The Dangers of Winging Your Sales Presentation’s Opening

By Julie M. Hansen

Many salespeople don’t spend the necessary time to make sure their openings capture their audience members’ attention. Rather they often wing it, saying whatever comes to mind. Unless you’re a professional comedian, leaving your opening to chance is a big gamble. The sale may well be riding on it. Here’s why:

  • Your audience is distracted. The audience is seated, but the vice president is checking email, the department head is worrying about a mandatory budget cut, and a key influencer is tracking a storm that may affect her travel plans. Just because it’s showtime doesn’t mean your audience is paying attention. Your opening must break through the mental clutter and physical distractions that plague today’s business audiences and pull them into the present.

    Although you may have your own distractions prior to your presentation, as soon as you’re on center stage, you have to push them aside. You have to be physically, mentally, and vocally engaged. Your audience has a less demanding role. They’re seated, they’re silent, and many seem to treat a presentation as an opportunity to catch up on email, texts, or the latest social media posts. You need to give them a compelling reason to put lingering thoughts or tempting distractions aside. After all, how exceptional the rest of your presentation is doesn’t matter if your audience isn’t listening!

  • First impressions are last impressions. First impressions may not always be correct, but they do affect the way people listen to others and how people perceive others. According to research, many executives acknowledge that they decide to hire someone in the first few seconds of meeting them. The rare individual can overcome a negative first impression. Think back to singer Susan Boyle’s audition on The X Factor. Everything about her first minute on stage screamed no. The audience snickered and the judges barely contained their skepticism until, of course, she hit those first superb notes. If you don’t have a dramatic trick like that in your bag, you must make the most of your first impression to strengthen your last impression with your audience.

  • Decisions are made early. If you’ve ever served on a jury, when did you decide whether the accused was guilty or not guilty? Did you remain completely impartial until all the evidence was laid out? Or did you arrive at your verdict during or immediately after the opening statement, as most jurors do according to a recent study? Trial lawyers spend a significant percentage of their time preparing their opening argument for this very reason: People start forming their decisions early. No, you’re not on trial during your presentation, but you’re making a case for your solution and the audience starts weighing the evidence right at the outset.

  • Memories are formed. Buying decisions for some products and solutions, especially more complex or expensive ones, are rarely made on the spot. It may be days, weeks, or months before decision makers get together to discuss your proposal. Therefore, it’s critical that your message is easy to remember. Research indicates that people start building memories when they’re first introduced to a topic. Your opening can help ensure that your prospect has a strong, positive recall of your presentation.