The meeting is set, and there's a lot at stake. You're going to get one chance to effectively communicate the value of your project to the decision-maker. Take advantage of your opportunity by following these tips:
1. Accept the water
If you’re asked at the beginning of the meeting, “Can I get you a glass of water?” say, “Yes. Thank you.” You should always accept hospitality—it warms up the room and gets things off to a good start.
2. Don’t talk business too soon
Most of the time, before you and the buyer “get down to business,” there’s the chance to make some small talk. You may feel like this is a waste of time, but having some small talk is a crucial opportunity, so don’t miss it.
Remember, business is personal. If you want the other person to listen to what you have to say and to contemplate working with you, it is essential that they like you and enjoy being with you. Therefore, take the time at the beginning of every meeting to build rapport.
3. Access thoughts, feelings and experiences
When you are making small talk, use questions to invite the buyer to reveal thoughts, feelings and personal experiences.
· What are your thoughts on _____?
· How do you feel about _____?
· What’s been your experience with _____?
Questions like these have a way of taking the conversation in a more personal (though still professionally appropriate) direction. This builds rapport quickly and effectively.
4. Identify the top priority
Often, buyers will have many priorities, and they may not be clear about what takes precedence. However, you aren’t likely to succeed unless your pitch addresses the buyer’s top priority.
Try using questions to help the buyer identify what’s most important:
· What’s something that has surprised you about _____?
· What’s your biggest obstacle to getting _____ done?
· If you could, what’s one thing you would change about _____?
· What has to happen first in order for you to _____?
Even if you can assist the buyer in many other ways, you must be able to directly address their highest priority need if you want them to say, “Yes.”
5. Avoid PowerPoint
When you begin to pitch, you want the buyer to be focused on you. After all, you are one of the major selling points of your proposal. You want to be able to see the buyer’s non-verbal communication as you pitch. This is important because it allows you to adapt what you’re saying on the fly, e.g., to explain a little more if you see them getting confused or shift gears if you see them getting bored.
Think about this—what do you do when you’re sitting through someone else’s ten or twenty minute PowerPoint presentation? Do you anticipate each new slide with bated breath? Do you eagerly take notes? Or do you check your email and text messages on your PDA? Do you let your mind wander? Do you try to remember one or two salient details so you can ask one decent question when they finish?
If you must do a PowerPoint presentation (and there are situations where it’s required), my suggestion is to spend only a fraction of the time allotted using PowerPoint. Spend the rest of the time presenting in other ways and answering questions.
You should be the presentation. Let PowerPoint sing back-up.
6. Start with silence
Don't start your presentation until the decision-maker is ready. If there have been a lot of people stopping by, phone calls or other interruptions, ask the buyer if he or she is ready for you to begin. Make eye contact. Then, start slowly and deliver your first line. Pause.Gauge the response. Then proceed with your presentation at a relaxed pace.
Remember, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and the same is true for your idea. Starting with silence cues the buyer to focus his or her attention and allows your first line to land with maximum impact.
7. Craft a dynamite lead-off sentence
You’ve paused for a moment. You have the buyer’s undivided attention. You won’t get a better chance to impress them with the value of what you propose than right now—so your first line better be good.
Effective first lines can be a direct statement of what you propose or what the buyer gets if he or she says “Yes.” It can be a provocative question or statistic that grabs the buyer’s attention. However you begin, your first sentence needs to have impact. Write it, test it out loud and rewrite it—your hard work will pay off.
8. Embrace the Question & Answer (Q&A) part of the meeting
Most people would rather do a comprehensive presentation that answers everything in advance so that there’s no need for questions at the end. This is a big mistake.
An extended pitch prevents the natural give and take characteristic of successful meetings. Worse, it indicates that you may be scared of answering the buyer’s questions. Worse still, if you can’t summarize your overall proposal in less than a couple minutes, the buyer will think that you don’t really know your stuff.
The Q&A is where the sale is made. Yes, you must have an intriguing pitch. But if you want to hear the buyer say “Yes” to your idea, you have to satisfy him or her that when you’re asked the tough questions, you have great answers.
9. Leave with time to spare
You know the benefits of arriving on time, but you may not have considered the benefits of getting out ahead of time. Certainly, you should allow the buyer to dictate when the meeting ends. However, it’s smart to schedule 45 minutes for a 30 minute meeting. That way, when the meeting ends, the buyer feels like they’ve been given a gift. They may even have some time to act on your request.
10. Save a surprise for the end
If possible, you want to have a little something saved up for the very end of the meeting so you can transition out on a good note. Some good techniques are to thank the buyer for a specific, useful contribution he or she made during the meeting, make a callback a personal topic that you discussed at the beginning of the meeting, or leave a polished piece of supporting material. Just like in the movies—a little surprise at the end goes a long way to making a great last impression.
Just for reading to the end, here’s a bonus tip!
11. Choose your moment carefully
Most people will take any opportunity to pitch, network or deliver their elevator speech. But you don’t want to be “most people.”
Casual interactions are great ways to build rapport and get to know other people personally. They are rarely the best environment for you to make a presentation or attempt to sell anyone anything. So if a conversation turns to business, a great move is to say something like, "How about if we just enjoy the party, and I'll follow up with you on Monday?”
Your idea is valuable and you only get one chance to introduce it for the first time. In my experience, the best moment is not in a social setting, but in a place where the buyer is prepared to talk business, has their computer available, and is in a position to act on what you propose.
A key part of being “good in a room” is understanding that your idea should be presented to the right person, at the right time and in the right way.
Thanks so much for reading, and good luck in your next high-stakes meeting!
STEPHANIE PALMER coaches business leaders and creative professionals in a wide range of industries to help them get their ideas the attention and financing they deserve. As part of MGM’s executive team for six years, she supervised twenty films with multimillion dollar budgets, including the international screen hit, Legally Blonde. She has been featured in The Los Angeles Times, Variety and on NPR. She lives in Los Angeles.
For more information, go to stephaniepalmer.com.