In enterprise software sales, we often present as a team with articulate messaging, multiple presenters, and sophisticated product environments. The most compelling product presentation teams incorporate economies of motion and efficacy of message. How we interact is baked into our collaboration tools and how we craft the narrative. Despite this complexity, we have fun driving accountability while self-critiquing.
No matter how successful we are, it’s always important to take the time to rethink, refine, and improve our approach to presentations. This helps to ensure that our audiences understand and retain the information we’re presenting, and that they are compelled to take action toward the next stage in the buying process.
In this article, I’ll cover tips on presentation preparation, content, and practice. In Part 2, (which will be posted later this week) I’ll go into the delivery and review stages of the presentation, plus I’ll provide a list of resources that I’ve found to be particularly helpful.
Preparation, Content and Practice
The vision for a best-case scenario.
Picture this: You're in the parking lot and your customer just pulled you aside on their way out to say that your presentation was the best they've seen in a long time. You connected it to their value assessments. You highlighted and definitively addressed their challenges. It was entertaining and they felt highly engaged.
How did you get there? You incorporated a great vision. You proved real capability. You worked as a team, and frequently checked in with each other. You solved for message retention, beyond just presentation delivery.
Just like a professional athlete, you:
- Visualized success and outcomes
- Practiced with a plan in mind
- Mastered and maintained your equipment
- Reflected, rested and recovered
Below is a collection of tactics and strategies that you can apply as you prepare for your next presentation. Note, they’re not listed in order of priority or in a prescribed sequence.
At the outset, state what you're trying to achieve.
Create a framework:
- Define what the audience should comprehend and retain (not just hear)
- Work in concert as a team, and practice together in chunks
- Optimize for a sub-optimal presentation day
- Take the audience on a journey, but don't over-engineer it – be casual, yet compelling
- Weave in customer success stories from their industry
This framework is useful for, but not limited to:
- High grade, high stakes custom demos
- Proof of Concept executive summaries
- Deep narrative, multi-presenter engagements
- Identify your presentation crew, speaker, and driver
The speaker and driver (the person driving the demo) should begin training together from the outset. The speaker and driver can be interchangeable; this helps reduce fatigue. No one should be presenting longer than an hour. In fact, presentations that are shorter than an hour are almost always better due to the limited attention span of the audience.
Keep it simple.
All presentation materials, demos, and slides need to be tuned to require a minimum level of skill. Presenter skill should not be a major factor in the outcome of the presentation. Technical risk needs to be addressed with backup videos, pictures, etc.
Develop the narrative in parallel with the demo materials.
Do this as soon as you can, but combine work paths often. The faster you go, the more frequently syncs need to happen. They call this process CI or Continuous Integration in the software world. Try continuously integrating feedback from presenter practice back into demo development, though obviously major course corrections may indicate immediate issues that require a huddle (it presents as scope creep, but usually surfaces a more fundamental issue).
Here are sample steps:
- Presentation team hits the narrative and gets in character using very minimal presentation materials. Pictures, slides, mockups. This improves demo build accuracy and reduces gaps between predicted and actual effort.
- Demo engineering team hits the data and entity model.
- Paths both in practice sessions and check-ins need to sync often to be sure the data is well-crafted and all materials support the narrative, or core value statement.
Gather your demo materials well in advance.
The critical path typically blocking on-time practice almost always seems to be the availability of demo materials. The length of time to build presentation-grade demo materials typically won't change. This obstacle needs to be addressed immediately with very rapid mockups, and with Powerpoints so training starts without delay. Demo construction can run parallel to narrative practice and testing.
Integrate the latest collaboration tools into your demo preparations.
Incorporate your narrative and technical execution plan into a Kanban board. To kick off the meeting with a preview, have the team lead send a huddle video using Loom or Cloudapp, or just a plain recorded video. Examples of Kanban boards include Trello and Asana.
Identify opportunities to iterate and reuse.
