Well Said!

Presentations and Conversations That Get Results

 Well Said!

Author: Darlene Price
Pub Date: August 2012
Print Edition: $21.95
Print ISBN: 9780814417874
Page Count: 256
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814417881

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The Most Important Element of All

"You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around."


When I conduct executive-level presentation coaching programs aimed at persuading tough decision makers, I often begin by waving a crisp $100 bill around the room and asking the participants, “Who would like to win this?” Several hands shoot up in the air, folks sit up a little straighter in their chairs, and all eyes are fixed on the green oval portrait of Benjamin Franklin. Once I have their attention, I continue, “In the next thirty seconds, you’ll win $100 if you can answer this question correctly: What is the most important element of every presentation?” I set a thirty-second timer for all to see. The competitive outgoing types immediately shout out their answers: “Body language!” “Voice tone!” “Professional image!”

“All good guesses,” I reply, “and critical elements to success, but not the most important.” The guesses continue. “The opening?” “The close?” “The content?” The timer is ticking. I urge them on. “Think about it,” I say. “Of all the elements that make up a successful presentation, what is most important of all?” They look befuddled. “Humor?” “Good visual aids?” “Oh I know! It’s the presenter’s level of expertise!” I nod my head, but they sense my disappointment. The last few take a stab. “Preparation?” “Storytelling?” “Props?” The thirty-second timer buzzes and I return the bill to my wallet. The correct answer? The audience.

Believe it or not, in the hundreds of presentation coaching programs I have conducted over the course of twenty years, fewer than ten people have won that $100 bill. Why? Self-focus versus audience focus. According to my audience surveys, which also number in the hundreds, failing to speak from the audience’s perspective is the most common strategic mistake presenters make. The audience responses indicate that it’s the primary reason a sale is not made, a budget not approved, a proposal not agreed to, a request denied. The presenter fails to align with the audience and speak from the decision makers’ point of view.

Under normal circumstances, most of us probably strive to maintain a sense of compassion and understanding toward others. We know the importance of listening and empathy when building a healthy relationship. We know that to truly connect we have to see things from the other person’s perspective. Unfortunately, when it comes to delivering a high-stakes presentation where our reputation, level of success, and possibly even our job is on the line, our individualistic desire to survive and thrive dominates. All of a sudden, in front of a group of decision makers, including our boss, the company’s senior leadership, plus our customers, we become self-focused. We want to look good, sound smart, and be perceived as confident, credible, and in control. We want to make a great impression, win the order, close the deal, earn their trust, get the vote, or gain the funding.

There is nothing wrong with wanting these outcomes. The key is to realize that these payoffs are the consequences of an audience-focused presentation. They are not the main goals. If we become too self-focused we design and deliver a presentation from our own perspective, not our audience’s. We choose the content we want to talk about; create the slides that feature our favorite points; present the data we think makes us look smart. But the primary goal of a presentation is to persuade the audience by speaking from their perspective. The most effective and most influential presentersI work with, from entry-level sales professionals to chief officers of major corporations, begin the presentation process by asking, “Who is my audience?”

By getting to know your audience first, addressing what is important to them, and solving their issues, I promise you will win much more than a $100 bill. From your boss and coworkers, you will win respect, recognition, and career advancement. From your customers and prospects, you will win trust, confidence, and most likely their business.

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