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Answering 'What's in it for me?" with a C.A.B. (Compelling Audience Benefit)

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One of the biggest mistakes people make when preparing a presentation is in navel gazing; they spend a lot of time thinking about their own objectives, i.e. 'what's in it for me?' instead of thinking about the audience, and 'what's in it for them?'

The benefits to the audience of whatever it is you're presenting about may be self-apparent and obvious to you, but very often they aren't to them. You may very well eat, sleep and breathe your subject. But your audience probably doesn't.

Just stop and consider what might be going on in your audience's brains as you get on your feet to present. There could be 1001 different things distracting them. They could be thinking about the big game on TV that evening, the argument they had with their partner before going to work, a new relationship, the annoying noise their car engine keeps making, the fact their child isn't doing well in school or their pet is sick, financial worries or even what they're going to cook for dinner that evening.

And that's just personal stuff. That's before we throw in all the things that are happening at work. And with everybody's new-found ability to multi-task and the fact that attention spans are getting shorter, there is always the temptation to open some of the 500 emails in their inbox while you're speaking (while looking like they're being attentive and taking notes)

And because you think your presentation is important, you expect them to put everyone of those things to one side, forget about them and give you their full attention instead. Let's be objective for a moment. What are the chances of that happening without you giving them a very good reason for doing so? Pretty slim, I'd say.

If you use a powerful opener and grab 'em by the throat you'll have them listening for the first couple of minutes. But now you need to tell them exactly why they should give you their undivided attention for the next 15, 30 or 60 minutes of their lives.

In other words, you need to tell them your presentation's CAB - the Compelling Audience Benefit.

So ask yourselves: what's in it for them? What will they take away from it? Why is it relevant to them? Why will they find it interesting?

Before each presentation, try and come up with half a dozen benefits, and rank them in order of importance.

And please don't make the mistake of thinking that 'general' benefits will motivate people to change or take action. 'It will save the company money' is a 'mom and apple pie' statement, something nobody could seemingly oppose. But what if your proposal saves the company money, but costs me money? Or impacts adversely on my little 'empire'? Reduces my headcount? Lessens my power and influence? Creates extra work for my department without a corresponding increase in resources? Nine times out of ten I'll come up with reasons why it won't work. I won't state any of the reasons I've just mentioned of course; I'll come up with some that sound objective and reasonable instead.

It's much more powerful if the CAB is a benefit to me, rather than the company. 'It will save you money' outweighs 'it will save the company money' a hundredfold.

If your presentation is to a customer, think about them. Most people begin a formal sales presentation with a stock 'About Us' slide that is used in every presentation they ever make, giving some information about their own company. This slide will contain such fascinating information as how long they've been established, how many branches and employees they have and what their growth has been like over the past few years. Usually the words 'Financially Secure' and 'Strong Technical Skills' will feature in a bullet point somewhere. They may even have an absolutely riveting structure chart full of names the audience have never heard of and don't care about (if the audience is especially unlucky, it might even have photographs!).

I have news for you. This may be enthralling to you, but it's generally of only minor interest to customers. They are far more interested in themselves, their own problems and what you can do to help them. So why waste the beginning (when your audience‟s attention is at its greatest) with information that is of secondary importance to them?

Instead, the first thing you talk about after your opening during a sales presentation should be your customer. Start by saying something like, “When we met two weeks ago, you said that the main problems you faced were X, Y and Z. We‟re going to tell you today exactly how we can help you solve those problems. How you can speed up customer delivery times by 25% and reduce costs by $750,000 per year.”

Now some sales experts say that one of the main things in a prospective customer‟s mind is, “Can I trust these guys?” and that she will not be open to persuasion until this question has been answered. Because of this, they argue that the first part of a presentation should be about creating trust, hence the ubiquitous 'About Us' first slide.

The customer should be given the boring, drab, factual information about your company either before the presentation or as part of the handout. Another way to create this trust is to include the names and logos of your existing customers on your opening slide (assuming you think they will impress the customer – remember that harping on about enormous existing customers to a small company might have the opposite effect of what you intend, and make them think, “These guys aren't for us”) . You don't even have to mention them – just let the customer see them.

Every single element of your presentation needs to be looked at with the CAB in mind, and at numerous points in it you should explicitly state it, by using phrases or 'hooks' such as:

  • "So what does this mean to you?‟
  • "You may be wondering what this has to do with you. I‟ll tell you …‟
  • "Why should you care? Because …‟
  • "So what, you might ask. Well, here's what …‟
  • "The importance of this is …"

Have you ever watched a courtroom drama on TV or in a film? Whenever one of the lawyers always goes off on an apparent tangent, what does the judge say? That's right – "Where are you going with this?‟ Somebody once said to me that when he prepares his presentations he always imagines a judge sitting in the room, ready with that phrase whenever his CAB is not blindingly obvious.

Now you might think at this point that to do this is patronizing (or even insulting) to your audience. After all, as intelligent people they are quite able to see the link themselves. DO NOT FALL INTO THIS TRAP.

Your job is to lead the audience effortlessly to your conclusion, without making them think too hard. Every time the CAB is missing or ambiguous, you are forcing them to think. And even if it only takes a short time for them to identify the (supposedly obvious) link, you will have moved on to your next point. Even if the link is obvious, you are merely reinforcing what the audience is already thinking.

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