Confidently Selling Ourselves and Our Ideas

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Welcome to the world of sales! What? You're not a salesperson? Think again. Everything we do is sales-oriented. Whether we are selling products or services to our clients, or selling our ideas to internal management, we are always selling ourselves as credible resources.

So the challenge is acquiring or improving the necessary skills to connect well with our audience and successfully sell ourselves and our ideas. This requires a plan.

KNOW YOUR "PAL"

The first step to successfully connecting with an audience, whether it is one person or a group of 1000, is knowing your "PAL" — Purpose, Audience and Logistics:

  • Purpose: Why are you making this presentation? What are the intended results? Is your intent to inform people about your ideas, or is it to get a commitment? If you want a commitment, do you have a backup position? Clearly define your objectives and write them down.

  • Audience: Speaking is an audience-centered sport. Who will you be speaking to? Not only do we need to know the demographics of the audience, we also need to understand what motivates them, their concerns, attitudes, position in the company, etc.

  • Logistics: Knowing the time parameters, time of day, facilities, and who else will be speaking. Once you know your PAL, it is time to collect information. Statistics, testimony, stories, examples, and visual aids all will reinforce your point of view. People typically make decisions with emotions and justify them with facts. That's why all data needs to be current, accurate, relevant and acceptable to your audience.

Our tendency is to use more material than is necessary, so once you have organized your presentation, decide which points are the "must know," "should know" and "could know." Try to organize your material into three to five key points in a way that makes sense to your audience.

PREPARATION IS ESSENTIAL TO FORMAL PRESENTATIONS

If your presentation is a more formal one, being given at a meeting or a conference, you might choose to use notes for delivery. Make sure they are readable. If typing, use a minimum of a 14-18 point font in bold. If hand writing, use a medium point felt tip pen. Only use the top two-thirds of the page, so your eyes don't drop to the bottom of the page. When your eyes drop, so does your chin and your voice. Color code the "must," "should" and "could know" information with a color hi-lite pen. It's best to outline most of the speech and a good idea to write out the opening, transitions and closing. Those are the parts of the presentation in which people tend to panic.

PRACTICE ALWAYS MAKES YOU CLOSER TO PERFECT

Gathering your information and having a good outline are only the beginning steps for feeling comfortable. For real polish and comfort, speakers must take the time to practice. Say your presentation out loud (not in your head, where you are eloquent) three to six times. Each time you say it, do it differently. The goal is to have "heightened conversation" — bigger than normal, yet with a conversational tone.

When practicing, if you can't practice in the actual room, you should simulate the speaking environment. That means, if you are speaking in a theater-style room, put some chairs around your living room in that style. If you are standing at a conference table, practice standing at your kitchen table. If it is a seated presentation, sit to practice.

After the third run-through, audio tape yourself. When playing it back, ask yourself one very important question: "Would I like to listen to this presentation?" If the answer is no, why are you subjecting your audience to it? If you are satisfied with your taped presentation, you are finished, although practicing in front of someone, a person most like the audience you will be presenting to, will be an added benefit.

USE, DON'T LOSE, STAGE FRIGHT

According to many studies, giving a presentation is the number one fear of many individuals, second even to death. We've all experienced the sweaty palms, shaking legs, hands and voice, increased heart beat, "butterflies" and dry mouth associated with "stage fright." But if you think about it, these are also symptoms you get when you play competitive sports, go on a blind date, play in a recital, attend a high school reunion or go for an interview. These are stress symptoms and our body's way of preparing for a stressful situation.

Our bodies, however, don't know the difference between good stress and bad stress, and as speakers, we don't want to completely get rid of stress — it will give us the adrenaline to add energy to our presentation. We do, however, want to channel it and control it so it doesn't overcome us.

How can we control stress? These few techniques have worked for me and for thousands of people I have trained over the past 25 years:

  1. Arrive early: By arriving early you can inspect the room, check out your visual equipment, go to the restroom to check your appearance, take a quick walk up and down the halls, or around the block, and greet your participants. By shaking hands with the audience you can begin to establish a rapport as well as get rid of excess energy.

  2. Visualize: We frequently associate visualization with sports. Just as an athlete pictures a routine, or the track or slope, a speaker must see himself in front of the audience doing a spectacular job.

  3. Pep Talk: One of my favorite pep talks comes from Dorothy Sarnoff, an eminent speech coach. She says, "I'm glad I'm here, I'm glad you're here and I know that I know." It is important for a speaker to find motivation to want to present — it could be job-related, money, etc. — and that she makes the audience feel good about being there as well.

    After all, if the audience weren't there, she wouldn't be either. Finally, tell yourself "I know I know." It is important to be prepared and practiced. The goal is to feel inwardly cocky and outwardly confident.

  4. Breathe: By breathing deeply and slowly the heart rate will slow down, and physical stress symptoms will begin to dissipate. When you add isometric exercises to the breathing, it lessens the tension and takes your mind off the presentation. My favorite exercise is to breathe deeply through my nose, hold my breath to the count of six while squeezing every muscle in my body as tightly as possible. After holding to the count of six, I breathe slowly through my mouth and relax the tension in my body. If you do this exercise several times before you get up to speak, you will feel much more in control.

  5. Perspective: People may die while speaking, but not because they are speaking. Although we want to succeed when we speak, it is generally not a life or death situation. Keep in mind, "This too shall pass." Another way to put things into perspective is to think about the speaker-audience-speech triangle. Unless we are very famous people, most of our audiences are saying "WIIFM" (what's in it for me?) If we stay audience-centered, we don't have to be as concerned about ourselves.

  6. You're Not Alone: Realizing that everyone gets touches of stage fright helps. No coach would want his team on the field without being pumped up. The audience is a way to pump you up. You're not alone.

"SOFTEN" HOW YOU PRESENT YOURSELF

All the preparation and practice will certainly help your presentation, yet people tend to believe how you say something more than what you say. When speaking, pay attention to SOFTEN. Smile (when appropriate). Open posture — keep body language open. Forward lean — lean toward the audience. Tone of voice should be varied, authoritative yet sincere. Eye contact — look at your audience for three to five seconds at a time. If you are presenting to one other person, try to match his or her tone and body language. That helps you to establish a rapport more quickly.

GOOD PRESENTATION SKILLS WILL LEAD TO SUCCESS

The ability to sell our ideas is critical in today's business environment. Studies show that more than 80 percent of people lose their jobs due to poor communication skills. If you practice these skills and prepare your presentations, you will be able to present much more confidently and competently your most important commodity: yourself.

About the Writer: Marjorie Brody is president of Brody Communications and author of "Power Presentations: How to Connect with Your Audience and Sell Your Ideas," released by John Wiley and Sons. This article was originally published in the 5th Anniversary Edition of Entrepreneurial Edge.

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