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How To Avoid The “Sales Presentation Trap”

Scott Stiefvater is an executive speaking and presentation coach. He has been coaching industry leaders to speak with confidence, power, and authenticity for almost a decade.

In this episode of The Salesman Podcast, Scott shares what the “presentation trap” is and how to avoid falling into it.

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Featured on this episode:

Host - Will Barron
Founder of Salesman.org
Guest - Scott Stiefvater
Executive Speaking and Presentation Coach

Resources:

Transcript

Scott:

The audience is sitting there, the listeners are sitting there, present in the moment and the presenters in their head, back in the past, thinking about what’s my content, what are the slides I designed the other day? What did I intend to say? And so they’re sort of stuck in the past while their audience is in the present. Why would people go into sort of a right and recite mode in literate societies, where we grow up reading and writing? We think of it as a natural thing, but writing is a technology.

 

What is the Presentation Trap? · [01:01] 

 

Will Barron:

Hello sales nation. I’m Will Barron, host of The Salesman Podcast, the world’s most downloaded B2B sales show. If you haven’t already, make sure to click subscribe. On today’s episode, we have sales presentation expert, [inaudible [00:00:43] general presentation expert, Scott Stiefvater. And in this episode, we’re diving into what he calls the presentation trap, how you can avoid falling into it. And there’s a tonne of value if you’re doing in-person or even right now, Skype, Zoom presentations. And so with all of that said, let’s jump right into it. So on today’s episode, we’re going to get into avoiding the quote unquote, the presentation trap. So let’s start, where we should start with this is Scott, what is the presentation trap, right?

 

“When we think of a presentation, we think of preparing some kind of script-like thing before the presentation. It’s not necessarily a word-for-word script, but it might be a set of slides, but it’s what we’re going to say in the order we’re going to say it before we get to the presentation. And that traps us because once we get into the presentation, then it’s hard for the presenter to be present with the audience. The audience is sitting there, the listeners are sitting there present in the moment and the presenters, in their head, back in the past, thinking about what’s my content, what are the slides I designed the other day? What did I intend to say? And so they’re sort of stuck in the past while their audiences is in the present.” – Scott Stiefvater · [01:26] 

 

Scott:

Yeah. What the heck is that? It’s common to the dominant mainstream approach to presentations that is a write and recite approach. In other words, when we think of a presentation, we think of preparing some kind of script-like thing before the presentation. It’s not necessarily a word for word script, but it might be a set of slides, but it’s what we’re going to say in the order we’re going to say it before we get to the presentation. And that traps us because once we get into the presentation, then it’s hard for the presenter to be present with the audience. The audience is sitting there, the listeners are sitting there present in the moment and the presenters, in their head, back in the past, thinking about what’s my content, what are the slides I designed the other day? What did I intend to say? And so they’re sort of stuck in the past while their audiences is in the present.

 

How to Recognise When You’re Falling Into the Sales Presentation Trap · [02:19] 

 

Will Barron:

How do we know… This seems like a stupid question, but it will make sense when we kind of fill it out. How do we know if we’re falling into this trap? Is it that we’ve definitely fallen into this trap if we’ve never learnt or attempted to do anything different or could some people be great presenters just naturally and naturally do some of this and without having it trained into them?

 

“In literate societies where we grow up reading and writing, we think of it as a natural thing. But writing is a technology. I mean, speaking is much more natural to us. We’ve been speaking as a species for tens of thousands of years, but the vast majority of society hasn’t been reading and writing for more than 200 years.” – Scott Stiefvater · [02:52] 

 

Scott:

Well, I think it’s mostly trained into people to some degree, but it makes sense. I mean, why would people go into sort of a write and recite mode. In literate societies where we grow up reading and writing, we think of it as a natural thing, but writing is a technology. I mean, speaking is much more natural to us. We’ve been speaking as a species for tens of thousands of years, but the vast majority of society hasn’t been reading and writing for more than 200 years. So most of us think of it as a natural thing. And when we get into high stakes situations and we go, well, this is a big deal to me, this speaking situation, we want to be careful about what we say. And what’s more careful than writing? I mean, writing, it’s slow, and you can go back and revise it and you can leave it aside and come back to your writing after you’ve had a chance to think and change things up.

