Guidelines for Making a Zoom New Business Interview
Remember, your audience’s attention span is worse on Zoom than in real life (it’s not great in real life). So, move the meeting along.
-Do a fast introduction of who from your side is on the Zoom call. Just names, not title and job function.
-Do not have your PowerPoint already pulled up and on the screen. That takes away from seeing all the people in the meeting. It may be your only chance to connect with them.
-Before getting into your PowerPoint, do a little preface to say what they are going to see. It might spark conversation, which is always a goal of an business development pitch
-Go into your PowerPoint pitch
-Every few minutes check in with the audience for questions and comments.
-When the PowerPoint is done, close it up so you can see everyone again.
-Now, say something like “I have a few closing remarks I’d like to make, but first, let’s open this up to Q&A.
-Allow Q&A to run for as long as the prospect has questions. Then deliver a fast summary of what you presented today and ask for the business.
You have their attention, but not for long. Make the most of it. There are four or five different strategies for an opening and one easy rule: the opening is never about you or the company you represent. The opening is always about the prospect. Everything you say in the opening should be aimed at making the prospect’s life easier, richer, and more successful.
One strategy for an opening is problem-solution. Start by discussing an issue you know is important to the prospect (you know because you’ve asked enough questions previously) and talk about how your solution solves that problem. If you can convey that information by way of an interesting story, even better.
In a trial, the jury sometimes decides innocent or guilty in the first five minutes after hearing each lawyer’s opening remarks. The deciding factor for the jury is siding with the lawyer who seems most confident. Two important lessons come from this: juries make their decisions very early in the process, so put your best stuff into the open. Secondly, learn the techniques that confident speakers use.
These techniques are relatively easy to master: strong eye contact, powerful voice, good posture, animated face, arms and body, the use of storytelling, command of material, speaking slowly. Just learn to be proficient and practice 2 or 3 of them in each rehearsal and you will be a much better presenter.
Recently someone told me that while they understand the importance of rehearsal, there is just never enough time to do it. There’s hardly enough time to prepare the proposal and to think about the prospect’s challenges and solutions.
But, often what wins the pitch is the pitch. All of the prep work you did needs to be choreographed into a seamless story that the client can grasp, appreciate and, recognize that it is coming from a well oiled team. To do it best, everyone on the team needs to rehearse together. Everyone has to make time.
If you don’t want to rehearse, or can’t do it, then don’t waste all of those hours and money. Your chances of winning just dropped.
It seems crazy to put all of that time in schmoozing a prospect and investing in a proposal to waste it all because you couldn’t find time to rehearse.
Often times in a pitch you are presenting some big idea that your team worked diligently on. If the idea is truly a blockbuster there are two dangers you should be aware of:
-You’re so anxious to present this killer idea that you don’t fully communicate the thinking that went into it,
-You fall into the trap of believing that because the idea is so good, the explanation doesn’t need to be. “The idea will speak for itself.”
It is criminal to not sell a great idea because you didn’t package it properly in a solid presentation, and didn’t rehearse thoroughly.
You’re making a competitive pitch and the prospect asks you to hurry along. They have a lot of people yet to interview and want you to present quickly. When this happens, be afraid. Be very afraid.
You rush through the opening and leave out important information. The way you opened sets the fast pace for the rest of the pitch so now everyone on your team rushes. The big idea that you worked so hard on never gets a fair airing because it was presented at high speed.
There is nothing more important than the opening. Even if your time has been cut in half, do the opening the way you rehearsed. If you constructed the opening properly it will contain the most relevant information the prospect needs to hear.
Good posture signals to your audience that you want to convey things to them that you are confident to discuss. Good posture for meetings and presentations is not a military posture, which can look anything but relaxed. It’s a prideful posture. Chest out, shoulders slightly back. Head held high. Big smile.
If you’re seated, sit closer to the edge of the seat, lean in towards the table but don’t slouch. On Zoom, try to be about 24″-28″ from the lens.
Posture is just as important on Zoom. People are more likely to slouch in a Zoom meeting. It doesn’t look good and communicates disinterest.
