Any athlete, no matter how talented, who doesn’t practice with the team falls short of being a true professional. Any actor, musician or dancer who doesn’t rehearse, is unlikely to make it as a professional. Professionals who don’t practice quickly find themselves without a position, part or seat with the team, cast or ensemble.
Accountants, actuaries, architects, engineers, executive recruiters, lawyers, management consultants, publicists have to prove themselves as presenters to make partner. That is because partners are professional presenters. They present to their clients, to judges and juries, to arbitrators, to zoning boards, to industry groups and to each other. And, of course, they present to prospective clients.
“When a group of our engineers stands up in front of a selection committee, they are being judged not so much on their abilities as engineers as on their presentation skills,” George Friedel said when, as head of sales for Parsons Brinckerhoff, he was helping stack up one of the most impressive win rates I know of.
“By the time the client gets to the short list, they know that each of the firms they are considering is technically qualified. They choose on the basis of which team will work with them best. At that final meeting, then, your ability to communicate effectively using entertainment techniques, is more important that your ability to engineer,” he added.
Spend enough years participating in the bake-off competitions for huge infrastructure projects that a firm like Parsons Brinckerhoff pursues and you will know this is true. It is equally true, though less obviously so, of most sales meetings that professionals have. The infrastructure engineering firms know what’s at stake and they do rehearse, sometimes well and sometimes not, but they do it.
There are many professional firms that prepare for an hour-long sales meeting in the ten minute cab ride to the client’s office. Or they will spend 30 hours of firm time preparing slides or a leave-behind document and not five minutes on rehearsing. They have all kinds of excuses:
I don’t have time.
There’s no time when we can all get together.
I don’t learn anything from rehearsals.
I don’t do well in rehearsals, but I’m great in front of the client.
What’s to rehearse?
I never rehearsed before and have done okay.
I have a response for all of these excuses. Say: “Okay, you don’t have to rehearse, but if you don’t win the business, you’re fired. You’re fired because you have been unprofessional and wasted firm time and money and were unwilling to do what it takes to minimize the chances of losing. You will have set a bad example for the others in the firm, and I must make it clear to all that what you did was unacceptable.” And if they don’t rehearse, and they lose, fire them.
Whew!! I feel so much better having gotten that rant out of my system! Could you visualize me letting him have it? How I whipped that office into shape! Oh, that felt good.
I can now focus on something more helpful to you. In next week’s posting on being prepared, I will describe what preparing for a sales meeting means.
(Sims Wyeth also discusses presenations in his post The Show in Business