 

“When it comes to sales, a lot of masterful salespeople embrace the orality of sales and somehow are able to overcome the literacy part of it.” – Scott Stiefvater · [04:13] 

 

Scott:

So people are attracted to it that way. But it’s definitely now part of what we think of as a presentation. It’s really part of the unspoken definition of it. So most people just fall into it naturally because that’s what they know. I do think that there are some rare people, there always are, who for some reason, their instincts tell them to do other things. And they abandon the mainstream cultural norms to go off and do great things. And people have a hard time figuring out, what are they doing? And I think when it comes to sales, a lot of masterful salespeople embrace the orality of sales and somehow are able to overcome the literacy part of it.

 

How to Overcome the Literal Part of Communication and Master the Art of Oral Presentation · [04:55]  

 

Will Barron:

The reason I asked that was that as you were outlining what the presentation trap is, it seems to me that you’d have to go out of your way to fall into it. If you were just a born on the planet and you hadn’t had all, I guess the media and your sales managers and schooling and everything else telling you that this is how a presentation is structured, because you don’t go into a conversation with your partner or your mom or your dad or whoever it is with bullet points typically. Right? So it’s not fundamentally built into our communication. That’s why I wanted to ask that. So with that said, then Scott, how do we go about unlearning all of this, if this is a learned response that we’ve had to societal norms?

 

Scott:

Yeah. Well, that’s the hard part because I don’t know many other people sort of calling out this, I don’t know, this paradigm like I’m doing. It’s just a unique frame, right? There’s a lot of different speaking coaches out there that take different approaches to the art of speaker coaching, but I’ve made this connection where I go, gosh, when I see somebody who’s sitting there speaking to a group, they’re in what they would call a presentation, their eyes are sort of empty and strange. You can see this in Ted Talks, some speakers, their eyes are moving all over the place. They point them at faces. They make eye contact, but they’re really just pointing their pupils around in the direction of people. But there’s no light going into them. Your eyes are not pointing devices, they’re light receptors. And they simply aren’t using their eyes to take in the listener.

 

“When you prepare to give a sales presentation, do not think of yourself as memorising a script, and definitely don’t get caught up in the linearity of it. So if you think, I not only have to remember my content, I have to remember the order in which I have to deliver it, then suddenly you’re locked up. But if you think of it as I sell something, I need to know what I sell and I need to know my buyer and I need to know all those things. Think of them in terms of ideas that we download from our minds.” – Scott Stiefvater · [06:21]

 

Scott:

So if I were to give advice to individuals who were saying, oh, this resonates with me. I would say one, when you prepare to give a sales presentation, do not think of yourself as memorising a script. And definitely don’t get caught up in the linearity of it. So if you think, I not only have to remember my content, I have to remember the order in which I have to deliver it. Then suddenly you’re locked up. But if you think of it as, I sell something, I need to know what I sell and I need to know my buyer and I need to know all those things. Think of them in terms of ideas that we download from our minds. Does that make sense?

 

Will Barron:

Yeah, that makes sense.

 

Scott:

Am I making sense?

 

Will Barron:

Yeah.

 

Scott:

Yeah. So these downloads then need if get in a sales situation, you should be able to call on a download at a moment’s notice, depending on the conversation, depending on this unique one-time event that’s occurring between you and your prospect.

 

Sales Presentations Should be Conversations and not Boring Whiteboard Broadcasts · [07:18]

 

Will Barron:

So is the starting point here then to treat where, I was going to say [inaudible [00:07:22] appropriate so we can touch on that in a second, but to treat our presentations more as conversations so it’s a back and forth as opposed to Will and his digital whiteboard shoving a sales pitch down a bunch of people’s throats? They don’t really care about what you’re talking about.

 

Scott:

Yes. Yeah, absolutely. And even in the situation where you’re doing all the talking. Because truth be told in a good conversation, talking and listening aren’t that different. They’re both an exchange of stuff. If I’m a great speaker, I may be doing all the talking on a Ted Talk like stage, but I’m also looking at individual human beings in the audience and letting their light affect me. I’m watching their reaction to me. I’m listening to them, but only with my eyes and I’m talking on a sentence by sentence type of occurrence. I say something to the audience, maybe one, two or three sentences, but then I’m taking in their reaction to that and letting it affect me because I’m so concerned about, are they getting my ideas? Are my sentences getting into their mind?

 

How to Make Your Sales Conversations More Engaging · [09:15] 

 

Will Barron:

I’ve never thought about this before. It’s interesting because if you use an extreme example of, if I was pitching, presenting to a room and a dude in the back stood up and took his shirt off, I’m paying enough attention that I would stop and ask him if he’s sane and okay and if we need to stop right here. But if I’m presenting and maybe someone’s on the phone, I might change of pace, change the type of media that I’m using, do something to try and grab their attention. But if they are acting that they’re paying attention, even if they’re not, I’d probably still just plod along. So how do we know… How do we make this a conversation? How do we make it engaging like a sales presentation in particular versus you kind of give us a structure here of understanding the topics and not using such a linear programming as we present them. But is there any other structural parts of our presentation that we need to turn on its head so that we can engage with these individuals rather than just pitch out them?

