Presentation? You Got 10 Seconds!

Last Updated Sep 3, 2009 2:31 PM EDT

In my recent "QUIZ: What's the Best Opening Remark?" post, I claimed that the best opening remark for sales presentation was a telling statistic. Many readers had different opinions, with "explain your presence", "tell a funny story", "summarize your solution", and "introduce yourself" evenly splitting over 75 percent of the votes.

With all due respect, folks, you're wrong.

If I'd posted that question two years ago, those answers would be appropriate. However, the corporate world has changed completely since then -- a transition that's happened so quickly, in fact, that many of you seem to have missed it entire.

Back in the day, when you gave a sales presentation, you had a captive audience. Once decision-makers committed to attending a meeting, they would sit there and listen... providing your pitch wasn't so putrid that they'd be justified in rudely leaving in the middle of it.

That gave you some time to prove yourself. You could tell a story, or spend a minute or two introducing yourself, or your topic, or your company. Or whatever. If you got off to a slow start, the decision-maker was probably going to hear you out.

That's no longer true.

Over the past two years, the smartphone has become ubiquitous among decision-makers. That means that people in meetings -- the important people -- now have the option to read emails, play games, watch videos, or whatever. Right during the meeting, and right when you're speaking.

Now, you can waste your time bemoaning the fact that the wireless revolution has resulted in a management culture with permanent ADHD. Or you can adapt to the new reality.

And here's that reality, my friends. When you're presenting, you've got 10 seconds (more or less) to capture the attention of the decision-makers. If you don't... out come the Blackberries and the iPhones, and you can basically kiss the meeting goodbye. They won't be listening.

Ten seconds. That's about it.

You can blow your ten seconds talking about yourself, or setting up your story, or thanking your contact, or talking about why you're there. Go right ahead. Hey, maybe you can send them an email later to let them know what you were talking about while they twittered about their lunch dates.

Or you can say something -- in ten seconds -- that FORCES them to pay attention. You're only going to do that with a something credible and factual that surprises and (probably) frightens them a little bit.

It's up to you. Go ahead and do what worked way back in the olden days (i.e. 2007). Good luck with that!

But if you want to make the sale, you better use that 10 seconds to your best advantage. Because, frankly, that's all you've got.

UPDATE: This post is continued here: Use First Impressions as a Sales Tool