Making presentations may be a verbal skill, but it is not unlike writing a bestselling novel. To engage the audience, you need a detailed plot, an exciting ending, and an organized outline that breaks down the delivery of information into manageable chapters.

A written outline can help you avoid rambling iterations that do little to gain a prospect's interest. You can choose to sound like a monotone schoolteacher reciting dull facts or like a Sales Leader delivering a dynamic narrative.

In last month's column, we began building your sales story by covering the first three keys of effective presentations: 1) Prepare presentations in advance; 2) Choose the right sales tool for the right audience; and 3) Use time and timing effectively. If you have made these preparations and crafted your outline, you are now ready to develop other skills that will help you put together winning presentations.

Appealing to the Audience 1. Establish credibility. Sales-people destroy opportunities to generate powerful images because they behave stereotypically. Consider that a prospect or customer continually is confronted by salespeople who make boastful claims, which are certainly important to move the sales process forward, but often do little to improve a salesperson's image. In fact, just the opposite may occur. Too many bold claims, made too often, can erode a salesperson's credibility over time.

To combat this problem, you need to educate your customers in a general way. Rather than spout off the wonderful features of your product, enlighten the customer about factors unrelated to your product, such as crucial regulatory issues they will face. Another way to establish credibility is to volunteer limitations of your company or products. There is no perfect company, nor does your customer expect perfection. When you preemptively volunteer limitations of your product, the customer actually gains respect for you and your company. Yet another way to establish credibility is to sincerely compliment your competitor. Salespeople who believe they are the only solution to customers' challenges are naive.

The bottom line is that you establish credibility during presentations by demonstrating your general knowledge of the LBM industry and your value as an objective resource for information.

2. Talk in chapters, not in novels. If your customers and prospects were willing, you probably could talk for hours about your product, your company, and yourself. But that would be as boring as reading a college textbook and would do little to create a sale. Therefore, you must carefully select the issues that you will focus on. I recommend the concept of talking in “chapters.” Try using shorter, more concise sound bites.

If you took my advice last month to brainstorm and list all the benefits of your product, company, and yourself, you are in a position to create a presentation template. This is a formula that allows you to cover massive amounts of information in a short period of time and also to organize your thoughts in an effective manner.

3.Create emotional interest. The whole purpose of the concept of chapters is to focus on the specific issues of interest to the customer. One person may be more interested in the design and aesthetics of your product while another may need to know the energy-efficient features. The critical issue is to remember that people make decisions based more on wants than on needs.

If people were purely logical beings, buying solely based on their needs, then there would be no jewelry or “status” automobiles. But people are not purely logical; people are also emotional. Hence, your role as a salesperson is to help clients mesh their sometime conflicting wants and needs.