It’s true! Looking after your most important customers is crucial and sometimes the “traditional salesperson” is not wired correctly to achieve the best results. Some of the best account managers we know come from “consultative” backgrounds like customer service, operations and HR.

Let’s have a look in more detail to understand why!


Traditional Salesperson



Consultative Salesperson

  • Salesperson focuses on how to sell


  • Often recruited for “hunting skills” and “killer instinct”.


  • Competitive win-lose is OK


  • Sees role in terms of products sold, results achieved and league tables


  • Focuses on the back-end of the sales process i.e. objection handling and “closing” the customer down


  • Has the answers – the prospect asks the questions


  • Talks endlessly about own products and services


  • Boring – talks about self


  • Sees self as a bit of an expert


  • Has a plan





  • Viewed with suspicion and caution


  • Standard approach used most of the time


  • Short-term focused


  • Stays awake at night worrying about his sales target.


  • Overcomes objections in a brisk and sometimes uncaring manner


  • Believes that “buyers are liars”


  • Closes the sale


  • Reluctant to follow-up


  • Can often be a bit of a loner pursuing personal glory


  • Keeps boss at bay


  • Credible with only 1-2 main decision makers and influencers


  • Often critical of colleagues – provides plenty of “heat”


  • Produces an action plan to develop business


  • Buys the occasional lunch for customers


  • Works as an effective supplier



  • Salesperson focuses on how people buy


  • Knows that keeping the customer “alive and well” is more important


  • Collaborative win-win is essential


  • Sees role as improving the profitability and performance of the customer first


  • Focuses on the front-end i.e. rapport building, questioning, listening and “opening” the customer up


  • Has the questions – the prospect has the answers


  • Talks about value and compelling return on investment


  • Talks to customers about themselves


  • Acknowledged as an industry expert


  • Understands the customer’s plans





  • Trusted


  • Tailored approach with each customer


  • Works with the longer term in mind


  • Knows what is keeping the customer awake at night


  • Handles objections as s/he recognises that they are often signs of interest


  • Believes that buyers have feelings too


  • Secures the next stage of commitment


  • Regularly follows-up


  • Team player – “we were all involved in this achievement”


  • Mobilises and deploys the boss


  • Credible with all decision makers and influencers, including the boardroom table


  • Supportive of colleagues – provides plenty of learning and “light”


  • Produces a joint action plan with the customer


  • Is bought the occasional lunch by customers


  • Works as an exceptional partner!


So………….who is managing your most important customers? If you would like more information on the KASH Profile for a key account manager (the knowledge, attitudes, skills and habits they need) check out other articles on this site.

Getting Off to a Flying Start (1)


When preparing to meet your audience remember never to overestimate their knowledge or underestimate their intelligence. There are a number of key questions to consider as you start to plan your presentation:

  • Who is going to be there?
  • Who are my “allies” and who are my “enemies”?
  • How can I use my allies before the presentation?
  • What can I do to warm up any enemies before the presentation (phone calls, emails, pre-presentation meetings)
  • How much do they know about my subject?
  • How much do I know about theirs?
  • What have they each been told about the background to the presentation?
  • What is their understanding of my objectives?
  • What are their objectives and expectations?
  • What information should I send out to people before the presentation?
  • Is someone going to introduce me – if so, what will they say?
  • What would I like them to say?
  • How does my presentation need to be tailored to meet their departmental needs and individual personalities?
  • What issues/difficult questions am I likely to encounter?
  • How will the decision making process work after the presentation?


Backward Planning:

The best place to start thinking about your presentation is the end! Start with the end objectives in mind and plan backwards how to achieve them. Three good techniques to help you with this are:-

  1. Write down on a piece of paper “As a result of my presentation the audience will be able to………” Now complete the sentence. This will give you a good feel for what you want the audience to do as a result of your presentation. Do you want them simply to improve their knowledge? Do you want them to give you an order? Do you want to arouse interest and discussion? Do you want them to change the way they are currently doing things – to stop doing something or do something they haven’t done before. Ask yourself “What is the most important thing here – if I wanted to convince my audience of only one thing what would that be?”
  2. Don’t write your objectives slide first. Write the last slide first. This will again encourage you to think of your grand-finale ending and picture the outcome you want as you start to hear the applause from the audience.


