sales, influence and persuasion
In-depth guide to influencing and persuading so you can hit any sales targets
table of contents
For well over a decade in this business we have seen and heard so many sales presentations.
We’ve seen good sales presentations.
We’ve seen bad sales presentations.
And yes, we have seen downright ugly sales presentations too.
So what makes a good sales presentation technique?
And what can we learn from the sales pitches that go bad, or ugly?
This guide is all about crafting and delivering sales presentations and pitches — the kind that could just win that six- or seven-figure contract.
2. Avoiding the Safe Seat in the "No Blame" Game: Eight Factors to Help You Win That Major Contract
Over the years since we founded Confident Speak, we’ve worked with so many sales executives on their presentations techniques, vocal skills and executive presence.
We’ve seen first hand what adds up to a successful sales presentation — and we wanted to put together this guide to share with you some of the presenting tips, techniques and habits which can have a massive positive impact on your confidence, the success of your sales presentations, and ultimately, the bottom line in your businesses.
Whether you are a CEO, sales director or sales manager with responsibility for a team, the eight sales presentation techniques below will help you to identify whether these habits are commonplace within your teams.
Because if your team has any or all of these bad habits, they are most certainly having a detrimental effect on sales figures.
1. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes
You won’t believe how often people think almost exclusively about themselves.
It happens so often, in fact, it deserves to be Number 1 in this list.
Many executives might say they are “focused on their customer”, but in reality, what happens?
In reality, they might know their customer’s name and job title, but have not given enough thought apart from that.
And this is a recipe for a certain letdown.
Without careful and strategic consideration for your audience, and without tailoring your message precisely to their requirements, you risk losing so much credibility.
Remember, your audience here is your prospective decision-maker.
And if the decision-maker gets any whiff of lack of credibility about you, you’re almost certain to lose out to your competitor for that prized contract.
Your audience members are more than just an array of titles or departments or organisations.
You need to understand them deeply.
There are two sets of requirements for every sales pitch and presentation. Your requirements, and your audience’s.
From our experience, too many people place too much focus on their own requirements: their own hopes and fears and aspirations and targets.
You must keep your audience in mind all the time. You must tailor your message to meet their requirements, not yours.
Every audience in front of you has different wants, wishes and challenges — it’s your job to find out as much as you can about your audience in advance of getting in front of them and tailor your message to meet their world.
Yes, it takes time but will be worthwhile when your audience feels valued and understood. Then they will feel positive towards listening—and ultimately opening the “chequebook”.
Quick takeaway: Get out of your own head
2. Avoid a wing and a prayer
Following on from the point above, so often I hear sales executives saying they have no time to prepare for sales presentations or meetings, or even that they feel they don’t need to prepare.
They might say they have their “tried and tested” presentation. They might even use the words, “I just wing it.”
Even if you are an experienced presenter, this is not setting you up for success.
You need to remember that ultimately, you do not decide how good your sales presentation actually is or how good you are as a presenter.
Your audience, not you, is always the decision-maker — they make the decisions about who to trust, who to hire, how much to spend. And time spent on preparing for your presentation will have an outsized positive impact on how your audience make those decisions.
It doesn’t matter how busy you are with the details of your business. Winging it is never good enough.
If you want a greater level of success, realise that advance planning is vital.
Yes, this requires thought and time, no question. You may be familiar with the Eisenhower Matrix, a 2 x 2 where tasks and projects are divided into Important / Not Important / Urgent / Not Urgent.
There’s every chance you might see preparation for your presentations as falling into the important-but-not-urgent category.
This is the most dangerous category. Because items here are liable to be put on “the long finger”, sometimes indefinitely.
Schedule important-not-urgent tasks like this into your day or week, and treat that schedule like you would a vital hospital appointment, and the impact on your preparation for the big moments will be evident very soon, and will compound over time.
Quick takeaway: Protect important-not-urgent tasks like your baby
3. Being interested makes you interesting
How often do you start your presentation with some variation of this.
“Here’s our company, here’s our employee numbers, here are our services. Oh, here are our clients too. And here’s…”
Blah blah, blah…
If you do just one thing today, make a commitment to yourself to notice when you’re being self-centred and to STOP right now!
Think about the last time you met someone out socially and they rattled on and on about their holiday, their family, their car or their job, and never once stopped to ask your opinion or about your life.
How did that make you feel?
Not great, right?
You might even go so far as avoid that person in future.
Now, think of that in a business context. If you want to build a relationship with a prospective client, do your research and find out about them before you launch into your message.
Then bring their world into your message.
Start by getting curious about your audience to understand their needs.