 

“In the actual experience of the presentation, the really important variable is awareness. Are you aware?” – Scott Stiefvater · [09:46] 

 

Scott:

Well, I don’t know structurally, I’m not sure. I think where I’m going and maybe you’re hinting at is that in the actual experience of the presentation, the really important variable is awareness. Are you aware? It’s an interesting thing because awareness, think of it as having two modes, an inward awareness and an outward awareness. 

 

“In this traditional, mainstream, dominant write and recite approach to presentations, a lot of people are in their head, their awareness is sort of searching around their mental geography for what’s the next slide, and what do I want to say? But then there’s outward awareness, which is how is my listener reacting to me? Or what am I doing with my hands or my face or my voice.” – Scott Stiefvater · [10:06]

 

Scott:

In this traditional, mainstream, dominant write and recite approach to presentations, a lot of people are in their head, their awareness’s sort of searching around their mental geography for what’s the next slide. And what do I want to say? But then there’s outward awareness, which is how is my listener reacting to me? Or what am I doing with my hands or my face or my voice might be some of those things. That’s the real difference I think is that great speakers are highly aware in the moment and they can move from being in their head and thinking, what am I going to want to say at this moment to being outside to what’s happening in the room around me and particularly with my listener and letting that affect you.

 

How to Develop Your Self-awareness Skills and Get That Engagement During Sales Presentations · [10:55] 

 

Will Barron:

So how do we develop that? I’m wired to be scientific and tangible. So when you’re saying this to me, Scott, I’m going right, I’m going to not do it in a linear order, but I’m going to ask a question in between each section to get that engagement, which isn’t really what we’re talking about here. Right?

 

Scott:

No, we’re not. You’re right.

 

Will Barron:

But that’s immediately where my brain goes to so some of the audience might be going that way as well. So how do we develop this? Because it’s a skill, right? How do we develop this skill so that we can implement it, and it isn’t contrived and just as awkward, but with questions?

 

Scott:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, when I work with my clients, there’s two modes of practise. One is get your phone out… Here, I’ll grab mine. So get your phone out and put it in video mode. Okay? And put it somewhere in the middle of your desk. If you’re thinking, maybe I’m going to practise for a situation where I’m talking to three or four people around a table, then just grab some family photos, framed photos, and place them sort of around your desk and then record yourself talking to these photos.

 

Scott:

And as you do so, focus on getting your mind on the faces in the photo, on the people in the photo. Now I know it’s only a simulation because the point of all this is the people in the photos should be moving and they have facial gestures and all those things. But if you do that a little bit at the beginning of the day for five minutes, and you practise that modality where you’re really, really focused outwardly, then as you go through conversations throughout the day, you can apply it in real time and just monitor that idea. Am I responding to and listening with my eyes my listener, regardless of how many people are there, whether you’re talking to one individual over coffee, or you’re talking to a room around a conference table.

 

Mindfulness and Being Present During a Sales Presentation · [13:02] 

 

Will Barron:

So how much of this comes down to, and I know that there’ll be some kind of hippy connotation to this, but being present, actually just being in the moment, paying attention and not being three or four, because this goes beyond, this goes into sales conversations and just conversations in general. So we can perhaps move even beyond presentations here, but how much of this comes down to just being present and actually paying attention to the person you’re speaking to, rather than thinking of something witty further down the line that you can kind of come back and drag the conversation back to me, me, me, which is seemingly how, not everyone, but a lot of people are wired.

 

“When you enter conversations, it’s important to know what state you’re in. So if you’re hustling and you’re rushing and you’re late to a conversation, sometimes it’s hard to get into that state of being in the present.” Scott Stiefvater · [14:11] 

 

Scott:

Yeah, yeah, no, I think everybody’s wired that way actually to be sort of self-oriented in our speaking. It’s funny, you said it’s sort of hippy and I think that’s true. I sometimes think of myself as a mindfulness type of speaking coach, but mindfulness is associated with meditation and yoga and kind of out there stuff. But it’s almost exactly what I’m describing is being mindful. I guess it’s worth noting that when you enter conversations that it’s important to know what state you’re in, right? So if you’re hustling and you’re rushing and you’re late to a conversation, sometimes it’s hard to get into that state of being in the present because it’s so important if you’re going to actually implement this idea. So I don’t teach people techniques typically. I focus a lot on principles and then maybe some specific behaviours to look out for and try to pursue. But one thing people can do is just pause before they get in that situation and do a little of this thing they call box breathing. Have you ever heard of box breathing?