Business theatrics is a more accentuated way of presenting. Bigger voice. Broader gestures. Strong posture. Broad smile. Dramatic pauses. Keep your eyes glued on the audience. Business theatrics adds energy and confidence to what you have to say.
A good pitch must always have an element of show business.
When making a presentation seated at a conference room table, take a power position when it is your turn to present. Raise the chair seat as high as it will go. Sit on the edge of your seat and lean forward, arms on the table.
You should move and be animated but never stop leaning in. Hold that position through your presentation and any discussion that follows.
That body language says that you are in command.
When you’re pitching, make sure you look at and talk to everyone on the prospect’s side of the table. Don’t fall into the trap of just connecting with the CEO. You never know who will make the decision or how other people on the client’s team will influence that decision. Some feedback I get from prospects when pitches go bad is that the pitch team only focused on the one in charge causing others to feel slighted.
Same is true on Zoom. When it is your turn to present, look into the lens. Nowhere else.
Your goal in a pitch is to have the audience like you. One step in that process is to smile. When you smile, they smile back.
Oh, and smile.
Sometimes in a presentation you need to deliver bad news. Perhaps the budget isn’t going to work, or some facet of the plan can’t happen, or a valued partner changed his mind. When is the best time in the presentation to deliver bad news?
In the beginning.
Getting bad news out in some portion of your opening serves a number of purposes: It positions you as an honest person with nothing to hide. It allows the client to evaluate whatever you are presenting in light of this bad news. It gives you a chance to use the news to build your case in the pitch.
James Brown had a valuable piece of advice for young artists — Sing Like You’re Hungry. I might suggest similar advice when pitching prospects. This has to be done subtly. The pitch is still about the prospects and how they will benefit, but they need to know it is very important to you and that you’ve put your all into it.
Presenting as a Team- A Check list
☐ Rehearse as a team. Everyone has to show up.
☐ Plan what each person says in turning the presentation over to the next person.
☐ There is one theme and everyone speaks to it.
☐ Avoid repetitive comments. Each person doesn’t have to thank the prospect, for example.
☐ If a person doesn’t have a speaking role, don’t take them.
☐ Make sure the people who will work most on the account speak the most.
☐ Don’t speak over a team member’s presentation to add stuff.
☐ Smile no matter how dumb a comment one of your team members makes.
You want the audience to love you and appreciate you and bring you back again and again? Finish your presentation sooner than was planned.
You don’t need to finish a lot sooner. But sooner. Even ending 5 minute early will be seen as a positive. Conversely, going over time is very bad form. I attended a seminar put on by a presentation training company and one of the main themes of the talk was how important it was to end your presentation within the time allotted. The speaker ran over by 10 minutes! We thought that was a) pretty funny, and, b) we’l;l never hire them.
Whether your marketing is B2B or B2C, it doesn’t count until it is F2F. Face 2 Face.
Nothing important happens until you are face to face with your prospect presenting ideas in a strong voice, smile on your face and confident as hell.
How do you look confident? Strong posture, eye contact, smile. Get close to the prospect (respecting a zone of comfort).
When making a new business pitch… listen more, talk less. Research shows that the more you can get the prospect talking, the better your chances of winning the business. You’ll get the prospect talking by asking smart questions, such as those suggested in Spin Selling. Don’t help the prospect answer questions. Allow the prospect to answer.
Stop juicing your presentations with glib phrases like disruptive technology, cutting edge, award winning, strategic partnership, synergy, win-win, at the end of the day, drill down, mission-critical, paradigm shift, value-added…
Research shows that the audience responds more favorably to short common words, than long, multi-syllable words. Talk like a regular person.
Focus your presentation on one main point – The Takeaway.
Every sentence, story, aside, example, metaphor and analogy must support the single takeaway you want the audience to get.
Remove everything else. Be ruthless.
A short focused pitch is worth twice what a long, rambling one is worth.
I have heard these pitch excuses 1,000 times.
The other guys have an in. They don’t like us. I get nervous in front of them. Our work could be better. I wish we had more time to prepare. The PowerPoint is boring. Our big idea is small. We don’t have enough detail. We have too much detail.
