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Let’s Get It Started—How What You Do Before and In the Beginning of Your Sales Presentation Can Make All the Difference


There’s a lot that goes into performing that the audience doesn’t see. Before I get on stage on nights that I’m going to play with my band, I have a whole checklist of things to do throughout the day:

  • Charge batteries

  • Limit my talking

  • Print out set lists

  • Post on social media

  • Drink tea with licorice and marshmallow root

  • Drink lots of water

  • Pack zinc lozenges

  • Prep my iPad

  • Change guitar strings

  • Tune guitar to appropriate key

  • Listen to new songs on repeat (and note VERY small changes to communicate to band)

I carefully plan the day to fit all of that in and leave enough time to get to the venue early. Why show up early? Well that way, when I get to the venue and the logistics for getting our equipment into the venue are funky (no nearby parking, lots of stairs, a strange slow crane that lifts equipment to the roof from the back alley), or one of my speakers doesn’t work, I’m not thrown off. I have enough time to improvise and make it work before a crowd shows up.

Or what about the time I forgot to swap out my acoustic guitar for my electric guitar? I have enough time to run home and get the right one. Or what about the time I forgot to bring my guitar altogether? (Yes. Yes, that really happened.) While I couldn’t save myself from looking like an idiot in front of my bandmates, I was able to go home and get my instrument before embarrassing myself in front of hundreds of other people.

Girl (or Guy) of 100 Lists

When you’re preparing for a sales pitch, you should also have a checklist of everything you need to do before you arrive and once you get there. Do you have all of the cords you need? Did you bring business cards? Did you set up a web conference and camera for off-site attendees? Did you bring a printout of your presentation in case technology fails you altogether? Did you leave time between lunch and when you have to leave to grab an extra shirt since there’s a 50% chance you have spilled something on yours?

Having a checklist and allowing yourself some extra time are some of the best things you can do to mitigate the risk of something going wrong or throwing you off. Even seasoned sales professionals do this. It’s how they got to be seasoned sales professionals in the first place.

Following a checklist is even helpful during your presentation. I know that in my last blog I wrote about flexibility and knowing your presentation well enough that you could ditch it. Flexibility is important, but there are a few components of your presentation that should not be optional.

Time After Time

The first critical, non-optional component is the time check. Always make sure that everyone is on the same page as to how long the meeting will last. It may sound something like, “I planned for us to meet until 11:30. Is everyone still okay with that?”

Doing this simple step at the beginning of your meeting can save you from the awkward situation when, mid-presentation, the decision-maker stands up and says he has another meeting and has to leave and you haven’t yet covered the information he was specifically interested in. Always do a time check. If you find out that someone does need to leave early, be sure to address their concerns before they go.

No Surprises

The other non-optional presentation step is going over your meeting agenda. Showing your prospects your intended agenda lets them know what they can expect from you. More importantly, it gives you the opportunity to ask, “Is there anything else you would like to cover during our time together?”

Asking for input on your agenda gives your prospects a chance to share with you what is most important to them. Pay close attention, write down their additions, and make sure you save time to address these issues during your presentation. Some issues may need to be addressed right away.

Get Into the Groove

Having a checklist of tasks before each meeting and following a similar routine not only helps you find problems and fix them before your presentation, but also helps you get into the right mindset. Setting the same cadence for yourself prior to each presentation will make you calmer, more confident, and better prepared. While you can’t know every situation you’re going to face, approaching each one feeling ready and self-assured makes a huge difference in dealing with whatever comes your way.

Similarly, conducting a time check and asking for agenda input serves more than one purpose. These beginning-of-the-meeting tasks are a great opportunity to understand what your potential clients care about, so you can cover those topics in the time they have available. They also help you settle into any presentation you’re giving. You can get into the flow of your delivery and make a good first impression.