Oops! You Just Cost a Customer $5,000

Last Updated Sep 18, 2009 8:39 AM EDT

Last week, we discussed the best opening remark for a sales presentation to a large group. (See "QUIZ: What's the Best Opening Remark?"). I was surprised and alarmed that so many readers thought it appropriate to spend a time up front telling a funny story, or introducing themselves. Only 16% agreed with me that the best way to begin a presentation to a large group is with a relevant and startling statistic.

Sigh.

I recently attended a conference where speakers were supposed to have a few minutes to present a case study. Most of them wasted at least a minute up front -- and frequently much more -- talking about nonsense that had nothing whatsoever to do with their message. One presenter spent almost ten minutes setting up -- for a 30 minute presentation!!!!

When people do this, I can't help but wonder what they're thinking. Can't they do the math? Suppose you're presenting to a group of 50 executives from a multinational firm. You spend 5 minutes out of a half-hour presentation introducing yourself and telling a funny story.

Most companies spend around $10 per minute to keep a decision-maker executive employed. So your 5 minute "warm up" cost them $2,500 in direct costs. And that doesn't count the opportunity cost, which is at least equal. So it's probably fair to say that your inability to move quickly into your message cost the customer $5,000.

Maybe customers should ask for a discount every time a sales pro tries to tell a funny story as part of a business presentation.

The point I'm trying to make is that, when you're presenting to large group, you must remain mindful that the audience is quite literally INVESTING their time (and hence their money). So you need to respect that investment and not waste it living out your fantasy of being a stand-up comedian.

By contrast, you can follow my advice and use a pithy statistic -- one that tells a story all by itself -- and move forward into your message. Here's a comment from somebody who (gasp!) actually took my advice:

The last major reason [a] presentation stinks is "you didn't open with a statistic." My group did use one (as you suggested in an earlier post) and it was a major success - literally stopped the audience in their tracks, and was the first thing one attendee mentioned at breakfast the next morning. Thanks for your advice.
READERS: I'm done flogging this point. I know it's hard to do something different and using the standard openings "seems right." But do you really want to open your sales presentation like every boring presentation the prospect has ever seen? Is staying in your comfort zone all THAT important to you?