Sales presentations

A presentation is an ideal opportunity to make a sale. You have a captive audience and far more flexibility than in a simple sales letter or phone call.

Although many people do not look forward to making a presentation, the right approach can make it an enjoyable and successful experience. Preparation is key.

Before you start

Establish your objective

  • Do you simply want to create interest in your product or service or differentiate yourself from competitors?
  • Do you aim to make a sale?
  • Do you want to provide detailed technical information or training?
  • If you cannot get in front of the right audience, you may need to change your objective.

Find out who your audience will be and what its needs and expectations are. A presentation to a managing director might emphasise the business benefits your software will bring. But a presentation to potential users of the product may focus on ease of use, or compatibility with other systems. Find out the level of technical knowledge the audience has and tailor your presentation accordingly. If you are presenting to an individual, focus on his or her specialist area.

Structuring the presentation

Think of a single phrase you would like your audience to use when describing your presentation. The phrase should describe the selling point that makes your product or service attractive to this particular customer.

Establish a few key points the audience must grasp. Make sure the points describe the benefits of your product or service, not the features.

Put together a logical argument to persuade your audience to take action

  • Audiences remember most clearly the opening and closing part of a presentation. Prepare your argument and delivery with care at these points.
  • Try organising your material into self-contained sections. This lets you respond readily to cues from the audience. If it seems the customer is not interested in one aspect of your presentation, you can drop this section without disrupting your flow.

Find out any facts and evidence you need to support your argument

  • Research the area thoroughly so that you have key information at your fingertips.
  • Include important information in your presentation and make sure you will also be able to address any questions or issues the audience might raise.
  • Anticipate likely objections to what you are proposing. Make responses to these objections part of your presentation.
  • Make sure you know your competitors’ products as well as you do your own.

The structure should allow you to reinforce your main themes three times. Introduce key points in the overview, develop them in the main body of your presentation and summarise them again in the conclusion when you deliver the presentation.

Confirm in advance how much time will be available and work out your timing. For example, decide how long you plan to spend answering questions. Make your timings flexible. You may need to adjust them if your allocated time changes at the last minute. Do not tire your audience out. If the presentation is long, keep people fresh, interested and responsive by inserting regular breaks.

Written notes

Written notes should only provide the framework for your presentation. Reading from a script leaves an audience bored and distracted. Jot down your key phrase and main points.

Prepare a first draft, using everyday words. Practise reading through the draft out loud. Leave the draft overnight and revise it the next day. Type up your draft and underline the key points.

Transfer the key points to individual cards and throw away the script. Number the cards and think how you might go through them on the day. For example, if you run out of time, you might leave out certain cards marked in advance. If you are using visual aids, mark on your cards when you need to use them.

Rehearse your presentation until you are happy with it

  • Do this out loud so that you are familiar with the feel of delivering your presentation.
  • Record yourself and assess your own performance using a video camera or webcam.
  • Get someone experienced to listen and give feedback. Ideally, this should be someone with the same background as your intended audience.
  • Check that the delivery time is consistent.

Visual impact

Use visual aids to reinforce your message and engage your audience

  • For example, flip charts, overhead projectors or PowerPoint presentation software.
  • Think about which aids are most appropriate for your presentation.
  • Give meaning to figures by using graphs and diagrams.
  • Keep aids simple and relevant.

Keep control of your visual aids and beware of the pitfalls of using them

  • Do not overuse them. People may stop listening to what you are saying.
  • Take them down or turn them off when they are not needed so that the audience is not unnecessarily distracted.
  • Make sure everyone can see them.
  • Talk to the audience, not to the visual aid.
  • Make sure you are comfortable using the equipment. Practise with it beforehand.

Home or away

If you are holding the presentation at your premises, prepare the room in advance

  • Check that nobody intends to use the room at the same time.
  • If you have a choice, make sure the room is an appropriate size.
  • Make sure the room is clean, well lit and a comfortable temperature.
  • Prevent any distractions. For example, make sure you will not be disturbed by phone calls or by people entering the room.
  • Set up any equipment, such as overhead projectors.
  • Ensure that refreshments are available.
  • Everything the customer sees on your premises should support the impression you wish to make.

If you are visiting the customer’s premises, arrive in plenty of time. Confirm your technical requirements beforehand. For example, are there enough power sockets in the room for your laptop and overhead projector? Check everything is in place when you arrive. If you are using electrical equipment, plug it in and check that it works. Plan what to do if it fails.

