Think of all the PowerPoint presentations you’ve endured during your career. How many captured your attention or kept you engaged? How many bored you to tears and had you flipping through the handout showing all the slides in a desperate attempt to stay awake?

Even the most capable and skilled consultant can fail to get an audience’s attention. If you’re lucky enough to get an appointment to sell your services to a client, be prepared to wow them with a good presentation.

In this article, I’ll discuss an approach that I use to get clients’ attention and engage the audience.

Last of two articles

Last week’s article on consultant presentations gave tips on the prep work you’ll need to do before giving a presentation to a potential client.

Shorten or skip the slides
Don’t fall into the trap of spending weeks on a slick presentation that makes your very presence redundant. If you must use a projector and slides, use them sparingly. Omit some information from the slides so that your client learns as much from you as from the slides.

Even better, ditch the slides altogether. Make your points in real time on a whiteboard or a large tablet. You’ll engage the audience far more by unfolding your ideas right in front of them than by presenting fully developed and prepackaged concepts. It’s okay to rehearse your drawings and ideas before the presentation: They’ll still look fresh and original if you write them out before your client’s eyes.

Find a problem and offer solutions
Here is a surefire method for capturing a potential client’s attention:

  1. Pinpoint the most pressing problem this company is facing with the project they want you to take on.
  2. Provide the solution.

It’s great if you can identify the challenge without having to ask, but it’s okay if you don’t know it ahead of time. Ask that roomful of key players to define important issues, the challenges they must meet, and the overall goal of that project. Then start leading them through your roadmap of how you will meet that goal.

Touching on applicable past projects and experiences is a great way to bring up your qualifications without marching through a resume-like list. Even better, get the people there brainstorming. Don’t offer your solution as a pat answer.

Instead, ask for their opinions. Chances are good that you’ll be injecting fresh thought into the situation, and the meeting will turn into a great brainstorming session that showcases you as a leader and thinker.

As people toss out solutions or even obstacles, list them on a whiteboard. At the end of your presentation, everyone in the room will be able to see the tangible results and viable options you helped create.

Wrap it up and call for questions
Once your brainstorming session dies down, summarize the options and how you’ll make them happen, and then call for questions. If they ask you a question that you can’t answer right away, admit it but demonstrate your willingness to tackle it. You can say something like, “That’s a challenge, and I’m going to find out that answer for you.” If at all possible, explain how.

Finally, emphasize the importance of coming to a decision. You want to let the decision makers know that you expect them to act and soon.

Don’t be afraid to remind them that you have other options. Find out what their deadline is and let them know that you have deadlines and other priorities as well.

Putting it together
If you’re having trouble visualizing how you can think on your feet and convince the client that you have the answers without knowing the questions, here’s an example from my documentation consulting practice.

I went into a client presentation knowing only that they wanted to have some systems and processes documented. I hadn’t been able to find out from the client’s human resources manager what systems they had or anything about the audience that would use the documentation.

To prepare, I reviewed my past projects to determine which were most likely to be applicable. I also chose selections from my portfolio to illustrate my work on those projects, which gave me something to fall back on in case it was difficult to get a discussion started.

I began by asking, “What is the biggest challenge for you with this project?” To my surprise, the managers were more focused on squabbling over how to present the documentation—Online? Printed? Should they experiment with XML?—than with the goals of the project.

I cut through their dithering about format and asked, “What do you want to achieve with the documentation?” It became clear that different managers had different goals for the project. While some wanted to provide better customer service, others thought the project could help them use developer resources more efficiently.

I simply listened and wrote down these goals on the whiteboard. When this conversation started to get bogged down, I switched the focus and began helping them prioritize the goals.

From there, I made headings for three separate technologies and wrote out the pros and cons of each based on my experiences and the listed goals. I told them how each technology would help or hinder them in achieving the goals. Then I moved past the discussion and made my recommendations. Finally, I wrapped it up by asking, “When do we get started?”

I got the contract and started work on it the next day without ever having to delve into any of the backup material I’d prepared. More than one manager told me later that in one hour, I’d broken through nearly three months of internal deadlock.

If you follow these steps to get prepared and then make a dynamic, solution-oriented presentation to the key decision makers, you’ll find that you’re landing more contracts and garnering more respect in the process.

How did you structure your best presentation?

How did you lay out your best presentation? Did you work to engage your client like this article describes, or did you use other methods? Post your comments or send us an e-mail.