I’ve seen the term ‘conversational presenting’ mentioned on various business blogs recently. It got me thinking. Are agencies still ploughing through presentations? Are they showing work without truly knowing what the prospect’s business issues are? Are they talking more than listening? I’d like to think not but I’m almost certain this is still sometimes the norm.
First let’s look at the meaning of the word conversation. Dissecting this one word tells us a lot.
Conversation - noun con·ver·sa·tion \ ˌkän-vər-ˈsā-shən \ an informal exchange of ideas by spoken word.
Informal. It's not obviously rehearsed, stuffy or stilted. It needs to feel professional but relaxed.
Exchange. It’s a two-way activity for more than one person. It’s about giving and receiving. It isn't a talk or an address. It is not a presentation.
Ideas. It’s an opportunity to discuss concepts and debate. It’s fluid and free.
Spoken word. Language expressed in speech. Both people have to talk.
The term ‘conversational presenting’ tends to refer to the presentations non-linear style software like Prezi allows one to create. These tools can be useful but the principals of this presenting style are what resonated most with me. Some of the best new business meetings I’ve had have only used presentations or shown examples of work at the very end (if at all). 75% of the time is spent listening, qualifying and diagnosing – only a small percentage of the total time is spent prescribing (again, if at all at this point in proceedings). Relevant examples can only be shown once this initial discovery period is complete.
Let's explore how this might work in more practical terms. First, let’s look at the wrong way of doing things.
The meeting starts, you kick off with the usual pleasantries, introductions and a brief summary of what brought you all together. Assuming there isn't a brief and it’s an introductory meeting, you open the laptop and get stuck into what you think they want to see.
It’s an easy mistake to make. A lot of us work in visual mediums - we’re proud of our output and rightly want to show it off. After all, it's what people will eventually be buying from us.
Running new business meetings this way doesn’t work.
You’re making an assumption about what the prospect wants to see. Even if you’re right, the potential client won’t feel loved, there is little opportunity to build rapport and it’s impersonal…. I could go on but most of all, it’s not how people talk to each other. When you really think about it, it’s a bit weird.
Now let’s look at the right way to do things and the reasons for them. The meeting starts, you kick off with the usual pleasantries, introductions and a brief summary of what brought you all together. This always happens and there is no way of avoiding it, but get it out of the way quickly.
The next step is to understand how long you have. Once this is established, kick off with a 2 or 3 sentence introduction to what your agency does and how they help businesses like the potential client. The elevator pitch. This needs to be polished, rehearsed and punchy. Leave them wanting more.
Next step. Lead with a question. Get the prospect to open up about where their issues are and start a conversation. Good opening questions might be ‘having looked at our website, what areas would you like to discuss?’ or ‘we have 45 minutes, how would you like to spend the time?’ or ‘how do you currently manage XYZ?’.
From this point, it’s about being reactive, asking consultative questions and listening. Avoid predetermined questions, as this will feel rehearsed and unnatural. Pay attention, be active in your listening, repeat in your own words your understanding of key points and ask linked questions. These skills will come naturally to some people but can be practiced. Try the techniques in social situations, test different ways of doing things that feel the most comfortable.
As the meeting progresses keep checking in with the prospect periodically to make sure you continue to discuss the most relevant information. You’re involving them in the direction of the meeting and mutual understanding will undoubtedly improve.
It can feel more comfortable to sit beneath the safety blanket of a presentation but I urge you to try being less reliant on slides. Have them with you as a back up but only call on them when you have something that you feel the prospect must see.
If you complete the discovery phase correctly and assuming you are the right agency for their particular challenge, something will click. You will see the potential fit and a possible way forward. You should feel excited at this point. It is then, and only then, when you start showing some work. Anything before this point would be guesswork and your examples are unlikely to resonate.
There is so much more that could be said about the art new business meetings but if anything, just remember what the word conversation means.
An informal exchange of ideas by spoken word.
It should be fun.
You get the point.