Delivering the presentation

Your immediate aim at the start of the presentation is to involve the audience

  • Talk to the customer before the presentation. Find common ground and mention details that show you understand his or her business.
  • Introduce yourself. Tell the audience who you are and what you do.
  • Ask members of the audience to give you their names and role in the company.
  • Find out more about your audience by asking questions. For example, ‘Is there anything anyone would particularly like to learn from this presentation?’ Show you have their interests at heart.
  • Do not start your presentation until you have everyone’s attention.
  • If you are confident of a good response, use humour to get the audience on your side.
  • Respond to your audience. If people show signs of being bored or distracted, be ready to change your intended approach.

Start your presentation with an overview of the key points you intend to make. Tell the audience what you are going to talk about. Summarise what you understand to be the customer’s current circumstances and how your product or service is the answer. Explain how the presentation is structured, how long it will last and how you intend to deal with questions.

Cover each key point in turn, following the order you have already outlined. Use pauses to emphasise your points. Ask questions and use names when appropriate. Keep control. For example, do not let people jump ahead. Say ‘I’ll come to that later’. Continually involve the audience and check understanding. If you see doubt, try to clear it up by inviting questions.

Summarise what you have said. Repeat the message you want the audience to remember. Stress the benefits of taking action.

Use positive body language throughout

  • Speak clearly so you can be heard.
  • Project energy and confidence. Your enthusiasm is a powerful tool to interest the audience and encourage action.
  • Stand confidently and openly. Do not fold your arms, fidget, pace or stand with your hands in your pockets.
  • Constantly scan the audience to maintain eye contact.
  • Smile. Show you are happy to have the chance to present your product or service.


Most people feel nervous before making a presentation – but nerves can be a useful source of energy.

Be clear in your own mind how valuable this customer is to you. Focus on your objective for the presentation. It helps to remember that customers have chosen to listen to your presentation. Even if they seem unfriendly, they must be interested in your product or service to be there in the first place.

Prepare well to help you feel in control. Rehearse in front of family or colleagues.

Try not to appear nervous

  • Take several deep breaths before you start speaking. Hold each one and exhale slowly.
  • Concentrate on speaking slowly. People naturally speak fast when they are nervous.
  • Have a glass of water nearby to sip if your mouth gets dry.
  • Do not hold pieces of paper that magnify your shaking.

Handling questions

You should welcome questions. They show the audience is interested and paying attention.

Decide in advance how you will deal with questions. If someone has an objection to what you are saying, it is usually best to respond straight away. Handle one question at a time.

Listen carefully. Do not interrupt. If necessary, rephrase the question so it is clear to everyone what has been asked.

Keep your answer simple so the flow of your presentation is not interrupted

  • If the question invites a complicated answer, say you will deal with it at the end.
  • Direct your answer at the whole audience, not just the person who asked the question.
  • Check that whoever asked the question is happy with your response.

Be prepared to deal with awkward questioners who may disrupt the presentation. If a question is worded in an aggressive way, do not take it personally. Concentrate on what is being said and keep your objective for the presentation in mind. If someone asks a series of difficult questions, say you will deal with each one separately at the end.

Admit it if you do not know the answer. Promise to find out later.

Be ready for a lack of questions. If there are no questions, be ready to suggest and answer your own. For example, ‘Many customers ask me how soon we can deliver. In most cases, we can supply goods the next day’.

Finishing off

The end of your presentation should be upbeat and decisive.

Provide any handouts the audience may want. Handouts are a useful way of making sure your audience can think over the message of your presentation at a later date. Avoid giving out handouts any earlier in your presentation. The audience may read them instead of listening to you. You can also distribute electronic copies of your presentation via email or post it to a hosting site like Slideshare if you want more people to view it.

Get feedback from the audience. Ask key contacts or decision-makers if they are interested in what they have seen. Get them to tell you why. This allows them to sell the product to themselves and gives you the chance to deal with any objections. Ask for the chance to demonstrate your product or service in action. For example, with a trial order.

Establish the next step and discuss dates. Make a note if you need to get back to the customer to follow up points that have been raised or respond to questions you were unable to answer in the presentation. If you see the opportunity, be ready to close the sale.

Further information

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