Backward Planning:

3.         Imagine that a journalist is going to write a paragraph in the newspaper the day after your presentation – what would you want him/her to write?  Or “Tom Williams secures biggest order in the company’s history!” or “Tom Williams gives them plenty to think about!” etc. etc.

As a result of your backward planning you will be able to draw up a plan for delivering, preparing and writing your presentation. Good speakers in public are good planners in private. Put your presentation planning dates in the diary and make them happen – if you start to prepare early there will probably be plenty of time to do everything. If you leave it all until the last minute, it will show. Badly prepared presenters look badly prepared. They lack confidence and look jittery. Presenters who don’t know where they are going usually get there.

Never say “I don’t have the time”. We all have exactly the same amount of time as Shakespeare, Bill Gates or Marie Curie – our days are “identical suitcases” and are all the same size – but efficient and effective people can pack more into theirs than others. Always find the time to plan effectively.

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree I would spend six hours sharpening my axe!”

Abraham Lincoln



During the weeks preceding your presentation write down, in any personal shorthand you wish, any facts and ideas you can think of. Don’t write sentences – at this stage you are just searching your mind for ideas – not writing a speech. If you are familiar with them, mind maps are also a useful way of collecting ideas.

Later, when trying to decide what to put in and what to leave out of your presentation, you may like to put your suggestions and possibilities into one of three columns on a piece of scrap paper – things your audience must know, things they should know (if there is time) and things they could know (if you are well ahead of time).Time pressure may determine, often on the day, what you decide to put in and what you decide to leave out.

Imagine that you are going to deliver a customer presentation featuring a new product – when planning the presentation the three categories might look like this ……………



When planning the content some presenters use “post-it-notes” on a piece of flip chart paper and move them around three “must/should/could” columns– this allows them to reflect on the content possibilities as the presentation starts to take shape.

Good presentations are not packed with masses of information. They cover a low number of high-impact points not a high number of low-impact points. Oddly enough, the more you say the less they will remember.

Give your “must knows” plenty of space so that they don’t get lost in a lot of waffle and trivia. Think of your “must knows” as a photograph – leave plenty of room for a wide mount and wide frame to create the space needed for the best result.

Another good structure for a customer presentation where you are trying to win the business is the “pentathlon” below:-

Position – the background

Problem – what it is, how it occurred, damage it is causing

Possibilities – a number of possible solutions to test the water i.e. “we can help you   solve the problem in three different ways depending on your budget and the time it will take”

Proposal – firm up your proposal and the specifics

Payback – what the customer will get from your proposal – the ROI


Keywords V Scripts:

Should you use keywords or should you write the presentation out in full and use a script? There will always be a healthy debate on this subject although if put to a vote the winner would be “keywords”.

Keywords on card or a piece of paper “open the door” to a hundred more words. They act as a natural prompt and encourage the presenter to use a relaxed, warm conversational style.

The keywords should be half an inch tall so that you can read them from a distance of 4-5 feet as you move between your projector, flip chart and audience. Try not to hold them as you will resemble a vicar holding a hymnbook. If you do decide to hold them, remember to only write on one side of your cards.

Another approach you may like to try is the brain-map approach. Use a sheet of A4, plenty of colour and symbols to map out your thought processes.

Scripts are a little dated and suggest that the presenter is going to deliver the presentation regardless of the comments and contributions that come from the floor.

They can be viewed as impersonal and mechanical in today’s more relaxed, open-neck business environment.

Different Room Layouts:


We are all familiar with the phrase “horses for courses” and this also applies to presenters and the room layouts they use. The best layout is the one you want to use, not necessarily the one you are presented with.

