03/05/2015 12:43 EST | Updated 05/05/2015 05:59 EDT

This Is the Secret to a Successful Business Presentation

Getting ready for a successful pitch involves much more than planning what you are going to say, it involves planning the WOW-factor your presentation will provide. You also need to listen to what your audience has to say. It's a dialogue, not a performance.

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Businesswoman speaking with microphone during seminar

Every business pitch you make should have a well-defined goal or desired outcome. You should ensure that outcome reflects the best interests of your audience if you are to engage them fully.

Getting ready for a successful pitch involves much more than planning what you are going to say, it involves planning the WOW-factor your presentation will provide. Planning a successful pitch involves anticipating every question and objection you can think of, knowing who will be in the room and doing your homework. However, you also need to listen to what your audience has to say. It's a dialogue, not a performance.

If you go in with a preset script and mindset that doesn't allow for audience interaction, you will be as engaging as background music in a shopping mall, and just as quickly forgotten.

You have 30 seconds to capture and hold their attention for the balance of your pitch. Then, research shows that you have between seven and 10 minutes to make your case. You need to have a flow and passion that makes the content irresistible, but you also need to improvise as you go in the face of unexpected questions. That is why active listening and not doing all the talking is key to your credibility and successful pitch.

In one instance, someone pitched to me and did not have a chance to get a word in. The pitcher tried to anticipate my questions by cutting me out of the conversation. When I tried to speak, I was met with, "Yes, trust me. I know what you're about to ask..." And on he went. I left not really understanding the offering.

The best pitches are those that encourage a two-way dialogue. They ensure that the presenter remains in control of the agenda, attentive to the audience's needs and focused on a positive outcome.

Go PowerPointless

PowerPoint can kill a presentation very quickly. I am not alone in this view. Decades of critics have wondered how a presenter can engage an audience when dividing his or her attention between them and the screen - hopeful that the technology does not distract or fail altogether.

Experience has shown that the more influential your audience, the less you should rely on PowerPoint. Influencers want the story from you, not through the barest bones, which can be worked out later or covered in a takeaway document.

Let them ask the questions

Asking questions of an audience at the start of an informational presentation can position you as collaborative and interested in them. But when you are booked to deliver a pitch, it is understood that you are there to sell a product, service solution or the merits of building a relationship with you or your firm.

No one is under the illusion that you are there to entertain them. The purpose of the pitch is common knowledge before you enter the room.

Respect their time by getting to the point. In essence, let them know you understand the gaps they are facing, then describe what you are you selling and how it will benefit them.

Unexpected curve balls

There are many gracious ways to divert problematic or premature questions, such as: "You must be telepathic -- I was getting to that in just a few minutes. Let me share this thought first."

When you get a question that catches you off guard, regroup by repeating or clarifying the question to the person or group. This is essential if you don't understand the question or it is ambiguous.

If you encounter a feisty or difficult interrogator during your pitch, listen closely to the question and say, "Those are great questions. I'd say they merit a conversation after this presentation when we will have a chance to discuss them fully."

Stay focused during a hijacking

I have attended pitches when the presenter abandons his or her goal by letting the pitch be hijacked, sometimes very early in the presentation.

For example, a prospect may ask, "I don't meant to interrupt but some of you may have sat in on a similar discussion last week. We agreed that we don't have the budget to do anything this year so I'm not sure why we're wasting our time here today."

Your composure in countering that ungracious but honest sentiment could win you the business. Instead of capitulating with, "Oh. Well, thanks for your time and call me when the situation changes" try:

"I appreciate this information. Now that I know that budgetary considerations are critical to the outcome of our conversation today, I will offer you an appropriate solution with that fact in mind."

It is ultimately about the audience

Once you have said your piece and established the nature and benefits of your product or service to your audience, there is nothing wrong with a little "bonding time" at the conclusion of your presentation. Avoid fleeing or being overly business-like when an influencer suddenly introduces a topic that may have little to do with your pitch. One pitch I attended ended well for the presenter (who was introducing an online learning program) when he found that he and a key influencer had children who attended the same school.

It all comes down to how well you are able to engage in dialogue with your audience, which means actively listening to what they have to say.


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