- Go wide with your search for templates. Send the requests out right away knowing that it will take a few days for templates to surface
- Re-articulate your understanding of the value chain
- Understand who is impacted, who stands to lose, who stands to gain, and what’s at stake if this all goes away
- Run it down completely with the team, and state what you don't know
How you practice is just as important as "if" you practice.
Build your muscle memory. Build your habits. Practicing in order to be effective takes time (though not nearly as much as many would think). Remember to create a feedback loop from someone you trust.
If you can’t do a dry run in person, a video recording works great, too, because viewers can pause and review a section that could use another pass or to adjustments to your tone, cadence, choice of words, delivery, etc.
Presenters and drivers should train together. Demo engineers or creators can then fine-tune their materials to fit the presenters’ capabilities.
Surface technical risk and discuss technical decisions as a team.
The senior-most technical member should personally state that they own all outcomes of the product presentation material. This takes any culture of blame out of the equation, and still promotes accountability.
The senior-most member of the sales team must reiterate their commitment to accountability as well, demonstrating their partnership across all levels of leadership. This drives a high speed mindset across all levels of leadership. Partnerships and even "Unlikely Allies" appear to rapidly mirror this across the presentation team regardless of role or rank.
All risky techniques must be tested to failure immediately (customizations, non-standard modifications and custom code). This might include sections of the spoken narrative.
Get them to break and if they don't, they stay. This re-validates the narrative as well. Is the narrative completely dependent on the technical track? It should not be, as the upside to risk ratio is generally much too high.
The presenters should immediately huddle and revise that portion of the narrative. At worst, the executive sponsors should apply their skill and relationships (with the customer) to validate the necessity of this possible point of contention. Failure to acknowledge a gap ahead of the demo incurs risk. A gap should not be surfaced at the demo itself, without clear coordination across the presentation team. It should be addressed beforehand.
The senior-most member of the crew should self-critique at every opportunity. This sets the tone for continual learning, humility, and enabling the team to enjoy getting better in the process.
Treat all preparation efforts as investments.
Imagine that you are funding various "sub-companies" within this presentation effort. What should you invest in? What nets you a return, and at what level of risk? What can be talked to, versus shown, or in some cases physically proven? How intense does this preparation need to be?
Presentations don’t always impact the customer the “right” way. Presentations are received subjectively, and despite our best intentions, they may not always yield the results that we intend. So, prepare in advance by requesting internal feedback. Seeking feedback early on is important because it brings immediate returns, it helps you refine your message and your delivery, and it puts you more at ease.
The feedback you receive doesn't need to be complicated. It also doesn't need to be pointed. "Here's what I'm seeing" works great as a lead-in (it’s all in the delivery).
What should be practiced and reinforced is that feedback should be friendly and should be exchanged from peer to peer. When it goes from staff member to supervisor and back down, misunderstandings are inevitable, which can lead to trust issues.
Be sure to encourage accurate, genuine feedback. Get examples over to the presentation team for immediate training and mental framing, and extract feedback at every outset. Volunteer ways it could be deficient so you can get ahead of customer objections. Invite your dry run audience members to say "No." Point out possible flaws in your own work.
Word to the Wise
Remember that presentations take work. More often than not, the most compelling ideas and concepts have been refined repeatedly and they aren’t formed as a result of sudden insight or brilliance.
Also remember that a demo is just one piece of the sales puzzle. A great demo does not replace the meaningful, intelligent, insightful conversations that take place in the early stages of your interactions with the customer. If anything, the demo is like a very high-interest, short-term loan with high rates of default.
Connect With Me
I’m forever grateful to all the people I’ve trained with and learned from throughout my career. I put this article together as a way of returning the favor to the PreSales community because it has been so supportive to me every step of the way. Check out Part 2 later this week and email me if you’re seeing success with any of the techniques that I’ve shared, or if you have ideas on how to improve on them.
Bryan Yeung has held leadership positions across PreSales, sales operations, and engineering. With over 20 years of experience in technology, he has successfully led teams presenting to executives across a wide range of industries. Lately he’s been involved in low-code industrial automation, customer narratives, computer vision, and MLOps. Connect with Bryan on LinkedIn!