Ask yourself the question “Which room layout is best suited to help me achieve my objectives?” Once you have a clear view of this you can proactively take steps to influence the room layout – including the room layout at a customer’s premises.

There is a golden rule here – don’t use the layout you are presented with, try and choose or influence the layout and create the environment you want.

You may also like to think of football and the high number of teams that win when they play at “home” rather than “away”. Ask yourself the questions “Am I playing at home? Should I do the presentation at our office rather than the customer’s? Rather than play away from home in a hostile environment could I play at a neutral venue? (like a hotel half-way between the customer’s premises and our office).


Equipment and Visuals:


When using visual equipment there are some “do’s and don’ts” that are worth noting:-

Power-point projector and slides

  • Avoid too many slides i.e. “death by power-point”
  • Your slides should not be your script
  • Don’t repeat every word on the screen
  • Put in blank slides to draw attention back to you
  • Avoid a succession of 9-10 bullet point slides
  • Locate the screen away from spotlights – the darker the better
  • Try not to look at the screen – look at the audience – the image will be visible on your laptop
  • Remove the image when you have finished referring to a slide – don’t leave an old slide up as it will become a distraction
  • Good slides are true visuals, not “visible verbals”. Slides that show diagrams, charts, graphs, cartoons etc are more interesting than row after row of words.
  • Keep the slides simple – one slide should convey only one idea otherwise your audience will spend time trying to make sense of it instead of listening to you.
  • Don’t use too many visuals – they should punctuate your talk, not dominate it.
  • There is no point putting up a slide showing the words that you are actually saying at that time – the slides should show things that actively support and illustrate your words.
  • “Build-up visuals” are particularly effective. For example a slide showing a number of “jigsaw pieces” that make the “big picture” or a number of “blocks” that make the “foundations”.
  • Use colours “psychologically” i.e. red for danger/problems, green for strengths/solutions.


Flip chart

  • Alter legs to right height and locate the flip under a spotlight if possible
  • Don’t stand in front of it – put your arm around the back to restrict your movement
  • If you are right-handed the flip chart should be on your left….and vice versa
  • Use strong colours only – red, blue, green and black
  • Put pens upside down in a mug so that ink falls to the nib ends
  • When you have finished talking, leave the audience looking at a blank page
  • Use capital letters, coloured asterisks and underline with squiggly lines not straight lines
  • When taking audience feedback write down their words – it is very flattering


Remember the golden rules of working with pieces of equipment:-

  • If it can break, it will break.
  • Always have “Plan B” ready. If your projector breaks be prepared to carry on and issue handouts. Have them prepared – if things go smoothly you could always use them as summary handouts at the end of your presentation so your hard work will not be wasted.
  • If you are using someone else’s equipment make sure that you book it and confirm your booking by email
  • If you are taking your own equipment check that it is working
  • Have your own bag of flip chart pens, blu-tack, screwdriver etc – don’t assume that they will be at the venue.


Empathy is the art of “being one of the audience” and seeing things from their point of view. It is about being able to live in their world and understand their problems and issues.

Sometimes presenters get off to a terrible start, without realising it, by making what can only be described as a “smart remark” that distances them from the group

1.         “When I used to do your job some years ago………”

2.         “I was in LA only last week………”

3.         “When I had lunch with your MD the other day……….”


If you want to enjoy the full support of your audience try and stay at the same “level”. Use your genuine knowledge and expertise to impress them rather than using your superficial “seniority” and position.


Flying Starts:

Presentations are like aeroplanes – at their most dangerous when they take off or land! The first, and last, two minutes are crucial.