Quick takeaway: Don’t Be Boring
4. Concision and precision = incision
Think about this for a moment.
What is your attention span when you sit in an audience?
How quickly do you get distracted?
Of course it depends on the situation, but even if you’re being regaled with a Verdi operetta, it’s not uncommon that in any given moment of downtime you’ll feel a little twitchy and do something like checking your watch or your phone, right?
Well, here’s news.
Your audience is exactly the same.
Their attention span, collectively and individually, is ultra short.
If you cannot deliver your sales presentation in a concise, audience-focused and memorable way in 10 minutes or less, then you’re certain to struggle to get them to make the decision you want.
Longer speeches have become more common in recent years. The mainstage TED conference has an 18-minute window for its talks, but many events offer 40- to 50-minute windows for keynote speakers.
You need to be a world-class speaker to keep your audience’s attention for that long. And you only get to be a world-class speaker by delivering hundreds of shorter, punchier, more concise presentations.
So hone and refine and edit and rehearse your presentation until you can deliver it with energy in a 10-minute timeframe, and then take advantage of the extra time available to open the floor for a focused discussion.
Quick takeaway: Follow the ten-minute rule
5. Don’t be a jargon monster
Let’s reel off a few lines. You can raise your hands when you start groaning.
“It is what it is.”
“Do more with less.”
“Take it to the next level.”
“Let’s circle back.”
“Think outside the box.”
And there are lots more where they came from.
If you’re being really uncharitable, you could try a game of Cliché Bingo next time you hear a sales pitch.
We hear it so often—generic, clichéd, jargon-filled content that’s wallpaper, or worse, to the audience.
Honestly, there is nothing more exhausting for any audience.
Yes, you might feel comfortable with this language and it can be your “go-to” when you’re under pressure, but unfortunately for your business it is much more than likely to be raising the hackles of the audience.
Here’s a four-step process to jot down and keep in mind.
- Make life as easy as possible for the audience
- Strip back all banal clichés or complex corporate lingo
- Speak in simple short sentences, using shorter words wherever you can
- Illustrate your points with real examples and true stories
That’s the four-step checklist.
Now, here are four questions you should always ask yourself before any presentation:
- Is this content meaningful and understandable to the audience?
- Is this content relevant to the audience?
- Is this content helping the audience make a decision?
- Is this content relevant in helping me achieve my goal?
Answer “No” to any of those four, and you have to be ruthless. Delete!
Quick takeaway: Bust all jargon (and be ruthless)
6. Sitting Down (Also Known As: Taking the Easy Option)
Before we get to work with sales directors and executives on their presentations and pitches, they often tell us their preference is to sit down, open the laptop and “talk through” the slides.
Two things about this approach.
- It’s the safe and easy option
- It’s totally forgettable
Even that phrase—“talk through the slides”—should give you the shivers.
Instead, set yourself up for success.
Plan to stand up and fully own and inhabit your presentation.
If there are more than 3-4 people in your audience you will have a much greater impact in a room.
Yes, it’s true that sometimes you will be on a client’s site and there may be physical limitations.
But be brave, and take control.
Do whatever you need to investigate the room setup and technology in advance. It may require a quick call ahead of time, but it will send a clear message to your prospective client that you are focused on their meeting and giving them your full commitment.
Standing up does not mean you are unnecessarily formal.
If you maintain a conversational style, you will be more memorable and professional. No question.
Quick takeaway: Stand and deliver
7. Rehearsal is not just for rookies
When we explain to our sales clients the importance of rehearsal, we often receive a look that could be translated as,
“These people are crazy.”
Often they say things like, “you don’t understand how busy we are”…
We understand very well. We work with teams and hundred of sales directors and sales executives every year.
We also know how decisions are made by your clients.
And most importantly, we know what a polished, confident sales presentation can achieve.
So, imagine taking 30 minutes over the course of a few days, practising your message aloud (instead of in your head as you press the slideshow button).
Rehearsal will ensure you’re confident, concise and polished — and that can be almost priceless.
Rehearse your message aloud at least three times – even if it’s in the car on the way to the meeting.
Quick takeaway: Practice gets you closer to perfect
8. There are no winners in the blame game
When we don’t secure the contract or business after a meeting or sales presentation, many people jump to conclusions and reason that it was due to a biased member in the audience, that the product or service was unsuitable, or that a competitor had an advantage.
It may well be one of these three reasons.
But ask yourself this: how does that help you be better, and do better, next time?
Answer: it doesn’t.
In the post-mortem, you must always ask yourself what you could have done differently.
Debrief and reflection is essential.
