Doing a business presentation is a stressful task. You are in the spotlight. If things go well, your recommendation will likely move forward and people will think you are a gifted strategic thinker and great leader. If the presentation flops, you will have damaged your personal brand and there is a fair chance you will be fired.
Fortunately, there is a simple way to virtually guarantee that your presentation will go well: pre-sell it. This technique will ensure that your recommendation will be well received, with few difficult bumps in the road.
Pre-selling isn't complicated. Before a big meeting, schedule some time with the key people and take them through your recommendation. In most cases, these will be one-on-one conversations. As you flip through your presentation, ask for input and feedback: What am I missing? Are there things I should include that aren't in the presentation? Do any of the numbers look off?
Benefits of Pre-Selling
There are three benefits to pre-selling. First, your recommendation will get better. Each person you meet with will identify gaps and issues. When you address the concerns, you will end up with a stronger, more compelling finished product.
Second, you will build backing for the presentation. When you act on the input someone gives you, your presentation will go from being yours alone to being both of yours, gaining support along the way.
Third, pre-selling will build your confidence. It can be intimidating to stand up in front of senior executives and present your ideas. It is much less scary when you know they already understand and support your recommendations.
There are several things to keep in mind when pre-selling. One important issue is timing. Try to meet with people well in advance of the formal presentation; this will give you time to address their questions and concerns. On occasion, you might need to schedule a follow-up meeting. If the big meeting is a week away, you have time to do this. Meeting with someone the morning of a presentation gives you little time to react to their input.
When pre-selling, it is important to always bring a draft, not the final product. It should clearly be a work in progress. You might write on the front cover "draft," or "very rough draft," or "initial thoughts." Remember, you want to involve people in the creation of your document. If it looks finished, it sends the signal that you don't actually want their input; it is already complete.
Most important, be sure to act on the feedback. Sometimes people will identify small details--perhaps a missing comma, or a misaligned number in a chart. It is tempting to ignore these small suggestions, but that would be a mistake. If you make the change, the person who suggested it will notice and react positively: "This person listened to me," or "This person has good follow-up," or "This person pays attention to details." This is all good. If you don't correct the small problem--it is a small problem, after all--you send a very different message.
You may not be able to reach all the key people before the meeting. I recently talked a CMO who noted she simply doesn't have time to meet with people in advance. This will often be the situation for the most senior person attending the meeting. The people one level down, however, will be more likely to give you some time. Indeed, they want to appear smart in front of their boss, so they'll want to learn about the recommendation in advance. If they know what is coming, they can make thoughtful comments.
You can't 100-percent guarantee a presentation will be a success. But if you pre-sell, you can get pretty close.