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Diary of a Social Venture Start-up: Polishing Your Presentations

Most of us hate dealing with salespeople. I'm not talking about the folks who help you find the right size shirt, I'm talking...

Most of us hate dealing with salespeople. I'm not talking about the folks who help you find the right size shirt, I'm talking about the smarmy guy trying to unload the 1986 Subaru. And yet, if you're an entrepreneur, you are a salesperson. Whether you're dealing with employees, potential partners, or investors, you're trying to sell people on your idea.To get comfortable with that idea, I once took a course in entrepreneurial selling. The professor was exactly the sort of guy you'd expect, and while some of his suggestions were downright shady, I did manage to learn a few things that have stuck with me. And they are:Your presentation is not about you.If someone has invited you to speak, it's not because they care about you or your company; it's because they care about themselves and their company and they think you might be able to help them. As such, your presentation shouldn't simply be about what your product can do or how reliable your service is. It shouldn't be a 10-minute bio of your accomplishments to show that you're reputable. It's about what you're going to do for the people you're talking to. That's it. If you find yourself saying anything that in some way doesn't benefit the audience, stop talking.Take questions at any time.Don't ask your audience to hold questions until the end. It gives the message that your time is more important than theirs. If someone's got a question, let them ask it. There will be times where you'll be able to say, "We're going to tackle that topic on the next slide." But, on the whole, just stop what you're doing and answer. Sure, it might interrupt the flow of your presentation for a second, but it's important to be prepared to answer a question about your company off the cuff.Put the money up front.If there's a point in your pitch that requires telling your audience how much your product or service is going to cost, put it out there early on. This goes for written proposals as well. Too many presenters seem to adopt the infomercial approach. They spend their time talking about all of the wonderful features-only to try and sneak the price in at the end ("For only three easy payments…").The reaction to pricing is almost always the same-namely, "What? There's no way in hell I'm paying that!" Even if they're not offended, they'll act the part in order to negotiate. (An aside: If anyone sees your price and immediately says "That sounds fair," there's a good chance you're not charging enough.) So, let's assume the audience is going to react negatively to your price. Would you rather end on it and leave the rotten taste in their mouths or get it over with and spend the rest of your time convincing them it's worth it?Don't "conclude." If you're looking to end strong, do yourself a favor and forget you've ever heard phrases like "In conclusion" and "In closing." Remember what school was like? If class ended at noon, by 11:58, people were shoving their notebooks in their backpacks and getting ready to bolt. Old habits die hard. If they know the meeting's coming to a close, they're already thinking about lunch. Be hope-less.It seems that a lot of people tend to end presentations with something along the lines of "We hope you see why our nonprofit is the perfect partner for you" or "We hope you've learned something today." I don't mean to get all Yoda on you, but either accomplish your goal or don't. Stop hoping. If you gave a kick-ass presentation, own it. Confidence is contagious.The Takeaway: No matter your expertise, any social entrepreneur's job is to be Head Salesperson. You constantly need to convince people to put faith in your ability to help change the world. And while everyone has their own presentation styles, having a few rules of thumb might help you seal the deal.

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