Music Must Change—Knowing When to Adapt Your Presentation
Last Friday my band was playing at a local Irish pub. The crowd was into it until I started singing a modern-ish song that does pretty well with some crowds. A verse and chorus into the song, I could see that the audience was starting to tune out. As a musician and performer, this is the worst feeling. I couldn’t keep going for another three minutes and risk losing more of the crowd. I looked over at my two bandmates and told them I was changing to another song in a similar key. We improvised the transition, but soon we were once again playing to a fully engaged crowd.
In my last blog I wrote about practicing enough so that you can’t get it wrong. This is so important in sales and when performing, but it’s not enough. You need to know your presentation so well that you can read your prospect while delivering it, and know your product so well that you can abandon your presentation completely when you need to.
We’ve all seen it happen—in our own presentations, a colleague’s, when someone is selling to us, or while out catching a local band. The listener is no longer interested in what is being shared, but the presenter just keeps plowing ahead. It’s a painful situation to watch, and an even more painful one to be in.
As a sales professional and as a performer, you need to be comfortable enough and know enough to be able to deviate from your exact plan. On stage that might mean swapping one song for another. In a sales pitch, that might mean skipping a slide so that you have time to focus on your prospect’s specific concern. You will likely return to your original presentation, but being flexible with the order and being able to shift your focus will allow you to keep your prospect engaged.
Some of this flexibility comes from practice, some comes from experience, and some comes from learning the hard way what happens when you aren’t flexible enough. Back when my band first started performing together, we planned our set and stuck to it. It was only with more practice, confidence, and maturity that we were able to perform and gauge the crowd at the same time, and then adapt from the feedback.
Sales is the same in that the more experience you have, the more comfortable you will get deviating from your original plan. The more confidence you have, the less you have to think about your presentation, and the more you can observe your prospect and gauge their reaction.
My bandmates and I are now at the point where we can judge the age of the crowd before we even start playing and shift our song choice accordingly. We can tell if an audience is into the music but a bit shy and just needs a little encouragement from us to come closer to the stage.
As a musician, it’s pretty easy tell when the audience is into what you’re doing. They are singing along, coming closer to the stage, or clapping. So, how can you tell if a prospect is into your presentation? A lot can be deciphered from body language. Are they leaning in and nodding, or are they reclining in their chair and checking the clock? Are they asking questions?
And what should you do if you sense that you’re losing your prospect’s interest? Start by asking some open-ended questions to engage them. What is the biggest roadblock you’re facing right now? What do you need your current product to do that it’s not? Think back to the when you asked if your prospect had anything they wanted to add to the agenda. (You didn’t forget about that, did you?) What did they say? Address that topic in order to reengage them.
Practicing your presentation on your own is important, but practicing in front of a colleague or doing a role play is a great way to practice your flexibility. That’s one reason role playing is a key part of my trainings. It’s a fine line to walk—knowing your presentation inside and out, but also being able and willing to tweak it on the fly. Practice and experience will make this easier. Pretty soon you’ll be changing your tune with ease.