Different consultants, seeing the same client situation through different disciplinary lenses, can come up with strikingly different guidance. Three of us, all of whom consult to professional firms, thought it might be interesting to see how our different orientations influence the advice we would give to a client about the same topic: Things you shouldn’t say or do at a competitive presentation of your services to a potential client.
We are: a) presentation coach Sims Wyeth who can show a wet blanket how to set itself on fire when on a podium, b) marketing consultant, Suzanne Lowe, author of Marketplace Masters: How Professional Firms Compete to Win, who can get a burlap bag full of cats, dogs and canaries humming the same tune, and c) me. Our firm helps professionals becomer rainmakers.
I decided to establish criteria by which submittals (all from me) for inclusion in my list of Five Biggest Presentation Don’ts could be rated. To do the rating I assembled a committee of fifteen totally objective judges carefully selected to ensure inclusion of representative members by gender, education level, geography, political leanings, age, race and ability to hold their liquor. After assuring myself that all fifteen could meet the last criterion, I asked them to rate 114 entries for the things you shouldn’t say in a presentation of your services to a prospective client. Each submission was rated on three criteria, which are:
a) Relevancy: Thou shall not talk about things of no interest or importance to the client.
b) Redundancy: Thou shall not say things said by your competitors.
c) Believability: Thou shall not tell any whoppers, or anything that sounds like one.
Ranked from weak to laughable, the committee chose the following five things not to say:
- We are organized into seven practices (or studios). Only one judge rated this entry, the others falling immediately into a deep sleep upon its being read to them. The insomniac judge’s mark was for lacking relevancy. As he dozed off, too, he muttered, “The client doesn’t care. Tell her about the part of the organization relevant to her and skip the rest.”
- We want to be your partner on this matter. Three judges revived enough to give this claim three marks on believability. As one judge said, “The last time I tried that one, the client said, ‘Really? How much money do you plan to put up?’ This is just an inflated way of saying you’ll give good service.”
- You will be our most important client. “I bet you say that to all the girls,” said one judge in falsetto. The other judges tittered quietly at that comment, while the funny one added his mark to five others on the basis of believability. Said another, “Even if it’s true, what will happen to your other clients, if I hire you? If a client comes along who is even prettier than I am, what happens to us.”
- We are the oldest and largest . . . This got ten marks. The first six for being totally irrelevant. Again a judge said “The client doesn’t care.” To which I said, “What if there are many fly-by-night competitors in this field and you want to show you’re different from them?” “Then tell them that,” snapped a judge. “Say, ‘In a field where a lot of companies come and go, we are committed to being long term providers, and the age and size of our firm prove it.’” One judge also gave a mark each for redundancy and believability, saying, “I once attended competitive presentations where two firms claimed to be oldest and largest. Because their definitions of what they were oldest and largest of differed, both were telling the truth. The selection committee members weren’t impressed.”
- What makes us special is our people. Every member of our totally objective panel rolled on the floor at this one. One laughed so hard, he rolled under the conference table, and we had to listen to his sporadic te-he-he’s for the rest of the meeting. The other judges marked this one down by 38 points, giving it the lowest score in recorded history. (I know, there were only fifteen judges, but they had become drunk with their power by this time and insisted they had to have more than one mark each to give this one the rating it deserved.) Thirty of these marks are for redundancy. One judge exclaimed “Don’t ever say those words! Don’t ever say them, because everyone does at every presentation!” She began to mimic presenters, saying the overworked words again and again in different tones of voice with mock sincerity, causing a howl of laughter once again. “Your people’s specialness must be in a way that is important to the buyer or he doesn’t care,” explained one. The final mark is for believability. The oldest judge said, “It sounds like so many warm words to me. I don’t want warm words. I want meat.”
We all adjourned to the cafeteria for lunch.
If you would like to submit additional things that shouldn’t be said or done in a presentation, Suzanne, Sims and I would be glad to pass them on to our totally objective board of fifteen judges for rating. To see a marketing expert’s choices for presentation don’ts, go to Suzanne Lowe’s blog. To see a presentation coach’s choices, go to Sims Wyeth’s blog.