  1. Calming Nerves – someone once said that the human brain is a marvellous piece of equipment that works well from the moment we are born to the moment that we stand up to speak in public. Fortunately there are many techniques for dealing with nerves although presenters still need “butterflies” to get the best results.
  • Rehearse the first minute in your mind twenty times and in front of a colleague until s/he gives you the “thumbs up”. Excessive pauses, filled with “errh” and “you know” are almost always a sign of insufficient rehearsal.
  • Never start until you are ready – even if it means saying “just talk amongst yourselves for a minute whilst I get set up”. This is not going to be a problem for the audience because someone will probably want to make a quick phone call or go to the loo!
  • Have a glass of water handy to keep your mouth moist
  • Establish good eye contact with a friendly supporter in the room.
  • Try deep breathing before you start – it will slow your heart rate dramatically.
  • Stand with your feet eighteen inches apart – if you stand with your feet together you will sway and resemble the leaning tower of Pisa!
  • Try and get a visual up quickly – a slide with your objectives perhaps. The group will look at it, not you, and you will calm down very quickly
  • Sit down and cover an item of “any other business” before you start e.g. “Could I just check the timings before we start………..” or “Could I just get the introductions out of the way before we start our presentation………” or “Can you hear me at the back? When you then stand up to do your presentation your heart rate will be back to normal and you will feel confident but calm but remember that this “A0B” start could be perceived as a weak opening.

“The day I lose stage-fright is the day I stop acting!”

Laurence Olivier

2.         Your objectives slide – don’t crowd it with masses of detail. Keep it simple     for best effect – three objectives will be remembered and four won’t.  State your objectives in their terms not yours.

  • Don’t say “My objective is to explain what the Marketing department does” try saying “My objective is to explain how Marketing intends to help you generate £500k of new business during the next three months.”
  • Tailor your language and try and use a tailored visual that is built around your audience’s needs. The language on the slide should also be “theirs” not yours.

A bore is someone who talks to the audience about himself.

A gossip is someone who talks to the audience about others.

A good presenter is someone who talks to the audience about themselves!

3.         Motivate your audience – early on in your presentation they will have a  very personal, selfish agenda. They will be thinking “What’s in this for me? Why should I bother to listen to this?” You can motivate your audience in many ways:-


  • You could start your presentation by saying something the audience is not expecting to hear. The surprise will grab their attention.
  • Asking a question – but be prepared for the unexpected answer. If you say “Has anyone ever had a near fatal accident?” you need to know what you are going to say if they all put their hands up.
  • Using a positive motivator that explains the benefits e.g. “We think that the solutions outlined in our presentation today will save between £40-£50k next year………”
  • Using a negative motivator that explains the consequences of not going ahead e.g. “Towards the end of our presentation we will outline the financial benefits of our proposal but perhaps I could just repeat something that James said at the first meeting……….we need to do something radical because if we don’t we will have to make 20% of our people redundant!”


4.         Signpost your presentation The audience at the start of a presentationare like horses before the start of a race – scattered all over the place and facing in different directions. The starter has to bring them all up to the line together so that they start level and all go off in the same direction at the same time. As part of getting off to a flying start try “signposting” – this technique tells the audience where you are taking them, what lies ahead and how you want to work with them e.g.

  • “My presentation will last for forty minutes and is split into three sections………”
  • “Here is our proposal. We would like to give you some time to read the first section, then take your questions before we present sections two and three…..”
  • “During the next hour please ask questions as we go along………”
  • You can use this signposting technique throughout the presentation, not just at the start e.g.
  • “I am now coming to the most important parts of my presentation………”
  • “We’ve just got time to cover section three……….then we will have a quick coffee………….then we will show you the film……..”
  • “Before I summarise, let me give you a chance to ask some more questions……………”

5.         Time your presentation – set your watch at 12.00 the moment you are  due to start. This way, every time you glance at your watch you will quickly know how many minutes you have been talking for.

Adding Spice and Interest (2)


Gestures and Movement:

Most audiences like to see the presenter moving around from time to time using hand gestures to illustrate a point. Watch the hands though, the coins or keys in the pocket or playing with a pencil. Don’t stand with your hands crossed in front of you – you will look like a nudist!

Remember to smile and engage with peoples’ eyes – it will relax the audience, give them confidence in you and suggest that they are about to listen to something enjoyable. You can also use your open arms to encourage participation and input but if someone asks a difficult question don’t fold your arms as it looks defensive. Keep your hands at waist level – don’t hold them in front of you as it will look as if you are praying.


