The Oscars call upon our favorite performers to “go off script,” developing and delivering their own mini-presentation with little direction or rehearsal. As an audience we still expect them to be interesting, relevant, professional, humble and of course, entertaining. Not unlike what your customers or prospects expect from you!
The 2013 Academy Awards had plenty of of examples of how to knock a presentation out of the park, or fall flat on your face (taken quite literally by Jennifer Lawrence!) Whether accepting or presenting an award, some stars lived up to expectations (Daniel Day Lewis, Ben Affleck, Adele), some surprised (Melissa McCarthy, Ang Lee) and others disappointed (Anne Hathaway, Kristin Stewart, all of The Avenger’s).
Think about your sales presentation. Is it award-worthy? If you’re asking for someone’s business, it should be! Here are some tips from Academy Award winners and presenters that you can apply for an award-winning presentation:
- Be prepared with a strong opening (winners):
How many times do we hear “I wasn’t expecting this!” or “I’m so surprised!” followed by an awkward grasping for words or incoherent string of thoughts? They did get the invitations, right? (In fact, Octavia Spencer had won the Golden Globe and the Sag Award for her role in The Help, yet she was the most shocked winner of the evening!) Knowing your first line greatly increases your confidence, sets the tone and provides momentum for the rest of your presentation. I’m not sure anyone topped last year’s opening by Colin Firth: “I think my career just peaked,” but you have to at least give the sound editors from Hugo props for their, “You go…No, HU-GO” bit.
- Be prepared (presenters):
2012 best actor winners Natalie Portman and Colin Firth both gave tribute to each of the 2013 year’s nominees for best actor/actress yet while Colin’s delivery was heartfelt and fresh, Natalie acted as if she’d just been handed the lines backstage. If even Academy Award winning actors need to rehearse to give a winning performance, shouldn’t you consider giving your pitch or presentation a few run-throughs for that important client or meeting?
- Be specific:
Oscar winners have to thank others, but how much more engaging was Christopher Plummer’s sincere and specific thanks delivered to a select few than those grocery lists of names or even Hugo’s sound editor who thanked “anybody who’s here tonight or not,” and “anybody who’s ever been born”? General information, whether you’re talking about features, value propositions or experience are far less effective at making an impact than bringing to life a few specific, unique and memorable details, so choose wisely, but do choose.
- Assume your audience likes you:
I love Meryl Streep but her self-deprecating “I bet half of America is saying ‘why her again’” seemed to undermine the confidence she has more than earned in my book. While a far cry from Sally Fields, “You like me, you really like me!” in 1985, displays of insecurity make your client or your audience uncomfortable and may even drive them to question your competence. So own the stage. Consider the audience a friendly group of peers, not a dark force to be won over at all costs.
- Use it or lose it:
This rule of improv works as well in life as on stage. Being in the moment allows you to use opportunities that arise and further connect with your audience. The best example has to be the winners for the Best Adapted Screenplay, The Descendants, who, after accepting their award from presenter, Angelina Jolie, adopted her oddly threatening “look at my leg” stance. I’d never heard of them before and hadn’t seen the movie yet I instantly liked them for their ability to lighten up an awkward shared experience with the audience – especially during a highly charged moment of their own. In business we are often presented with opportunities to “go off script” yet we may resist that urge in an effort to remain “professional.” Next time use those opportunities to humanize your presentations or pitches and strengthen the connection with your audience.
I will be watching this Sunday night to see how the stars handle their turn at “presenting,” what works, what doesn’t and how I might apply it in my business presentations. I encourage you to do the same!