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Presenting yourself

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What do McDonald’s, Claudia Schiffer and Paul Keating all have in common? All three have been successful? All three have devoted supporters, but do they all have critics? Well, possibly, but the standout characteristic is that they present well.

Any photograph of Claudia Schiffer convinces most people with properly operational eyes that she presents well. Paul Keating was the best thing to happen to Emilio Zegna suits, and though he copped some for not always wearing Australian, he still won points for a least looking like he was dressed for success.

And McDonald’s outlets are generally spick and span from the neatly dressed servers to the constantly mopped floors. When you are there, even if you don’t like the idea of fast, take away food, you have to respect Macca’s professionalism.

In fact, I once went to a McDonald’s somewhere on the highway between LA and Santa Barbara and it was grubby, it sold unususal things like tortillas and even the uniforms lacked uniformity. It bothered me enough to remember it with a very bad feeling.

First impressions last

Every impression you create should be a good one. Anyone in business must live in fear of creating the bad feeling in customers. This bad feeling is very bad for business.

You, and what you like, can have an enduring impact on potential business. This means you and what you present like represents the ultimate 3-D business card.

Let’s be honest, all of us can remember a business where the windows were grubby, the sales attendant was poorly dressed and groomed, the products were badly laid out, the salesperson communicated with the enthusiasm of someone who had been watching the weather reports for three years non-stop. Most of all, you recall promising that you would never return to the establishment – and you haven’t.

What we all need to do is create a total presentation, from the business card to the invoice, from the décor to your shop to the tone you use on the telephone. It all counts in how a customer assesses you, but more importantly, remembers you.

I’ve developed what I’ve tagged as the Commandments of Presentation.

  1. Be thoroughly prepared
  2. Relax as much as you can
  3. Use comedy wherever you can
  4. Always rehearse your ad-libs
  5. Pitch your presentation to suit your audience
  6. Research who will be there
  7. Keep the information simple
  8. Always look your best
  9. Spend money sensibly your lift your image
  10. Use professional looking videos, slides, graphs and charts
  11. Give you audience something to carry away with them, eg. a quote, a joke or three tips.
  12. Share your presentation dream with your staff.

You may find that you’re already putting many of these into practice. What should they do, if you execute them well, is help you polish your performance, appearance and delivery. Back this up with your product or service that has substance and credibility, and you will have the winning edge.

Assess your image

OK, let’s have a look at you in your business and see how well you present. The following ideas should make a self-assessment and give you pointers on what you can do to be ‘dressed’, in the total sense, for success.

The starting point is to stand back from what you are doing in your business and try to imagine how your customer sees you and your business.

If you can objectively assess yourself, and say for example, you think your business card is lacking lustre, you probably remember when you ordered it. You might have been in a hurry or worrying about the expense and the result was a very boring effort.

After my assistant enters the details into the computer, I ask her to put business cards I receive in a plastic sheet folder and the cards I can actually recall as I write this sentence are the colourful, clear and well-conceived ones. A business card is the ultimate direct mail product because they don’t get thrown away as quickly as flyers.

In working out how your total business presentation should look, think of the businesses that have impressed you. Write down the critically memorable factors of those businesses and compare them to your own, where you can.

If you don’t rate as well, don’t make excuses, just change it. Here’s my list:

  1. Image of efficiency
  2. Unique business cards eg. coloured or with illustrations
  3. Packaging stood out
  4. Unique product
  5. Delivers when promised
  6. Constant air of professionalism
  7. Thoroughly well prepared when presenting their product or service
  8. Crosses every ‘t’ and dots every ‘i’ on terrific service.

Keeping up appearances

Let’s look at some aspects of presentation upgrade. How well do you present on the phone or face to face with a customer? Some businesses fail dismally in the presentation stakes, but the warm and friendly service, tone of voice and real sincerity wins over a good customer base.

However, the performance would still be under par as potential customers could be turned off by some of the small negatives, like a poor-looking shop or shelves under-stocked or old, worn carpet. What you should be after, if you want to maximise profits is a no turn-off business.

As the first word on the telephone or the first eye contact or welcome in the shop, is the possible beginning of a beautiful (or disastrous) relationship, it is sensible to get it right.

Ring yourself on an answering machine and find out how you sound on the phone. Practice your opening line until it sounds good and then get some friends to give some objective advice.

I know this sounds very excessive, but I knew someone who got his welcome to a customer in his store video-taped so he could stand back from the experience. He noted he was warm and open, but many of his customers found him too intrusive. He toned his act down.

Once you’ve got a customer in your shop or on your phone, ask yourself, “How well prepared am I for the sorts of questions I could cop?” That includes complimentary, as well as rude and insulting.

Be prepared!

