How to Start a Presentation: Build Suspense

If you aren’t happy with the results of you recent sales pitches, it's time to consider switching up the narrative. That’s the advice from Bob Apollo, that he shares in a post for CustomerThink​.com. Typically, sales presentations follow the same structure: The speaker starts the pitch by presenting his or her solution. However, you should start a presentation by building suspense for your product or service.

How to Start a Presentation

While your audience does need to know details about the product or service being sold, Apollo suggests that sales reps use an alternative structure. “One of the core concepts is that your presentation must always lead toward and never lead with your solution,” he explains. That is why you should never start a presentation with laying your product or service bare in front of the prospect.

He recommends that speakers follow this “flow” when presenting:

  • Set the scene: Start a presentation by discussing the challenge, issue or trend affecting the prospect. It's always good to remind your prospect of what's at stake if they decide not to take action.
  • Implications: How is this challenge impacting his or her business?
  • Winners and Losers: What are the potential “winning” and “losing” outcomes the challenge may bring depending on the prospect’s actions?
  • The Twist: “Surprise” the prospect with an unexpected need or implication that leads toward your product or service’s strengths.
  • Capabilities: Now is when you introduce the capabilities of the product or service that can help the prospect deal with the identified “twist.”
  • Credentials: Why should they trust you? Back this up with your credentials as an organization. Or you could use examples of your current clients who were facing similar issues that you helped solve with your product or service. Direct referrals from these customers also work wonders in landing new sales.
  • Next Steps: Finally, outline what the prospect should do next. Talk with them to plan out the next steps that will work the best for them. If that is your product or service, fantastic! If not, at least they'll think highly of you as an honest sales rep the next time you reach out for a sales meeting.

This presentation structure is different because the speaker does not open by talking about him or herself. Instead, the speaker immediately personalizes the pitch to the prospect. This is the best way to approach sales since, at the end of the day, what the prospect cares about most is how you can help them. Also, this method to start a presentation helps the speaker establish him or herself as knowledgeable, capable, and credible.

Apollo reminds speakers that each talking point should be embellished with specifics pertaining to the prospect. And, the points should stimulate feedback to create a dialogue between the speaker and the prospect.

When you follow these guidelines, every participant — presenter and audience — is likely to emerge from the presentation having learned something valuable,” he writes. “There’s a far better chance that everyone will emerge from the session agreeing that it was time well spent — which, let’s face it, is rarely the case with classic corporate sales pitches.”

Jessica Helinski

Jessica Helinski

Jessica is a senior research analyst for SalesFuel focusing on selling to SMB decision makers. She also reports on sales and presentation tips for SalesFuel and Media Sales Today. Jessica is a graduate of Ohio University.