everything needed to make sure your team is selling as well (and as much) as they can. If that requires stepping into the role of facilitator, director and coach, then so be it. Taking time to coach your team to ensure they are delivering your sales message in a powerful, confident and consistent way will never be time wasted.
To learn more from Kieran, register for our upcoming PowerPoint University session, Storytelling with Graphs, where Kieran will be discussing how to simplify complex concepts and deliver technical data in a compelling, visual way.