Dear Dan: With sales in the tank, I'm hitting the street more to pitch my small business. After dusting off my old presentation, it still looks kind of dull. How can I spice it up? - Punchless Presenter
Dear Punchless: For millions of small business owners, success hinges on pitching something through a presentation of one kind or another. It may be products or services that you are pitching to clients, consumers, prospects or other businesses. Or it could be bankers, investors, potential joint venture partners or anyone else you simply want to interest in what your business does.
Presentations can be part of a sales call, part of a business plan, or just something you have available to hand out at a trade show or on online. In a down economy, getting presentation skills right has become more important than ever.
Presentations happen many different ways: A formal pitch to a small group of prospects; a prepared presentation that you print and mail or distribute via email or on your website; a web-based presentation, video conference, or perhaps even a speech to a local or industry group.
However it happens, the idea is to impress your audience with an irresistible message and polished pitch. Here are some tips on making your presentations stand out:
- Know your story. All great presentations start with a clear "story," says Jerry Weissman, author of The Power Presenter(Wiley, 2009). "Consider your story as a blank white frame," says Weissman. "On one side, define the objective of your presentation and its related factors, and on the other side analyze your target audience. Once you've set the context, fill the center of the frame with the key ides of your story."
- Use visuals and graphics properly. Graphics are great, but they can be misused. Remember the "less is more" principle. Graphics should illustrate your ideas and support your story. Use them to help get your point across. But skip the hokey clip art and either create or seek out unusual images. Image sites such as Shutterstock (www.shutterstock.com) have millions of photos and illustrations at affordable prices.
- Make it yours. It's okay to get others to help with your presentation, but you are the one who really knows the topic so you need to be involved in every step. Handing it over to an outside service can lead to an "I wonder what that means?" audience reaction.
- Make it multimedia. These days, it's hard to stand out with a simple PowerPoint presentation. If you want to separate from the pack these days, consider using a new web-based multimedia platform to create an interactive, guided presentation that uses web pages, slides, video clips and more. One such option is Flowgram (www.flowgram.com), a free web-based service that helps businesses create and share multimedia presentations. A Flowgram presentation can be distributed via email, blog, intranet or a social media network such as Facebook. Flowgrams can also be viewed offline as downloadable videos. "At any given time, I'm in touch with new business prospects from many industries with vastly different needs, so I can't send the same canned proposal," says Jonathan Nicholas, president of The Company CEO and a Flowgram user. He needed a way to make customized, viewable presentations without having to schedule a call or meeting for each request, and Flowgram fit the bill.
- Survey Says. Polls and surveys are a great way to validate value propositions, vet new product ideas and obtain preference data that can help position a product or service. Consider one of the many quick and easy online polling services to set up a survey and gather results. Options include Vizu (www.vizu.com), Zoomerang (www.zoomerang.com) and SurveyMonkey (www.surveymonkey.com).
- Practice the right way. "Verbalization is one of the most powerful yet underused presentation tools," says Weissman. "Rehearse, and in your rehearsal, speak the words of your presentation or speech aloud, just as you will do it when you are in front of an actual audience." Verbalizing your presentation helps build your intellectual muscles and narrative skills.
- Know when to stop. "When you overload your audience, you shut down the dialog that's an important part of decision making," says PowerPoint expert Cliff Atkinson, author of Beyond Bullet Points. "Keep your text and images to a minimum, so your audience can concentrate on what you are saying."