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Winning Business – Will presentation skills training do the trick?

You may be familiar with the phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Widely attributed to legendary management consultant Peter Drucker, this expression has been bandied about for many years – but what exactly does it mean?

In short, no matter what business strategy or strategic plan you try to implement for your business, you’ll be hard pressed to see the results you’re looking for if the people responsible for pushing that strategy forward are moving in different directions, following different processes or lacking motivation.

It all comes down to culture.

An organization’s culture is not defined by the company’s vision in big letters at the front door. Culture is a series of habits at the individual, team and organizational level. Culture drives behaviour. So how does this relate to winning business? 

As pitch consultants, we get many requests for presentation skills training. But when we ask clients what they really need, what they really need is to win more business. Many people just assume that presentation skills are going to help them achieve that outcome. Let’s stop and think about this for a second.

Presentation skills training in isolation won’t help.

Why? Because event-based training doesn’t achieve behaviour change or develop habits. And culture is built on habits. Most people receive presentation skills training in a single event or workshop. Training as an event isn’t going to achieve behaviour change – it’s only when something becomes habit that you are going to get an effective improvement in skills and, ultimately, improve your ability to win business.

A simple analogy: You go to a pro for a golf lesson. She gives you a lot of new things to think about like your stance, your swing, keeping your head down, etcetera. Your mind is swirling with all the things you need to remember: “head down, forearm straight, feet apart”. Your anxiety rises, you take a shot, and your ball dribbles off the tee. Having that one lesson isn’t going to improve your game. You need to practice and practice and practice the new tips the pro taught you repeatedly until they become – yes, you guessed it – habit. 

Only when things become habit will you get effective improvement in skill and, ultimately, improve your ability to win more business.

Just like the golf scenario above, event-based training introduces you to a new skill that, for all intents and purposes, is going to make you better. The hitch is that it doesn’t include any practice or continued application of that new skill; if you’ve learned a new skill, you need to practice it to the degree that it becomes habit to get any long-term value from it.

Let’s face it: a pitching situation increases anxiety. That’s just normal. What do you do to overcome that tension, to be more persuasive? Do you invest in things that could increase your anxiety or do you focus on delivering your message in an authentic, passionate way? 

Understanding your audience and knowing your content and story like the back of your hand is how you generate authenticity and passion – and that comes down to practice.

Imagine that you have to pitch to the CEO of your organization and convince her that everyone in the organization should learn about ancient Chinese philosophy. Admittedly, you don’t know anything about ancient Chinese philosophy. (I know what you’re thinking. “I would never have to pitch on something so obscure”. Just bear with me and see the logic at the root of it.)

You need to pitch at noon tomorrow, which is not a lot of time. Let’s say we’ve got six hours to prepare so, let’s bring in some presentation skills experts to get you prepped: we can bring in a neurolinguistic specialist to work on your eye contact; then we’ll bring in a body language expert to help you with how to hold your hands, gesture and move around the room; we will also get a voice coach in to help with your projection and voice modulation. Great! You’re getting those presentation skills honed to perfection. 

How do you feel now, about presenting to the CEO at noon tomorrow, after having presentation skills training? I know if it were me, I would be anxious – in fact, probably even more anxious than I was before, because I hadn’t spent any time really getting to know my story, my content. 

Pitching isn’t about putting on a performance. It’s about delivering something that’s authentic and believable for the listener. 

People get confused between a performance and something that’s authentic and believable. And pitching isn’t about putting on a performance, it’s about delivering something that’s authentic and believable for the listener. The only way to make it authentic and believable is to do your homework and understand how to communicate in the listener’s terms. The vehicle to get there is to share your content by telling a story because that gives you order and flow. Practicing your story and being comfortable with the content is what will help reduce your anxiety. As in the example above, could presentation skills training cause you more angst by giving you too much to think about? How’s my body language? Am I gesturing effectively? Can they hear me??

The more you practice and really feel comfortable with your story, your delivery will naturally become more confident. Let’s say you were given no presentation skills training, but you had the opportunity to present on any topic you wanted. Something you are passionate about. Maybe it’s your favourite football team, or your recent vacation. Let’s say your presenting to someone over a coffee. Typically, you wouldn’t even be anxious because you are comfortable with what you are talking about. You would gesture naturally, your eye contact would come easily, and you wouldn’t even be thinking about the projection or modulation of your voice – in this kind of scenario, presentation skills aren’t even on the radar.

Authenticity and person-to-person connection is important

In fact, according to Impact Communications Inc., 71 percent of people base their buying decisions on trust and believability. Sure, there are some elements of presentation skills that are important, but it comes down to this: if you don’t know your story well enough to communicate it with passion and enthusiasm, then presentation skills training isn’t going to do you any good in fact, it might make things worse.

We define pitching as the effort that goes into winning a specific piece of business. It’s not transactional, and it’s not a performance. A strong sales culture – one that is focused on a common goal, where everyone is aligned and following the same processes – is one where together you can establish some standards and move the team forward.  Think of birds flying in formation. Culturally, they are aligned, with a common purpose.

Enhancing culture to win more business is the real opportunity. Culture is based on habits and behaviours and describes the way an organization or team works together. Imagine if every person on your sales team approached winning business the same way. If, as a sales team, you were able to create a culture where the focus is on telling a story that is meaningful and relevant to the listener and knowing that story so well that you can deliver it with passion and conviction, that is where the magic happens. People make decisions, not companies. Do your homework and understand your prospective clients’ needs better than anyone else. Share your ideas with passion and conviction. If you can do that, the rest will come.

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