Traffic Light Software

Traffic Light Software

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Strategic Bridges Software

Software to help you create strategy for sales

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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.