Ethan Rotman writes articles in a national speaker’s magazine, manages a blog, and speaks frequently about the challenges of public speaking.
He started his career in 1980 as a Park Ranger. He learnt to deal with the challenge of holding attention of groups of people with different interests and attention levels. He founded iSpeakEasy in 2006 to help speakers improve their effectiveness and profitability.
In his in-depth interview with Arte from Presentation Process, he shares his philosophy about sales presentations; about holding audience attention and sparking their imagination based on his experience.
This interview has been FEATURED in presentations section of Paper.li
Arte: Presentation skills are critical for a sales presenter. In your experience, what is the biggest mistake that sales presenters make?
Ethan: The biggest mistake sales presenters make is providing the wrong information – failing to bridge the gap between what the speaker is selling and the benefit to the audience. They provide information the audience does not care about.
Audiences generally care about one thing – themselves. To be effective, the presentation must be about the audience and not the product, service, or company. When I hear a presentation, I want to know how my life is better if I buy your product, service, or follow your advice.
Arte: Can you tell us a bit more about this issue?
Ethan: Sure…The presenter talks only about the details and features of the product or service and not the benefits. The prospects wants to know how their life will be better if they use this service or product before they will care about how it works.
Here is an example: one service I offer is helping businesses get quality video on their website.
I could talk about the HD cameras, boom mics, green screen, site SEO, and video embedding techniques. These are all important details. Another option is for me to explain how the finished video will drive traffic to the prospects website, viewers will like the business owner, and a high percentage of viewers will call the prospect wanting more information.
In second case we are discussing the benefits (how it makes their life better) and in the first case we are just giving details they are not yet ready for. So they lose the prospect.
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Arte: What else makes a sales presenter lose a prospect?
Ethan: The second way to lose a prospect is to spend too much time giving background information before it is relevant. Once you have shown how your product or service will be of benefit to the prospect, then the background information on your company or your credentials is valuable and of interest.
As an example, one of my clients sells unemployment insurance to non-profits. When I began working with her sales presentation skills, she started her 45-minute pitch with the history of unemployment insurance law in the U.S. and then transitioned to the founding of the company. She was losing many of her prospects before she even had time to share the benefits of what she offers.
Knowing that every Executive Director she spoke with struggles to balance their budgets, we revised her talk to cover how the program would save money, while providing more services to the non-profit. We simply removed the details (history, tax rates, founding of company) and replaced it with benefits (more money to hire staff and do good in the world). Once we had sold the audience on our ideas, we then provided a brief overview of the company to demonstrate credibility. The revised talk took a mere 15 minutes.
Her sales rose dramatically.
Arte: But sharing company information is important, isn’t it? How can a sales presenter make boring company information ‘come alive’ for the audience?
Ethan: I find that if I adequately explain the benefits of my programs, my prospect will ask me about my qualifications and how long I have been in business. Since they are asking, it is no longer “boring company information”.
The audience does not start out caring about my company, yet many sales presenters start their presentation with the history of the business. Audiences care about how their life will be better if they buy my services. If I can address this issue first, they will later be interested in why I went into business.
It is up to the presenter to determine which details of your company will be of interest to the audience and which are just boring facts. This will vary business to business and even prospect to prospect.
If you have a good story, tell it. Did you know the inventor of Nike running shoes began by making custom shoes with a waffle iron? Apple built its first computer in a garage. I started my business based on my experience as a park ranger – these are real life stories that people can relate to and will remember.Weaving such stories into your speech is an essential part of developing sales presentation skills.
Arte: A lot of sales presentation skills training are about using slides. Tell us more about how to engage audiences without relying too much on on PowerPoint.
Ethan: To make sure a presentation does not rely solely on PowerPoint, sales presenters need to change the way they think about presentations. Are they giving a slide show or are they having a conversation? If all they want is to show slides, they really have no reason to be there in person. They should just email the file and follow up with a phone call. This is less expensive and will save everyone time. It will probably also result in fewer sales.
If, however, the presenter wants to engage the audience, learn about their needs, and try to build a relationship, then the sales presenter should show up. They should have a conversation which includes asking questions, listening, and conversing. Once the speaker and the audience have identified common areas of interest, then visual aid MAY be useful as the speaker suggests solutions to the problems the audience is trying to solve.
PowerPoint can be a very powerful visual aid. It is also a very powerful sleep aid. Sadly most uses of PowerPoint fall into the second category. Audiences want to be engaged with the speaker, not stare a screen.
Arte: It is true that sometimes the standard pitch books become a sleep aid. How do you suggest that sales people use them effectively?
Ethan: My sales presentation skills techniques are about targeting the message for a specific cause and audience. A good presentation includes the unique personality and passions of the speaker. The pitch book is designed to ensure each presenter provides information in the same manner. It is a formula that has been determined by the corporate office to work. Statistically, this may be true, but a good presentation is a conversation between the presenter and the audience. The pitch book is a standard approach to having a one-way monologue.
I do work with clients to help them use visual aids effectively, but the pitch book is the low-tech version of the canned PowerPoint. You might as well just buy TV, radio, print, or internet ads.
Arte: How does a successful sales pitch presentation work?
Ethan: A pitch tends to be a one-way flow of information with the speaker trying to lead the listener to a predetermined place (buy my product). A presentation is a conversation: a two-way flow of information with the speaker trying to help the audience achieve a specific objective.
In a sales situation, if the interests of the audience are in line with what the speaker offers, it may result in a sale. Regardless of whether a sale is made, both the speaker and audience share a conversation and leave with a better understanding of the other person and their needs as they relate to work. This is the formation of a relationship that may result in doing business together now or at a later date.
Arte: What advice do you have for people interested in improving the results they get from speaking?
Ethan: Begin by looking at your approach to a presentation: are you talking or are you having a conversation? Do you know your audience or do you only know your product? Is the presentation important enough that you make time to adequately prepare?
We have all heard the saying “no one likes to be sold to but we all like to buy”. In general, audiences care about themselves, not you. They are interested in what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.
If the speaker structures the talk to be audience-centric, they have a greater chance of being successful and achieving these measurable positive increases.
Keep in mind that a non-sale is not a failure. As the goal of a presentation is to have a conversation to see if there is a reason to do business together, a non-sale may be a successful presentation that demonstrated the prospect and company are both intelligent and good people, but not a match for business. Just like a first date – it can still be a positive experience even if you decide not to life partners.
Arte: I read about the measurable and impressive results from your sales presentation skills program. What do you think is the key change that made this kind of change in sales results happen?
Ethan: Participants in iSpeakEASY workshops learn to structure their talks to be audience-centric. This increases the relevance of the information to the audience, thus they are more likely to listen and to buy.
Arte:Any other thoughts you want to share with readers at Presentation-Process?
Ethan: It takes more than product knowledge, a few PowerPoint slides, and the willingness to open your mouth to be an effective speaker. To get better results from speaking, we need to re-think how we approach speaking and we need training. Some people are born as good speakers. Great speakers have all been trained.
Take the time to find a professional speech coach to help you learn how to set goals, organize your talk, create effective visual aids, and deliver like a professional.
I really emphasize the value of professional coaching to build skills as opposed to speaking clubs that focus on peer based coaching. While these groups can be helpful, the results are limited compared to what a professional can offer. Michael Jordan may have learned to play basketball on the streets, he learned to be star through professional coaching.
To know more about Ethan Rotman and the workshops he conducts, please visit iSpeakEasy website. iSpeakEasy is located at Novato, California.
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