When you are preparing for a pitch and someone is constantly telling everyone why you can’t win, throw him out of the room.
Instead tell me why you will win your pitch.
A strong presentation is 50% logic and 50% creative. The logic is the content which is easy to assemble and can usually be done quickly.
The creative element requires time. Percolate on the presentation for a day and look how to connect dots with interesting metaphors, analogies and stories, especially in the opening.
3 Don’ts in a pitch
-Don’t start with the agenda
-Don’t begin by talking about yourself and your company
-Don’t open with a joke
If you lose a pitch have someone* call the prospect to ask specific questions about the pitch. Did the team seem engaged? Were they interesting? Knowledgeable? Did they talk too much? Not enough? What did other firms do better? What one thing should they have done differently?
What you’ll learn will be gold.
*The best person to make this call is someone not associated with the pitch team and who remains neutral throughout the conversation. It’s too late to be defensive.
Perfect is the Enemy of Great.
People sometimes get so fixated on making a perfect presentation that at the mere flub of a word they crumble. It isn’t worth it and the audience will never notice. Make a great presentation. Not a perfect one.
It’s not uncommon when pitching in a team that one person who is not presenting keeps adding information to the person who is presenting. Don’t do this. It’s distracting to the audience and throws the presenter off. Wait until the end of the segment to add the information, if you must.
At a presentation skills seminar I attended the trainer said “never run over your allotted time. Especially in a business presentation, time is precious.”
PS: Her presentation ran 14 minutes over.
When pitching a new client face to face, the most important people on your team should sit closest to the prospect. Who are the most important? It varies by pitch, but if the reason for the pitch is for the client to get to know who she will be working with directly, then they are the ones who sit closest, and speak early in the presentation.
When running an interview on Zoom, make sure the key people do most of the talking.
Don’t let your pitch end at the Q&A segment.
Leave time at the very end to come back, reiterate the takeaway, thank everyone and ask for the business.
Nothing causes more anxiety than a new business pitch. The folks on your team want to win the business and not be the one who says the dumb thing that scuttles the effort.
Over the years I have been in hundreds of pitches and learned valuable lessons the hard way. Here’s a baker’s dozen of them:
Everything you say in a pitch should be framed as a benefit to the prospect.
-Don’t give the history of your firm unless you can say why it is a benefit.
-Don’t introduce your team without explaining the benefit to the client of having those people.
Most companies, when they open an interview, work from the left to the right.
Who → What → How → Why
Companies that are consistently successful tend to open with the benefits the prospect will gain. Right to left. They start with the Why.
Here’s a blueprint for making a pitch…
There’s a never-ending debate of how many should go, and who they should be.
Only the people who will have an active role in the pitch should go to the pitch…with one exception.
If the only contact with the prospect is through a BD person, that person should go and start the meeting by making introductions. Then, he is done and sits back for the rest of the meeting and the rest of the relationship.
The same is true in a Zoom interview. The more people you bring, the smaller the video screens, the more confusion from too many people talking.
Most people try to be persuasive by giving a dozen reasons to buy their product.
Often it is the non-verbal things that are the deciding factors for your audience. People tend to buy from folks who appear confident.
The way to look confident is easy; have good posture, make eye contact, smile, speak in a strong voice and don’t be afraid to move your hands and arms.
The more confident you act, the more likely they will buy whatever you are selling.
A friend who shall remain nameless* wrote me the following:
Oh, I’ve been sitting in on presentations from very good agencies this week. The sameness of them numbs me, however.
We put clients first
We have a passion for your business
We have really really good media contacts
We are clever problem solvers
Better to demonstrate these things as solutions to the prospect’s issues rather than say them.
* The fabulous Sally Jackson
The Q and A session at the end of a pitch is an incredibly important part of the overall presentation and should not be left to chance.
Here are a dozen pointers to make your next Q and A a home run: www.jackerossin.com/great-qa-sessions-win-business/
The topic of a pitch should always be the same…how can the audience use your knowledge and experience to benefit their needs. It’s always about what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.
Storytelling is the most persuasive form of communications, yet, business people often shun being storytellers in presentations because they don’t see it as “serious” enough.