 

Box Breathing Benefits and Techniques · [14:50]

 

Will Barron:

I’m aware of it, but Scott tell us for the audience sales nation how they can implement this?

 

Scott:

Yeah. It’s just inhale over about a four second count. Hold your breath at the top for about four seconds, exhale for about four seconds and then hold your breath at the bottom with your lungs empty for four seconds. And sort of repeat that two or three times. In your mind that often giving yourself control of your breath somehow puts you in that calm, focused state. It can help. But everybody’s got to kind of design their own rituals to get into the best state to be mindful. And that’s part of the practise element of all this is always being mindful of what do you do when you’re at your very best or what do you do to prepare to be your very best? And you’ve got to experiment a little bit.

 

Will Barron:

For sure. That makes total sense. And to emphasise the fact that this isn’t hippie, mindfulness nonsense, there’s a tonne of science behind breathing exercises. So I know for myself, I don’t know why I wouldn’t share this on the show before, but occasionally I get these benign palpitations, so just weird, my heart will beat to a weird pace. It happens totally randomly. It’s not when I’m doing jujitsu or sports. It’s not when I’m stressed. It just seems to be random. So I will do essentially box breathing, but for longer periods and really hold my breath and calm myself down. Not that I’m stressed or anything in that moment. And it relaxes your vagal nerve, which has a vagal tone and can flip you between your parasympathetic and your sympathetic nervous system, your fight and flight versus everyday relaxed.

 

How to Escape Linearity and Be Flexible During Sales Presentations · [16:45] 

 

Will Barron:

There’s no stresses. There’s no big cat eyes in the jungle staring at me. And I don’t need to be on the kind of adrenaline pathway to run away. So there’s a tonne of science behind all of this as well. And we’re going to come on to, you mentioned the word principles. So we’ll wrap up the show with that in a second, Scott. But one thing I said earlier on that I then immediately realised what I was saying and tried to pull it back was the word appropriate. So is it always appropriate to have a more engaged conversation or sales presentation? I know I’m coming from this print from the perspective of what happens if you’re going in to present to a group of CFOs and they’re expecting a analytical slide show driven, handout engaged presentation. How do we perhaps change, not their thoughts and opinions on things, but change… How do we go in knowing that they’re expecting one thing and we start in a different state, in a different manner. How do we go about bridging that gap between the two?

 

“A presentation is really just a conversation where the rules of the game have one person speaking more than others.” – Scott Stiefvater · [17:40] 

 

Scott:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, look a presentation, let’s say this way, a presentation is really just a conversation where the rules of the game have one person speaking more than others. I mean, it’s that simple? So I would say you can follow the rules of the game, but the constant is this. In other words, that the rules of the game say, come in and speak for 20 minutes about your company and your product, something like that. Then I would say, okay, it’s okay to follow the rules, but the constant is you can still do that and be listening and reacting and responding to the listener.

 

“If you stay focused on your listener and you stay kind of out of your own head and out of your self-consciousness, and the thing that makes us all tight and nervous when we talk, it’s wonderful. It is just wonderful to be in that situation.” – Scott Stiefvater · [18:57] 

 

Scott:

You can still escape linearity. You can still read what’s going on with your listeners and you can still maintain a super high level of awareness as you try to affect them. I think in those scenarios where you’re still expected to come in and be somewhat linear, the greatest speakers are still not wholly linear. They’re highly aware. They give themselves room to change course based on how they read the tone, the feeling, the reaction of the room. And it’s funny, once you do that, if you stay other focused, if you stay focused on your listener and you stay kind of out of your own head and out of your self consciousness, the thing that makes us all tight and nervous when we talk, it’s wonderful. It is just wonderful to be in that situation.

 

Scott Explains why it Takes Practice and Effort to Overcome Writing-Related Attitudes · [19:25] 

 

Will Barron:

For sure. Okay. So I want to wrap up the show in a few minutes time. I want to get some examples of speakers that we can see this in action or as YouTube videos, anything you recommend and we’ll put them in the show notes as well. So we’ll wrap up on that, but you mentioned the word principles. Are there any principles that we need to talk about in the end of the show now? Is there anything that I’ve missed? Is there anything that we can add an extra layer of the value to the audience with?