Some questions to ask in any post-mortem:
- Did you consider the client’s needs/challenges and create a compelling message for them?
- Did you prepare relevant, tailored and memorable content for your audience?
- Did you plan effectively and rehearse ahead of the meeting?
- Did you have slides that were relevant to your client?
If you answer no to any of these, then you need to re-assess, get feedback from the client or your colleagues, and take more ownership of crafting a more powerful sales presentation.
Quick takeaway: It’s okay to quit the blame game
3. Nine Dragons’ Den sales pitch mistakes we see over and over again
Looking for some sales pitch tips?
You might think popular TV show Dragons’ Den would be the place to learn some great sales presentation techniques.
However, there are so many sales pitch mistakes made on the show—over and over and over again.
Here we share nine recurring mistakes we’ve witnessed, in the hope that you can avoid where others have gone before.
1. The pitch that’s poorly structured
People often seem to think that just because they understand and believe in the business idea, everyone else will too.
It doesn’t work like that.
Understand what makes a strong pitch. There must be some narrative energy taking you (and your audience) through from start to finish.
Without structure, energy and momentum will falter, and your pitch is doomed.
2. The pitch that’s full of jargon
Using complicated language does not make you look smart.
It just confuses your audience, whether that’s a prospective client or investor.
And your audience will know exactly when you’re doing it.
A good jargon-busting tip is this.
If you used this word or phrase while talking to your granny, would she know what you meant?
3. The pitch that’s light on research
Not having researched the profile of each Dragon/investor.
It is vital to know who your audience is, and what their wants and interests are.
Stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about the investors – why should they invest?
4. The pitch that’s obviously unrehearsed
If you haven’t rehearsed aloud, how do you expect to sound confident and relaxed?
Learning off the numbers or the competitive analysis or the list of benefits is no use if you can’t stand up in front of an audience and deliver them naturally, effectively and persuasively.
Having spent no time rehearsing, it’s common for presenters to get nervous.
The heart rate ticks up a beat or 10, and you speak too quickly, racing through the things you had memorised before your nerves send them out of your head for good.
This is bad for everyone, you and your audience.
Preparation and rehearsal will give you clarity and the confident to slow down and deliver a compelling pitch.
5. The pitch with no awareness of body language and physical presence
Poor entrance and weak body language screams lack of confidence.
Decisions are made in the first 15 seconds about you.
Effective posture and presence doesn’t just happen automatically.
It only happens with clear intent and deliberate practice.
Watching yourself on video can be a great help to iron out the things you don’t want your body to communicate.
6. The pitch that gets defensive
This one can make all viewers cringe and watch from between their fingers.
When things aren’t going their way, and investors aren’t biting, the pitch team can sometimes become defensive.
This typically happens when people don’t have a clear sense of the division between the contents of their pitch and their own sense of identity and self-worth.
It’s not personal. It’s just business. Work on training yourself to avoid defensiveness.
Remember, everything is feedback, and feedback is invaluable.
7. The pitch with the props
Awkward, gimmicky props rarely enhance a message.
Often, a gimmick is used as a crutch to deflect from the speaker’s lack of confidence in their own ability to deliver a compelling message.
If you are using a prop make sure it adds to your pitch and doesn’t risk confusing your audience or detracting from your message.
Think deeply about whether you need it, then practice it ten times until you are as certain as you can be that it’s going to work well.
8. The pitch with the dreamer
Few things annoy investors more than idealistic, improbable sales projections.
The future is always uncertain, and intelligence customers or investors know this.
Do your homework and be honest about the range of possibilities.
9. The pitch that falters at Question Time
It’s the most frustrating part of any sales presentation or pitch (and it happens over and over again on Dragons’ Den).
Preparation is good, delivery is good, and you almost see the pitch team breathe a sigh of relief or give themselves a silent high five for a job well done.
And then a question comes and they’re completely stumped.
It is essential to think in advance about how you might answer likely questions, or even the questions you don’t know how to or don’t want to answer.
4. What we can learn about the art of persuasion from the old masters
Often we hear about a new school of thought from the world of presentation skills or public speaking.
Experts in the art of persuasion seem to regularly unearth new and innovative ways of doing things that we’ve never heard of before.
However these “new” ways of thinking can often take the core of their teaching from innovators that have come before.
Usually long before…
Throughout history speakers have employed a variety of basic skills when addressing the structure and effectiveness of their communications.
The animal motivation
Scottish philosopher David Hume, who lived and died in the 1700s, recognised that you can never change someone’s mind in an argument with just reasoning and logic.
