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Avoiding the 9 deadly sales mistakes

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Ever find yourself in the middle of a presentation, thinking, “This is really boring,” or realizing that you’re telling a story suited for Baby Boomers to a Gen X prospect? Do you have this unshakeable anxiety over public speaking? Is PowerPoint more your enemy than your friend? If so, not to worry. You are hardly alone.

Most professionals, regardless of their industry, and even those who must make presentations for a living, commit at least one of what communications guru Terry Sjodin considers to be nine crippling sales presentation mistakes. Sjodin’s presentation, “Small Message, Big Impact,” was a kickoff presentation at NAILBA 31 and was part of Prudential’s “Women in Brokerage” session series.

According to Sjodin, the nine biggest sales presentation mistakes are:

#1: Winging it. “Your professional credibility is evaluated within the first seven seconds of meeting somebody based on how you dress,” Sjodin said. “Immediately following that, every element is based on or tied to your public speaking skills. Are you articulate? Compelling? Boring? Most people wing it rather than prepare for presentations and don’t think of the missed opportunities they could have benefited from if they had just stopped to craft concise, compelling and clear presentations.”

#2: Being too informative versus being persuasive. Performing a data dump feels safe because nobody can tell you “no” while you are doing it, Sjodin says. But the role of a presenter is not to inform so much as to persuade. She recalled how, once she applied her skills as a debater to her sales presentation, her sales numbers improved. By being clear, concise and compelling, one can make a classy sales presentation that doesn’t feel overbearing or a dreaded hard sell.

#3: Misusing the allotted time. Respect the amount of time you have for the presentation. Rehearse beforehand. Don’t bring too much information or underestimate how long your presentation takes.

#4: Providing inadequate support. Make your points and then back them up. Focus on a compelling argument. Why does the listener need you? Focus on getting to that point. And then provide the evidence that proves it. Just keep the evidence short and simple.

#5: Failing to close the sale. Adults have a short attention span, Sjodin says, and most failed presentations stem from a failure to move the listener through what she calls “the logical sequence.” Grab their attention with something that intrigues them. Once intrigued, define what they need. Deliver a way to satisfy that need. Get the listener to visualize taking action. Then take that action.

#6: Being boring. “If you are thinking while you make a presentation that you are being boring, guess what?” Sjodin said. “You are.”

#7: Relying too much on visual aids. Sjodin recalled a sales professional who relied on a 220-page slide deck when making routine presentations. “Text on a screen is not a visual aid,” Sjodin said, and got the entire room to repeat out loud. “Text on a screen is not a visual aid.” Visual aids are not for presenting what can be written or said. Keep them few and keep them simple.

#8: Distracting gestures and body language. Sjodin suggests videotaping one’s presentation at least once a year to review any strange or off-putting habits. She recalls one sales rep she coached who, during presentations, would roll up his pen in his tie, even before clients. Tape your presentation. Review it. Be frank with yourself and make the changes you need to make.

#9: Wearing inappropriate dress. Navy blue is still the most successful color to wear during a sales presentation, and in financial services, conservative business dress is still the way to go. “You have to honor and respect your prospect’s time,” Sjodin says. But she also notes that location and culture play a big part. What passes for business wear in Texas might not be the same as in California or New York. Know your where you are dressing for as much as who you are dressing for.

Sjodin noted there is a tenth mistake, and that is that presenters often forget that they need to earn the right to be heard. They must acknowledge that people lose interest quickly, and that one must be creative, scrappy and stick to their delivery if they are to have any hope of overcoming initial resistance, suspicion or apathy among their audience.

Ultimately, Sjodin says, all of these killer mistakes can be defeated by keeping three golden rules in mind. Practicing these will help you develop effective presentation skills that work whether the audience is composed of the Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers or Millennials.

First, did you make a strong, compelling and persuasive case? Prospects may disagree with your case, but if they are interested in the case itself, they will ask to hear more.

Second, was your case made creatively? Did you create a new perspective in the mind of the listener? You might have said something they have heard before, but if you come at it from a fresh angle, even the most jaded listener will take interest.

Third, did you speak in an authentic voice? Sjodin recalls how Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole both had the same speechwriter. One could stick his delivery, and one couldn’t. Was it really the speechwriter’s fault? No. “Delivery doesn’t have to be perfect to work,” Sjodin says. “It is just when everything comes together.”

For more coverage from NAILBA 31, see:

NAILBA 31 kickoff: Mooers wins Chairman’s Award

7 key takeaways from NAILBA 31′s state of the industry

Why are we selling Brussels sprouts and calling it candy?


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