Have you ever had to sell an idea? I bet you have. Even if you aren’t in sales, throughout the course of everyday life, we all sell ideas to other people. It could be a pitch for product funding at work, convincing your kids to eat their vegetables, or persuading your wife that you should invest in season tickets to your favorite sports team. It just may not *feel* like selling, because more often than not, we do this through conversation.
Recently, a group of employees was invited to come up with an idea and compete in an Innovation Pitch Day. They had to sell their idea to a panel of judges in just 2 minutes. The pressure was on!
In preparation for this event, I had the honor of helping this group by conducting a presentation workshop. The audience was concerned that 2 minutes was not enough time to present a problem and solution, so they had some questions:
- How do you highlight the most important aspect of your idea?
- What presentation best practices would help make “selling” easier?
These concerns were not unique to this group of individuals. I think most people crafting a presentation – whether it’s for an audience of 2 or 200 – focus on similar challenges. However, the key to success is in reframing your thinking.
The best presentations feel like conversations.
When you reframe your focus and view your presentation as a conversation, it suddenly becomes easier to share your ideas. Presenting doesn’t always feel natural to everyone, but conversing does. And we all have different styles of conversing – that’s personal. You have to learn your conversation style and own it. Don’t try to be someone else, just because an experience was labeled as a pitch or a presentation. At the end of the day, it’s a conversation – and one that you are leading.
Here are a few ways to help you focus on the conversational aspect of presenting.
- It’s not about you. You have a responsibility when you are up there to not make it about you. Ask what’s in it for your audience and make sure they can consume it – use their words, not yours. Translate your content into easy relatable information.
- Tell a story. You need data points and facts to support your story, not the other way around. Using too many facts can obscure the message and bore your audience. You’re selling an idea – make it yours. Build a storyboard to help you connect the dots. It will help you hone your key messages and prepare for the conversation. A story is also easier to remember and helps you manage your pace, tone and flow.
- Manage the details. Give the audience as much as you need to hook them, but do not overwhelm them. You should be asking yourself every step of the way: What role does this detail play in my story? Does the detail provide meaningful context to get them to buy your idea? Or will it confuse them? Be honest with yourself and consider having an appendix for “nice-to-have” detail. This helps keep your conversation focused, but allows you reference additional detail during Q&A, if needed.
- Give them a reason to care. You’re just having a conversation. Your audience is listening and you want to keep them listening, so involve them in the conversation. Ask questions in the beginning and along the way. Help them see themselves in your idea.
- No judgement. Make it safe for your audience to converse. The best presentations feel like a conversation because there are a lot of voices in the mix. People are comfortable asking questions and sharing their opinions. It’s about the connection you create with them and for them. In life, 99% of work is done as a conversation. Inspire the audience to ACT. Be authentic – BE YOU and let them be THEM. After all, authenticity is what sells.
- Practice. You need to be comfortable with the material. It will make your story better. The tighter the message, the more quickly you can explain it. If you can, present the content by having the conversation with a healthy skeptic or even someone who flat-out disagrees. You could practice this as informally as a hallway conversation. You don’t need your slides to practice – they are props, they won’t sell the idea for you.
- Confidence and comfort are key. It’s all about delivery. The more confident you are with the content and messages, the more comfortable you will be leading the conversation. Focus on your tone, pace and preparation. Once you have the message down (practice), you will feel more confident and you can then focus more on physical engagement. Try walking into the audience, conversing and connecting with individuals along the way.
- Have fun – it’s contagious. Presenting is a skill and something that’s developed over time. The best presenters are often natural conversationalists. They get credit for being good presenters because it never feels like they are “presenting.” They are up there having fun – and as an audience member, you feel like you are part of the fun with them. That is what stays with people, long after everyone has left the room.
Build a connection – without it, your idea will not sell.
Presenting is about connecting. It is less intimidating to the audience when they can relate to your story. We need to be thematically relevant, but simplify the message. People buy into ideas because of an emotional connection – they feel inspired because the idea is about a passion they share, or relieved because they see how the idea will make their job easier, or excited because the idea brings something new and exploratory.
Inspiration, relief and excitement are emotions. And emotions are based on connections. Your stories will create connections that sell your idea, long after you have exited the stage. And all you did was get up and have a conversation. Well done.
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