In his view, we are animals primarily motivated and influenced by our intuitions and emotions.
The majority of our convictions don’t actually come from facts. Human reasoning is a servant to intuition.
Consider some great orators like Cicero, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King, Jr.
They all had similar characteristics and structures when crafting their messages.
So, what are these similar characteristics?
Almost three thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle identified these three areas of rhetoric, or the art of persuasion, as ethos, pathos and logos
Famous and effective communicators have used these elements of rhetoric time and time again to persuade and win over their audiences.
Let’s look to Aristotle for a quick definition of rhetoric:
“[Rhetoric] is the faculty of discovering, in any particular case, all of the available means of persuasion.”
He believed that you need all the means of persuasion to get people to trust you, and advocated using all three of his main elements of rhetoric to do the job.
Let’s briefly go through each in turn.
1. ETHOS, or “Argument By Character”
Ethos uses the speaker’s personality, reputation, and ability to create a sense of trust in order to persuade.
Ethos embodies goodwill, sincerity, credibility, commonality, and praise.
It is used in advertisements all the time to establish credibility. (For example, a car company stating that they’ve won safety awards for their cars.)
This shows the overall virtue of the speaker and goodwill towards the audience.
Check out this clip to see how effectively John F. Kennedy used the principle of ethos in his inaugural speech in 1961.
2. PATHOS, or “Argument By Emotion”
Pathos is the appeal to an audience’s sense of identity, sentiments, or self-interest.
This involves contrast, emotion control and energeia (vivid experience, making someone feel in the moment, or to feel what you feel).
Jim Rohn, the author and trainer who many have described as the father of the personal development movement, advises his learners “to use well-chosen words with measured emotion”.
Too much emotion detracts from what you’re trying to achieve, but too little, and you’re doomed.
Humour can be an effective form of pathos. It calms people down and creates common ground with an audience on an intuitive level. (This is a big part of the reason stand-up comedians are often the most memorable communicators.)
For something even more emotionally resonant pathos, re-watch Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, in which he appeals to morals and human qualities that are common to us all.
3.LOGOS, or “Argument By Logic”
Logos persuades by making a reasonable claim and offering proof in support of that claim.
Here we use the power of story, the framing of ideas, and proof.
In debates, concession can sometimes be an important tool of logos as you use your opponent’s argument to your own advantage.
By conceding the validity of your opponent’s argument, you show you are listening and seeing their side.
This clip from the cult 1980s movie classic Footloose shows Ren McCormack, played by Kevin Bacon, delivering a speech to an audience that is absolutely predisposed against him. It embodies ethos and pathos too, but there is lots of logos in how he demonstrates the logic in his argument.
In Western culture we often treat or frame arguments like fights or like war.
We attack our opponent’s positions and defend our own, and in doing so we gain ground or we lose it. It’s zero sum.
George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist, suggests a more appropriate and conducive analogy is the idea of “the dance”.
In this metaphor, we reach out. We are opposites, but we can work together. We co-operate, and by co-operating the argument becomes more about agreement than disagreement.
We don’t enter into an argument unless we have some common interest with the other side to begin with.
Instead of a war between good and evil, we can begin to think about rhetoric and persuasion as a dance between mutually interested groups.
“A fight never persuades, it only inspires revenge or retreat. An argument gets people to do what you want – it’s a means to a solution.
— Jay Heinrichs, Thank You For Arguing
Putting it all together
These concepts — the triangle of rhetoric, alloyed to the argument as dance — have been passed down to us over hundreds and thousands of years from our greatest thinkers and speakers.
- Rhetoric: character + emotion + logic
- Dance: Look to win over, not just win.
One of the most poignant examples of using all of these disciplines for persuasion is in children’s television’s Fred Rogers’ (Mister Rogers) appeal to the U.S. senate committee.
In an attempt to save PBS’ $20m annual funding when it was in danger of being slashed in half in 1969, Rogers faced down one of the toughest and most cynical senators on the committee, and won.
5. How to own your space: Engage and influence with presence when speaking
If you want to discover what presence is, and build on your presence in your workplace, understand that we were all born with presence.
Of course, we were not aware of this.
As we move into adulthood we lose this presence.
Life experiences, stress and tension all play their part, but when you know that it remains within us, we can access it once again.
1. Understand what your posture is saying about you
This is key for establishing strong personal presence.
Knowledge of when your body is balanced and centered is vital for insuring a strong physical and vocal presence. It is important we understand the connection between body and voice and our listeners.
Always be aware of your posture – standing, sitting or moving.
Move with energy, move with intention – but aware of your posture. Stand tall.