Start every presentation with a story. It’s more interesting and will relax you.It makes the point in a more memorable manner.
Your chances of winning a pitch will be much better if the prospect likes you. Here’s how to do that.
-Make eye contact whenever you speak.
-Stay within your allotted time.
-Answer questions when asked. Really answer them. No double-talk.
-Follow up immediately after the meeting with answers to questions you didn’t know.
-Be a good host. Make them comfortable. Have drinks and snacks.
There are 3 things a prospect is looking for: Can you solve my problem? Can you do it in a simple, uncluttered way that is easy for me? Do I like you?
The Do-I-Like you part is crucial, so do all of the things suggested at the top of this blog.
When preparing your next business pitch, try not to immediately write how you will open the presentation, or the bullet points you want to cover. Instead, think of every conceivable question your audience might ask you. That’s your presentation.
The opening will be what you think the audience would answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?” That’s the only thing they care about. And, the only thing you should care about.
Even in workshops when practicing how to close an interview, people have trouble asking the prospect for business. It’s just one of those things people hate to do.
But, if you don’t ask, then the answer is no. Some people start babbling. They ask for the business but then keep chatting. After you ask, stop talking. It obligates the other side to respond.
Find a way to ask that is comfortable for you to say and then rehearse it. For example, an ask can be: We enjoyed putting this demo together. Of course, we’d love to do real work for you. How do we go about doing that? Or, How do we move this conversation forward so that we might have a chance to work for you?
Ask and you shall be rewarded.
In a pitch, don’t waste time telling prospects how smart you are. Focus everything on the prospect’s problems.
They won’t start listening until you tell them how you will solve their problems.
We often want to brag about all of the bells and whistles our company can bring to the prospect. We want to tell the prospect just how excited we are to be pitching the business. None of this is heard very well by the prospect until you rephrase that language as a benefit to them. This includes showing off how smart you are. No one cares. It never plays well.
If you have an expertise, share lots of it freely with your audience.
They’ll value it enough to pay for more.
Offer to Help, Not Sell
There is a panhandler who calls himself The Town Crier. He constantly shouts at the top of his voice the time, weather, sports, major news stories, and lots more. The news is timely and useful.
I’ve noticed that The Town Crier’s cup is always filled with dollar bills. I often put one in. The other panhandlers have cups with a little loose change in them.
Sometimes in a pitch we focus too much on asking for the business and talking about ourselves. Create value by giving your audience information they can use, and even profit from. They will reward you with their business.
I saw Monty Python’s John Cleese live the other night. At a Q&A session someone started by saying what an honor it was to be speaking to one of his all-time comedic heroes, etc. when Cleese interrupted and said in his best high-brow British “Get on with it, please”.
It reminds me of business pitches that start by telling the client how great they are, how smart they are, how excited we are to be here, etc. You can look into the clients’ eyes and see them thinking “Get on with it, please.”
I suppose because we sometimes refer to meetings with prospects sales pitches, we’re selling our company and our differentiation.
Instead, focus on the prospect and their issues and offer ideas to help advance their business. If you have good ideas, they’ll hire you. If the ideas are differentiated, then they’ll understand your competitive advantage.
When a good server comes to your table he says two things: Welcome, and, can I get you a drink?
A bad server says: Welcome, here are today’s specials, can I get you a drink?
When you open a pitch be a good server. Attend to the client’s needs before you start selling your product.
Here’s a good test of your next presentation. When it’s over will your audience know what you want and why they should agree?
Zoom, for better and worse, is becoming more and more prevalent. Eye contact still counts. Look into the camera lens when you present. Your image on the other end will appear to be looking directly at your clients and coworkers.
When making a presentation with lots of data and statistics, mix in a heavy dose of empathy. Use personal stories to make dull numbers come to life.
A powerful technique to use in an opening is to convey what the benefits are to the audience. Sometimes those benefits are negative. Research indicates that people are more persuaded to protect that which they have than something they may get. They are more persuaded by “if you don’t do this you can lose 10% of your income” than by “do this and your salary will grow 10%”.