Showtime: 5 ways to improve your sales pitch

Image courtesy of Flickr user ladybeames
(MoneyWatch) At most films, you laugh, you cry, and you kiss your 10 bucks goodbye. But salespeople can learn a lot about how to make better presentations by going to the movies.

In honor of this year's Academy Awards, here are some essential storytelling techniques that great filmmakers use to move audiences, and that will work for you, too. 

First, a brief aside -- add Michel Hazanavicius to your list of great filmmakers. Who could have predicted that his black-and-white silent movie would win the Oscar for best picture? "The Artist," a comedy-drama set in Hollywood between 1927 and 1932, focuses on a fading film star and a rising actress during the days when silent film fell out of fashion and was replaced by the talkies. The picture was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best Director.

"This is not a work of film history but rather a generous, touching, and slightly daffy expression of unbridled movie love. Though its protagonist mourns the arrival of sound, 'The Artist' itself is more interested in celebrating the range and power of a medium... an irresistible reminder of nearly everything that makes the movies great, " wrote reviewer A.O. Scott in the New York Times.

And what makes movies great can also make your sales presentations great. Some principles to keep in mind:

1. Know the audience. When I ask about a key meeting that's coming up, I hear too frequently, "Who's coming from their side?" You need to know who is coming, including each person's name, title, role, and length of service. You can't produce a good presentation if you are preparing to meet a company rather than people.

2. Focus on key characters. Everyone at the presentation will remember only one (or, at most, two) major points you make. It's also important to tailor your core ideas to each individual at the meeting, rather than simply hope that the room as a whole will understand what you're driving at. Focus on a key point and deliver it to a specific person.

3. Have a plot line. Your presentation is likely to have been preceded by a slew of phone calls, emails, and other communications. As you make your presentation, recap the language and points that your prospect has made along the way. Include language like, "In our last meeting, John, one of your key issues was redundancy, and that's why we are emphasizing our unique approach to that issue in this presentation today." Hit those points hard and relate them to previous communication.

4. There are no small parts. Companies don't buy from companies -- people buy from people. That's why in making a presentation I try to use a person's name as often as possible. I want it to feel tailored to a given prospect and to highlight that our approach is shaped by the person's specific concerns. Every person on the prospect's team should be given star treatment.

5. Keep the audience involved. Simple rule: Don't present any more than two slides in a row without interacting with your audience. Your presentation, whether you use a common tool like Keynote or keep things even simpler, should involve personally engaging with meeting participants as often as possible. That keeps your team connected to the audience and draws out the secondary issues to be addressed.

The key is to be in the heads of your audience, not in your own head. That adage "there's no business like show business" got it wrong. They forgot the business of selling.

Image courtesy of Flickr user ladybeames

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