Graveyard Shift:

Straight after lunch your audience will be ready for a quiet siesta. Something will be needed to encourage them to tune in to your presentation – try and select a topic for discussion rather than simply talking to them. If it is a hot day you may need them to physically move about.

Also, and as part of your preparation, if you are one of a number of presenters scheduled throughout the day and you have been given a midday slot assume that the timings will overrun and that you will get the “graveyard shift”. Be prepared, once again, to amend your plan.

Hiccups and Cock-Ups:

There will always be the occasional hiccup, things out of your control, that will happen during your presentation. For example a fire alarm going off, crashes and bangs outside, someone entering the room with a message for a member of your audience or a mobile phone ringing.

Although it is tempting to jump in and say “Not to worry, as I was saying……………” try to reverse this technique and get the group to recap.  Scratch your head, look a little lost and say “Where was I?” Now the group will have to do the work, distancing themselves from the distraction or disturbance in the process.

Cock-ups are things that are within your control. Here are some examples:-

  1.  You forget your words and your mind goes blank. If you can, try and engineer a quick coffee or comfort break. If this is not possible, stay calm and say “Excuse me for a minute while I just think about this.” The audience will not have a problem with this – they like presenters to be a human beings (warts and all), not super-slick machines or robots.
  2. You are delivering a presentation with a colleague who is doing too much talking and you need to shut him/her up. Try and agree some “code-words” before your presentation so you don’t have to correct your colleague in public. For example, if he/she hears the agreed signal “We’ll come back to that later John” he will know that is actually means “Shut up John!”
  3. You switch on your projector and nothing happens. Be prepared to use back-up equipment. For example if the power-point has failed then you will need your handouts.

 Involvement and Participation:

If you want people to get involved in your presentation and participate remember to tell them. It is a simple and obvious point but many presenters often feel that their audience was quiet and uninvolved. In many cases the presenter forgot to tell them that he/she wanted them to be active and ask questions.

“If people help plan your battle they won’t battle your plan”

You can also encourage involvement by asking people to chat through an issue with a colleague sat next to them. If ever you find yourself running a training programme, involvement can be encouraged through quizzes, group work exercises and role-plays.

“I hear, I forget.

I see, I remember.

I do, I understand.”

Jokes And Humour: We all know the value of using humour during our work. When presenting to groups of people, however, there are a number of guidelines:-

  1. Don’t use humour if it is not your natural style!
  2. Don’t tell people you are about to tell them a funny story (because they won’t find it funny – it will fall well short of their expectations).
  3. Keep your humour safe – nothing politically incorrect. If you start a joke with the words “Have you heard the one about the one-legged black homosexual from Dublin?” you are going to upset a lot of people. Just don’t “go there!
  4. Make sure that the humour is linked to the presentation in some way. If you tell a joke or funny story that is not linked it will confuse people and they will struggle to see its relevance.
  5. Remember that you don’t have to tell jokes – you can be spontaneous and amusing throughout your presentation in many other ways.



Presenters concentrate on giving information rather than receiving it. However, if involvement and questions from the audience are desired, listening is a key skill for a presenter.

That is the theory. The reality is often quite different as there are a number of barriers to effective listening:-

Red Rag: Some words are like the proverbial “red rag to a bull”. When we hear them we get upset or irritated and stop listening. We tune in to our feelings and tune out the member of the audience.

Open Ears – Closed Mind:  Sometimes we decide rather quickly that either the subject or the speaker is boring. We jump to conclusions and start to predict what he will say next. Our listening ability drops as we have “heard all this before”.

Too-Deep-For-Me: This happens when we are listening to ideas that are too complex or intellectual. Rather than ask questions to clarify and simplify we often say nothing and switch off.

Competitive:  We do not like to have our pet ideas, prejudices and points of view overturned. We do not like to be challenged – particularly when presenting as we feel more vulnerable than usual. Consequently, when a member of the audience says something that clashes with what we think and believe we may unconsciously stop listening or even become defensive and plan a counter-attack.