Exercise: Achieving Neutral Posture
- Standing – think tall, open and lengthening. The feet are parallel and hipbone width apart, knees should be unlocked.
- The weight of the hips is directly over the feet
- Spine is not slumped or rigid.
- Start to work tension out of the shoulders, neck and face.
- Smile and open the jaw – soften your jaw, unclench the teeth, tongue relaxed on the floor of the mouth.
- Think of your crown as the highest point – growing up to the ceiling – loosen upwards.
- Abdominal area should feel released.
- As you breathe there is little/no shoulder or upper chest movement.
- By placing your hands on belly – allow the breath to drop low – this is your physical centre.
2. “Own your space” – Give time to establish your presence
Take a moment to ground yourself before you begin – it’s important to feel physically secure both for your physical presence and your vocal delivery.
Exercise Owning your Space:
- Ground yourself you need to think about your posture
- Look Give yourself time to be ready to communicate to your audience
- Breathe Give yourself time to breathe before you begin.
To achieve a sense a calmness, composure and natural ease with we communicate it is vital that we understand the role breath plays.
One of the only ways to release tension, stress and nerves is to breathe correctly.
Incorrect breathing limits the voice we use to speak. To have a strong, resonant and efficient voice it is crucial we are breathing correctly.
A deep breath is not how much air we take into our body but how deep in the body it goes.
Voice is powered by breath, so it is vital that you understand how to breathe to ensure strong vocal presence.
Exercise: Connecting breath with voice
First become physically centered. As in the picture above – take a “belly breath”:
- Place your hands or a book on your belly
- Let the in-breath find its natural rhythm
- Encourage the release of the shoulders and abdominal muscles
- Now begin to tune into your own breath and using your awareness to focus your breath deep and low in the body.
- There is no movement in the shoulders or upper chest area.
- On the out breath, make the following sounds: /FFFFF /VVVV/ /SSSS/ /ZZZZ/ /MMM/
- Feel the breath connecting with sound (you may need some guidance with this)
4. Connect emotionally with your message
The reality is that any audience will connect and engage with people who are truly themselves. Even if you are delivering an status update or technical information your audience really gets a sense that you truly believes your message.
Once there is authenticity in your message, then strong vocal techniques will be easier to access.
When you deliver a business presentation, how authentic are you with your audience? Or do you drop into presenter mode? Because, so many do.
Ahead of your next presentation/communication, consider these two questions carefully:
- What do you feel about your message to the audience?
- What do you want your audience to feel about your message?
When you consider your own feelings here, what comes up? How do you feel?
Do you want your audience to feel excited, curious, frustrated, sad?
Whatever that feeling is, you need to think carefully about it, as it needs to be conveyed in your vocal delivery.
5. The importance of power words
All words are not created equally.
When we speak we do not pronounce each and every word and syllable with the same importance.
If you want your audience to listen and engage then you need to understand:
- What are power words, and
- How to give these power words the power!
Power words are the 1-3 words in each phase or sentence that absolutely reduce it down to its basic meaning.
They communicate the essence of what we are saying.
These words require more time more emphasis, more vocal importance, if they are to resonate with the audience.
You need to be authentically communicating your message. To be really connected to and truly believe your message.
- Change of volume: Either increases or decreases volume on specific power words
- Pitch variation: Change the pitch on certain power words to highlight and bring importance to them—make them stand out
- Articulation: Overly articulate certain consonants in the power words to bring the word out further—lest the audience forget!
- Change of pace: Speed up and then slows down on power words/phrases.
- Pause: Pause before or after key power words
Try combinations of any of the above.
They are vital to a strong vocal delivery – that will be listened to and understood by your audience.
Where this work can bring value to you
- Ensure an increase in confidence and credibility when communicating with key decision makers, leadership and clients
- When clients communicate with confidence, gravitas and authority they are more empowered to grow in their roles, achieve targets, have greater productivity and ultimately achieve business growth
- Ensure greater clarity to communicate the right message in the best way possible so clients are engage, inspire and influence audiences
- Build greater confidence and credibility will enhance business and personal brand and reputation which is key in today’s competitive market
- Build greater connection with audiences, customers and colleagues, resulting in building more effective, sustainable business relationships
Presentation skills are a muscle.
It responds to constant work. So NEVER stop developing your presentation muscle.
If you are an experienced sales presenter and have had great success, well done to you!
If, on the other hand, you want to stand out among today’s busy decision makers by presenting effectively to secure that contract, know that this is a skill that can be learned and practised.
At Confident Speak we teach you how to use these skills and techniques to get the results you want.