Michael Parker is the author of It’s Not What You Say: How to Sell Your Message When It Matters Most (Perigee, 2015). He also is the former vice chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi London and coaches private clients.
Become a Natural at Presentations
Whether you’re giving a public speech or formal sales pitch, the key is to act like it’s a two-way conversation.
December 1, 2015
One of the toughest challenges for even the most experienced salesperson is to come across naturally in a speech, sales pitch, or during negotiations and presentations. Most real estate professionals are perfectly comfortable with an informal one-on-one meeting with a client. But in a more formal atmosphere — a public presentation or even negotiating across a conference table — you sometimes lose the natural flow of conversation. You have the ability to keep it friendly and casual, but it often deserts you under pressure.
In conversation, you listen to your audience. You want to be sure they are engaged, enjoying and understanding what you say, and aren’t getting bored. Being aware of their facial expressions, gestures, and body language shows your empathy — you’re aware of where they’re coming from, not just where you want to go. So even in formal situations or in front of groups, ask yourself: Are you connecting on an emotional level and not merely transmitting information?
Make a One-on-One Connection With Everyone
When you’re speaking in a formal capacity, the key is to forget that you’re talking to a group. You’re really speaking to each individual person, hoping to make a one-on-one connection with each of them through your presentation. Keep the relaxed poise you would have in two-way conversation, gesturing for emphasis, varying the tone of your voice, and — this is critical — pausing from time to time. Pause to reflect, to emphasize, and to make sure your listeners are still interested and taking things in. Anyone who doesn’t do this is a lousy conversationalist.
Giving the listener time to think is natural to the art of conversation, and it is one way to bring spontaneity into your public-presentation style. It helps you switch from talking at the audience to talking with them. Pausing also breeds confidence, another key to being natural.
Pause to Gather Yourself
As you become more confident, you will find you can use the pauses to stop worrying about yourself and become more alert to your audience. You can sense their interest and note overt signs of inattention such as looking down at their phones, whispering, or, at worst, nodding off. A lack of engagement will lead to a loss of energy in the room, but don’t overreact. Take your time to decide your best course of action. Taking a drink of water as you reflect is a useful way of injecting a longer pause, which may itself reengage the audience.
You must up your own energy level, injecting more emphasis through the pauses, more variation of pitch, and more movement. A static speaker is not an engaging one.
How can you remember to do all this when the spotlight’s on you? The best solution may seem counterintuitive to keeping a natural style: rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. In my experience coaching real estate professionals, good rehearsal increases the chance of winning the assignment. And despite what you may think, the more you rehearse, the less rehearsed you will appear.
Don’t Read From a Script
In your first rehearsal, you can use a script as a prompt, but then it is a good idea to develop brief speaker notes. These should have some key “signpost” words and phrases that can guide you if you lose your thread. Referring to them occasionally during pauses is natural behavior, but don’t read from them verbatim.
Many express a fear of appearing overrehearsed and losing spontaneity in the speech. But, to be honest, that’s just an excuse not to rehearse. You’re a better presenter when you’re worrying less about yourself and are able to care more for the audience. Rehearsal will help you work out your own kinks so you can better respond to your audience. Remember, even in the serious professional world of real estate, you are, to some extent, an actor when performing a pitch.
Find your own “director” — anyone suitably objective will do — to rehearse you. Ask them to judge you not on the script but on how you came across. Were you likeable, pausing enough, confident?
Believe me, with practice and close attention to the details I’ve outlined, you’ll be a natural.