Yes-But:  If a member of the audience asks a question and we respond with a “Yes-But” we are dismissing his comments very quickly. Instead of making an attempt to understand his point of view we decide to talk over him and quickly return to what we wanted to say. Try saying “Yes-And”. This suggests that we have listened and can develop the point further by adding another point of view.

Judgemental: Judging the other person often leads to us switching off. How they look, speak and behave can affect our listening skills

Side-stepping: Countering questions with jokes or hollow clichés will irritate the audience.

Appealing to the majority: Sometimes a lone questioner will be in the minority (and we know it!). Rather than answering the question we appeal to the majority and quickly move on.


Guidelines for improving our listening:

  • Listen to the content but also listen to the feelings that go with it. If you can then say to the questioner “You sound very concerned about that” or “You are obviously upset by that” it will show that you have really understood the point.
  • Listen to what is not said e.g. When Michael Heseltine said “I can see no reason why I should stand for the leadership of the Party” what he really said was “If circumstances change, I will stand for the leadership”.
  • Don’t let pressure rush your response – stay calm and say, for example, “Can you give me another thirty seconds on that Ray”. With this additional information you may identify some other issues.
  • If you create a group-work exercise or discussion watch for visual clues of interest and commitment – these will help you deal with any questions that come later.
  • Listen out for potentially mischievous questions designed to lure you in to politics and controversy e.g. “You must have come across this sort of problem before – what is your view on how it should best be solved?”
  • Summarise back to the audience on a regular basis – this is a safe strategy because it makes sure that you have understood their feelings before you move on to your next point.


“A wise old bird sat on an oak, the more he saw the less he spoke, the less he spoke the more he heard, why aren’t we like that wise old bird?”

Edward Hersey Richards


Personal Buying Motivators:

Your audience will “buy” your presentation for a number of different reasons. They will have “technical” needs – i.e. the ability of your product or service to solve a particular problem or meet a specific need and they will have “commercial” needs – i.e. the price, terms, financing and whether or not a return on the investment will be achieved.

However, although they are difficult to spot, it is often the “personal” motivators that determine who wins the day – the audience’s needs for achievement, friendship, influence or security.

If you have people in your audience with a high need for achievement they like to work with a structured agenda, accomplish more than most, plan for the longer term and agree goals and actions at the end of a presentation or meeting. These people will probably have an office full of certificates and trophies that proudly say “look at me and my achievements!”

In your presentation, try and find something that emphasises something that will allow him/her to beat their competitors. Be clear at all times and build measurable goals into your proposals. A slide of a calendar showing “who will be doing what and when over the next six months” will always be well received.

Some members of the audience will be motivated by FRIENDSHIP in the workplace – the need for warm personal relationships with others. They like to be liked, sacrifice their own needs for the sake of the team, don’t like conflict and smooth over difficulties if they see any problems surfacing in the room. On their office wall will be a company team photograph of the management team on the steps of a smart county hotel or a team event like the company golf day.

Try a little social chat before you start, don’t refuse the offer of teas or coffees and try and win over his/her boss (as they dread the prospect of a disagreement).

Others in your audience will have a high need for INFLUENCE and power. They like to impress, be forceful, name-drop, are often political and devious, are concerned with their reputation, often join organisations outside work where they can have influence, like to control situations and cause strong emotions in the room like fear, anger and delight. When entering their office you will quickly be guided to the photograph on the wall of Richard Branson or The Queen which basically says “look at the important influential people I know”

Ask for agenda suggestions before your presentation, be prepared to change things around so he/she feels in control, let him/her lead the discussions and recognise valuable contributions. When you have a quiet moment, emphasise how your proposals will affect status within the organisation. To put it another way, be prepared to bite your lip and play games. The good news is that these people are so preoccupied with themselves that they won’t spot just how clever you have been!