Some years ago when I was working in radio with Doug Mulray, who was the top breakfast announcer at Sydney’s Triple M, he warned me when we were talking about doing live interviews, “Always rehearse your ad-libs, Switz”.

Sure the Mulrays, Dentons, and McFeasts seem quick on all occasions, but not all of it is raw boned, fast thinking talent. They are keyed up or programmed for certain responses, which they will know will get laughs, because they have done them before.

Their business is spontaneous comedy and to make sure they present well at a very high and consistent rate, they prepare.

Clearly, you should prepare for cynical customers, timid customers, argumentative ones, too-trusting ones, tourists, etc. This is your business and leaving things to chance undermines potential profits and long-term success.

The American business speaker and motivator, Zig Ziglar, told me in an interview once that he believes a slow-talking, carefully thinking customer is instantly suspicious of a fast talking type.

He advises that you should slow down for a snail-like talker, but speed it up for a quickie, who could grow impatient with a slow salesperson.

When you have to sell your product or service, no-one wants your presentation to be too long. Quickly create the reasons why they would want to listen more and then cut to the bottom line, showing clearly that your product or service is incomparable.

And use the KISS technique. No, I’m not suggesting you get too amorous with your customers, but Keep It Short and Simple.

Seek inspiration

Shop-wise or office-wise, look to your competitors. Who presents best? Is it the colour, shelving, subtle ads, layout, staff demeanour and dress? This is easy – it’s not art, it’s business – you simply copy the best without being a complete copycat and then you improve on it.

If you consult in an office, make sure it’s tidy and gives the feeling that the salesperson is organised and on top of things, after all, people are taking a punt on you and just like in racing, if a horse looks crook, it is seen as an unreliable conveyance for your money.

Check your stationery, business cards, posters, flyers, etc. Give them a dynamic edge and make you unforgettable to potential customers.

I do a fair bit of public speaking and use images to break up what I say. While I pay a professional outfit to do my slides, this is a necessary expense.

Some of my speeches fall into the economics category and using the graphs and statistics is a must. But I don’t want to bore the audience, so the company I use really jazz up the information for me. The colours are always striking and they often use small cartoon characters merely as a point of interest on the screen. It keeps people looking and helps to get the message across.

Nowadays, it’s so easy to look good. A few years ago, I remember that I wanted to give a handout to those in the audience. There was some important current information out, but I was short on time.

I merely typed the information on the screen and was going to hand it out pretty much as text on the page. I was compromising I know, but I had to be in Melbourne that evening, and while it was not going to be a good look, time was of the essence.

Out of the blue, a chance meeting occurred. A woman from a software publishing corporation had asked one of my staff for some of their time to show their software to transform a boring presentation in to an impressive production in a matter of minutes. My employee observed as this woman demonstrated the capabilities of the program, and then put her to the test.

She asked to show what she could do with my information rather than see her pre-rehearsed presentation. The only catch, is that in publishing, most of us use Apple Macs. Fortunately, one of our well-equipped advertising managers had the right gear, and within minutes we were rearranging boring text, and coming up with a handout that made me look like a polished performer.

We organised text into boxes, and dropped in a background of a world map to enhance some statistics  I had on the World Economic Outlook with relative ease. If I had time I would have presented this to a graphic artist to weave the magic they can do, but this program was doing that for me. I always remember that experience as one that encouraged me to lift my game.

These programs are designed for people with minimal computer skills and can transform your presentations instantly. It was impressive, and my handouts went over well. Get an objective view on how you physically present to your customers.

Put yourself in your customer’ shoes

If you are selling tropical island holiday fitness resort to under-30’s and you’re not even fit looking, unfair as impressions are, it’s not a good look for this business.

Similarly, a salesman with a neck brace trying to sell a bungee-jumping weekend would not raise the confidence of more sheepish customers!

If you have staff, share your presentation dream with them, so they understand the fanaticism which I believe is necessary if you want to bring a McDonald’s edge (and success) to your business.

Don’t just present yourself inside your business, go looking for customers. Networking lunches with local business organisations are great for putting yourself on show. Local sporting and community groups are often looking for sponsors which can create a positive local feeling of support for you and your local business.

Take your new and improved presentation to the streets. Lift your external image, look at all your exposure points and reshape them to mimic the winners in business. Imitation is the highest form of flattery and can be very rewarding for the copier.

Of course, you might refuse to play an artificial game of being something that you are not, and that’s all right, but first impressions do last a long time. If they are bad, you might not get a second chance to show they are false impressions.

You can’t judge a book by it’s cover, that true. But there’s nothing wrong with a great cover and a great book inside as well.

For profits sake, check your presentation.

Published on: Saturday, June 13, 2009

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