Your Sales Presentations’ Opening Objectives

By Julie M. Hansen

A lot takes place during the opening of your sales presentation, but if you boil it down, there are really three primary objectives, which are as follows:

Capture attention

Getting someone’s attention isn’t difficult. Wear a funny hat. Show photos of kittens. Give away a hundred dollar bill. But that probably isn’t the kind of attention you want. Gratuitous attempts to capture a business audience backfire almost every time. You want to earn attention in a way that is relevant and appropriate for your audience and your purpose. Fortunately, some proven things naturally draw a human being’s attention that you can leverage in your presentation, including:

  • Unpredictability: Do something unlike any of the other presenters. Doing the same thing everybody else does is a sure way to be forgotten. Unfortunately, that’s what you’re doing every time you start a presentation with, “Thank you for having us. We’re so happy to be here.” Or “I want to start off by telling you a little bit about our company . . . ” There are more ways to be unpredictable than predictable; for example, you could start off with a brief story, a quote, or a prop.

  • Emotional: People buy based on emotion and justify with logic. Emotions are a powerful thing, and if you can establish an emotional connection with your audience in the beginning, you can create greater connection throughout your presentation. Depending upon your goal, you may want to get a prospect to feel excitement, anticipation, or joy at the thought of a better way of doing what they’re currently doing; conversely, it may be advantageous to have him feel frustrated or even a little angry about the way things are. Either way, if your prospect is emotionally invested in the beginning, he’ll pay greater attention as you deliver your message.

  • Personal: The opening should feel like it was created specifically for your prospect — not part of some standard deck. You can achieve this personal touch by including in your opening something of personal interest to your prospect. For example, if your prospect is an avid car collector and you start off with a story about a classic old Triumph you had and tie it to the reason you’re there, you’re sure to gain his interest. That’s why the discovery process is so important — not only to uncover business insights, but personal insights as well that can help you connect with your audience.

  • Sensual: In this context, sensual refers to pertaining to one’s senses. Most sales presentations appeal to the audience’s auditory and visual senses exclusively. Think about memorable experiences like Cirque du Soleil, Disneyland, or even the Apple store, where you can see, hear, feel, and taste (Okay, not at Apple) the product. The more senses you engage, the more attention you can claim. Although smell and taste don’t usually lend themselves to sales presentations, using a prop is an effective way to get the audience involved. You also can think about using sensory descriptions beyond just visual and auditory when you’re telling a story or describing an experience to your prospect. For example, consider the use of sensory language in the following opening:

    “I love the idea of coffee. It smells rich and earthy with different flavors, like hazelnut, chocolate, and cinnamon. If only I were a coffee drinker. But the truth is, I don’t like the taste of coffee. For me, the experience just doesn’t live up to the promise. It reminds me of other solutions in the market who talk a lot about their ability to address the issue of government compliance, but in my experience, they just don’t live up to the promise.”

  • Movement: When you’re sitting in a meeting in progress and someone walks in late, without fail, everyone’s head turns (except, perhaps the presenter.) Humans are wired to respond to movement. You can leverage this fact to increase attention during your opening. Most of the time presenters stand unnecessarily glued behind their laptop during a presentation. The opening is a great time to use your space, walk toward your audience, write on a flipchart, gesture, or pick up an object that supports what you’re saying. Even a small effort to include movement greatly increases your audience’s attention level.

Define the situation

Your opening needs to address quickly both the problem and the solution in an engaging way that gets your prospect interested enough to take this journey with you. An effective way to do this is to show the disparity between the status quo and their desired outcome.

  • Status quo: This is the reason you’re giving the presentation — to address the problem or challenge that the prospect wants to or needs to overcome, or conversely, the opportunity that he is going to miss. Status quo is often where the prospect’s pain point resides. Although your prospect certainly knows why you’re there, it’s valuable to set the stage as priorities or the level of pain may have shifted since you first set up the presentation. Your goal is to remind your prospect why the issue you’re addressing should be his greatest priority.

  • Desired outcome: After you establish where your prospect is, paint a picture of where he can go. Your prospect may have shared it with you in your prior discussions or you may have a few surprises up your sleeve. Although the opening isn’t the place to go into great detail, you do want to give him an idea of what the payoff for staying tuned will be.

Sell the next minute

When asked what their goal is in that first minute, many salespeople respond, “to make a sale.” In a sense, they’re correct.

Even though you shouldn’t be selling your product or service in your opening, you do need to sell your prospect on sticking around to hear the rest of your presentation, and the easiest way to do so is to make each minute count. If your current minute is compelling, your prospect will look forward to more of the same. You can also create some anticipation by dropping hints of interesting insights or value to come later in your presentation. Look for ways to make the next minute sound inviting without giving it all away up-front.