‘Present, don’t just read’

Published September 26, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng


Philip Cu Unjieng

Here’s a true story from the trenches of sales and making pitches. This dates back to more than a decade ago, when I was still with the ABS’ Cable Channels and Print Media Group (CCPMG). We were presenting to a big client, and so to correspondingly impress upon him the reach and 360 degree media platform capabilities of ABS, we were asked to present alongside free TV, the Music division, and radio. Naturally, the pecking order dictated that the free TV “big boys” would be the ones to lead and present; and I was there in case the client had any specific questions for the CCPMG offerings.

So our lead presenter was really getting into the deck we had prepared, going from slide to slide; when suddenly, we heard a slam from the head of the table. And in disgust, the CEO of the company we were presenting to snarled, “Do you think I’m stupid? That I can’t read? If all you’re going to do is repeat all the bullet points already there on the slides, then just send me the deck, and don’t waste my f _ _king time.” And he stormed out of the conference room.

You could literally hear a pin drop, while his managers and the ABS team were stunned, and waiting to figure out what the next move would be. Well, you know how us Pinoys are so onion-skinned and all about saving face; so right away, one ABS sales head was talking about how the CEO was so “bastos,” that there’s no need to use the F-word, and so on. Me, I was just keeping quiet, because minus the F-word, I did agree with him – and that’s a lesson I’ve carried ever since.

Because he was right, if you’re going to ask for someone’s time, have a face-to-face, or online presentation; and all you’re going to do is read the deck, you could have just e-mailed the deck, and let the client read it at his leisure. A presentation is a “show,” a mutual commitment that your client will sit through your pitch, and that you in turn, will perform, and make your offer a compelling one. It’s why you asked for his precious time and attention; and if you’re not ready, or will opt to just read the deck, you’re wasting each other’s time, and doing more damage than good.

A few guidelines I’d like to make are that the deck should exist solely as a guide, a prompter, for where you want to take the presentation. As you’re presenting, you should be story-telling, and not just mouthing bullet points. Make it engaging and interesting, get the client excited and sharing in your vision. If you can use images, charts, pictographs, do so, and it’ll allow said story to flow. Practice beforehand and don’t resort to going automatic, reading the bullet points or what’s on the slide. Be prepared with anecdotes and off-script vignettes. Make it more about show, then just tell.

‘Present, don’t just read’

And please maintain eye contact with your audience. This may be more difficult now that we’re presenting online, but make the effort to look at the camera, and not your screen. You should know the presentation inside out, so the glances you make to what you’re screen-sharing, are merely to remind you about what you have to say next.

Back when it was pre-pandemic, if I was just introducing the presenter, during the actual deck presentation, my eyes wouldn’t be on the screen, but on the faces of those we were presenting to. That was my chance to observe if they were engaged, or if we had lost them already. Now that it’s all on Zoom, so many turn their videos off and we can’t even tell if they’re just scrolling through their phones, or have even left the immediate vicinity of their devices. That’s why it’s doubly important to keep it lively, and not just sound like some machine or robot.

I’m not going to be didactic about this, but if you can’t present what you have to entice them with in 10-12 slides, then you’re just running the risk of boring them or making them experience chat room fatigue. Remember you’re not the only ones they’ll be meeting with that day, so are you going to turn your meeting into an ordeal for them, just one of many they have committed to – or make it memorable for them.

We’re often given an hour, but I’d like to finish the presentation in 20 minutes maximum, so there’s time to discuss what was presented, and create some kind of friendship or bond with who we’re presenting to. I strongly believe that’s a better way of making an impression, and they’re even thankful they have time to refresh before the next online meeting.

And please don’t make the mistake of screen sharing with a font size that they’ll have to squint at, or enlarge, just to be able to decipher what’s there. That kind of effort often won’t be made; and once again, you’ve just lost your audience.

Far better to keep it brief and concise, easy to read if they’ll want to go beyond your voice, and with you prepared for whatever questions they may have. The other thing I hate is when someone presents, and if a relevant question is asked, there’s dead air all of a sudden, with the question left hanging.

Have fun! Each and every time, present as if your life and career depends on it!