Finally, your audience will also have a number of people with a high need for security – the need to feel safe at work. For them, this comes through dealing with financially stable suppliers, avoiding grey areas, dealing with new ideas gradually, avoiding risk and cautiously approaching the future with measured pessimism. These people will have a photograph in their office that makes them feel secure – their partner or family at home.

Try to keep your presentation very “black and white”, make it easy to buy by breaking it down into bite-size pieces, sell the benefits of change, allow plenty of time for questions (and reassurance), be prepared to offer “evidence” of people or organisations that have previously gone ahead with your proposal and praise regularly to encourage further participation and adventure.

To appeal to the personal motivators of these four very different people you will need to see clues that reveal “who they really are”. Do as much preparation as you can before the presentation, ask colleagues for an insight into the character and personalities of your audience and, where possible, ask warm friendly customer contacts for an insight into their colleagues and “what makes them tick”.

Pitch, Pace and Pauses:

Pitch – try and pitch your voice up one level from normal – put some music in it – this will make your voice carry better and also sound “up” and more motivational.

Pace – slow down when you are about to cover your most important points. Talking quietly will also enhance this technique and your audience will look up and tune in.  Speed up your presentation on points requiring action! A louder voice here will enhance and emphasise your points.

Pauses – don’t forget the power of silence. After you have presented a key point that you want your audience to think about or reflect on try pausing for 3-4 seconds before moving on.


Questions from your audience are, generally speaking, a good sign – they suggest that people are “with you” and are showing an interest. However, many presenters fall at this hurdle because they misunderstand the question, or the motives of the questioner, and respond with a defensive answer that upsets the questioner and alienates the rest of the audience.

There are five main types of question:-

  1. The question you can’t answer – don’t bluff your way, offer to come back with the answer later
  2. The relevant question already covered – thank the questioner (as the question is relevant) and give a quick recap
  3. The relevant question not yet covered – thank the questioner but point out that you are only a few minutes away from answering the point. If you have a poor memory you can always ask someone to raise the question again.
  4. The irrelevant harmless question – rather than say that the question is irrelevant ask “Bill, I’m struggling a little with the relevance of that point, could you explain what’s behind your question?” Now the questioner will probably see that the question is irrelevant and accept your offer to discuss it over coffee during a break rather than hold up the presentation.
  5. The irrelevant harmful question – slow down, buy more time by asking for more information. You may like to use subtle peer group pressure by appealing to the rest of the audience by asking “What does everyone else think to Gerry’s question?” Hopefully someone will suggest that you move on which will allow you to say something like “Gerry, the message I’m picking up from your colleagues is that I should move on but perhaps we could chat about it later as I can give you some information on that.”


Retention Of Information:

Your audience will forget information very quickly. One survey carried out in the eighties concluded that an audience will forget 85% of a presentation after one week! We therefore need a number of tricks and techniques to improve retention of your key points. Using visual material, rather than verbal, will help, of course. Also encouraging the audience to write things down from time to time or changing their senses and giving them things to play with and handle will improve retention even further. You can also use Mnemonics and Acronyms with great effect. Mnemonics are “proper words” where each letter conveys a different point to remember.

Example 1: “S M A R T objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed.”

Example 2: “O P E R A stands for the five stages of effective teamwork – objectives, planning, executing, reviewing and amending.”


Acronyms are “made up words” that do the same job e.g. N A T O, U N I C E F. One of most commonly used business acronyms is the S W O T Analysis – people will remember (for life) that it stands for an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Sentence Construction:

When presenting use sentences that are much shorter than normal. If the sentence is too long your audience will have forgotten your main point by the time you get to the end. Generally speaking, your presentation sentences should contain only one idea and should be about half the length of a written sentence.

Spicing Up The Presentation:

  1. Contrasts – this is a very effective technique, often used by politicians in sound-bites. It features two “opposites”. One of the most famous (well rehearsed) contrasts was used by Neil Armstrong when he stepped on to the moon – “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind!” Some examples of business presentation contrasts are listed below:-

•          You never get a second chance to create a good first impression!

•          We have achieved so much with so little!