 

Scott:

I don’t know. I don’t want to overload people. I think the best takeaway here is this takes concerted, deliberate effort. It takes a lot of practise to escape a lifelong pattern of thinking these write and recite or writing related attitudes and habits. This ability to say, wow, writing is a technology part of my life and I have to recognise that and I’m naturally an oral creature. To engage in that thinking, it’s a lot of deliberate thought and exploration. And what I’m hoping is that the folks in your audience who tend to be in sales, of course, that they recognise this trap-like situation in the mainstream approach to presentation. So they go, okay, I see it. I can play the game if I need to, but I’m free and aware to do what I really want to do. And that’s what’s going to propel them to be better than their colleagues, to be better than other salespeople.

 

Will Barron:

Got it.

 

Scott:

I don’t know if that was an adequate response to your question, but I hope it was.

 

Preparing for Sales Presentation But Always Aiming for Audience Engagement · [20:53] 

 

Will Barron:

That makes sense. What I’m getting Scott is that we need to try it, right? You need to do your presentation, have your idea of your ideal structure, that one way of looking at it, if everything went perfectly, it would look something like this, but then B, have that engagement, don’t be shut off to the fact that this part of the presentation nobody cares about because your competitor talked about something very similar 15 minutes ago and so we can skip over that. We can jump here. There might be something… It’s almost like we’re going into a presentation with a hypothesis and we need to prove or disprove it, right, of there’s three or four elements that we know that most people like to engage with and talk about. But if this particular audience doesn’t care about 1, 2, 3, we should give them X, Y, Z instead. Is that about right?

 

Scott:

That’s a big, big chunk of it. Absolutely. You stated just perfectly. And then the other thing is know that in that moment that it’s a looping kind of experience where you’re affecting the listener and they’re affecting you. And I think if you put those two things together, how you think going into it, this hypothesis or what I would call sort of an expected flow can change because people change. And you’re the strange alchemy of you sitting with unique people in a moment in time can only produce a very unique one-time event. If you can embrace that, then I think you can be great in influencing people.

 

How to Master the Art of Presentation by Emulating the Experts Around You · [22:28] 

 

Will Barron:

Got it. Okay. So to wrap up then, are there any, including yourself, if you’ve got any content on YouTube that you think is appropriate to share, but are there any individuals who have mastered this, who we should be watching, consuming, even if it’s just for a binge session after watching or listening to this podcast episode so that we can see all of this in action?

 

Scott:

Yeah. Well, I guess what I would guide people to do, because it’s funny, there’s… Some of the best speakers I’ve ever met are not famous. They’re not celebrities, they’re not great speakers. I actually ran across an incredible speaker in Ghana, Africa when I was over there for a speaking event doing some coaching. And it was a gentleman who ran a public service kind of radio station. And it was amazing. Here I am in this open sort of building, there’s no walls, there’s this sort of grassroots, there’s dirt, there’s actually chickens running around. And this gentleman comes to explain the history of this nonprofit public service radio sort of thing that he created. And he was amazing. And people laughed, literally people sort of giggled in the first five or 10 seconds because when he started talking to us, it was so powerful and he was so present.

 

Scott:

It was something that people don’t experience that often. So I would tell people, look around you at colleagues in the sales realm probably that you know, and you will see people who do this and the telltale sign is that their eyes don’t make eye contact. They look at people when they talk to them. They really look at people. Those are the people typically that turn out to be great models of this. But the other idea is don’t ever try and be someone else. Be the best of you in the act of talking in these situations. Discover who you are and use your strengths. Don’t try and copy others.

 

Parting Thoughts · [24:23]

 

Will Barron:

Great stuff. Well with that, Scott, where can we find out more about you mate and the coaching, both I guess group and in a probably virtual right now in this moment, but I’m sure you’re doing person coaching. Where can we find out all that good stuff?

 

Scott:

Well, you can find it on my website. Now, and Will you’re going to post something I think because spelling my name is dangerous. It’s Scott Stiefvater but if I were to spell this out, people would have to type out the website and all those sorts of things, but it’s www.scottstiefvater.com. Look at the written materials associated with this podcast. And you can find me on LinkedIn too. I spend time there doing a lot of content sharing and things like that.

 

Will Barron:

Good stuff. Well, I’ll link to all of that in the show notes of this episode, over at salesman.org. And with that, Scott, I want to thank you for your time and your insights and for joining us on The Salesman Podcast.

 

Scott:

Thank you, Will. It’s been fun.

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