•          We are large enough to cope and small enough to care!

•          This will not cost you pennies but it will save you pounds!

•          We can’t solve the problems of the future with the solutions of the past!

•          Local efforts have failed but the national campaign must succeed”!

•          We need to be proactive not reactive!

•          Today I have some good news and some bad news!

•          These are small changes but they will create big differences!

•          Downtime will become up-and-running time!

•          We’ve earned our stripes and we are going to knock spots off the competition!

•          We can do more with less!

Note the exclamation marks – contrasts have few words but have great impact!


2.         Repetition – this technique drums your point home. Repetition was used with great effect by Winston Churchill during the war years and the closing minute of his “beaches” speech is featured below. It repeats the phrase “we shall” with great effect.

“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and strength in the air, we shall defend our island whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight on the streets, we shall fight in the hills………we shall never surrender!”

Some examples of this Repetition technique being used in a business presentation context are listed below:-

  • We must improve the way we manage it, we must improve the way we monitor it and we must improve the way we measure it!
  • We must remember the results of this survey, we must remember how our customers feel and we must remember that if we don’t fix these issues we are dead!


3.         Three-part lists – this technique uses three tuneful phrases or words:

  • A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play
  • Anytime, anyplace, anywhere
  • There is no conspiracy, complacency or confusion

This technique is particularly powerful on slides – it is simply three big points that will have impact and be remembered:-

“During the next six months we all need to give more……

•          Effort!

•          Creativity!

•          Passion!”

“We look forward to working with you…………..

•          We have the competence

•          We have the commitment

•          We have the confidence”


Notice how this second example also makes good use of repetition – “We have the” is repeated three times and the three subject words all begin with the letter “C”. The third example is similar in the sense that it repeats the “S” word.

“I am going to cover three things………

•          The survey results

•          The situation today

•          The solutions needed”

The most famous use of all three of these “spicing up the presentation” techniques working together was, once again, Winston Churchill.

“Is this the end?

Is this the beginning of the end?

No….it is just the

end of the beginning! Some business examples of combining the three techniques are listed below:-

  1.  “I would like to talk to you this morning about three things – our past, our present situation and our future.”
  2. “When you use our services there is one thing I can promise you. You will get tomorrow’s technology today.”
  3. “We have successfully developed the promise, we have successfully sold our customers the promise but we have not yet successfully delivered the promise”
  4.  “We need to reduce our costs, we need to maintain morale and we need to increase customer satisfaction”


Team Presentations:

When working with colleagues always work with the right people, not those who happen to be available. Ask yourself the questions “Who is best qualified to help me achieve the objectives? Who should do what – how should the presentation workload be shared? How can I use the most senior people effectively? How can I shield the most junior members of the team?

Third-Party Research:

When presenting, bring your “witnesses to court”. Refer to third parties to support your case e.g. “According to a recent survey by the Institute of Directors……” or “Last year five key industry trends were identified by the Trade Federation – I would like to go through them and explain some of the implications………..”

Time Management:

Always start on time and definitely finish on time or you will “lose” people if you over-run.

“Watch your watch – short presentations are not always the best but the best presentations are always short!”

Most people will listen and watch attentively for 30-40 minutes before they need a break. If this is not possible try changing the senses – if your audience has listened to you for some time consider an exercise or group discussion to maintain and stimulate interest.


Understanding Body Language Signals:

There are some excellent books available on this subject, particularly those written by an Australian writer, Alan Pease. However, as a general rule, you are looking for “clusters” of body language signals not just one and “congruence” i.e. are the words and body saying the same things?


If, during your presentation, you detect someone in the audience looking confused, upset or angry don’t ignore them. You could deal with the problem there and then by saying “Bill, you look a little confused…….” or you could have a word during a coffee break.

“No news is good news” is a potentially dangerous theory for presenters – silence can often mean disagreement, confusion and lack of commitment. “No news is worrying” is a much safer theory to have because it will encourage you to explore and resolve any body language concerns you may have.