As we are in the midst of the late spring conference season, I thought I would re-visit and update an article I wrote some years ago for the Spend Matters website. This is aimed primarily at solution providers who are speaking to a procurement audience, rather than procurement practitioners who might be speaking, although much of the advice is still applicable.
My definition of a “successsful” session is that the presenter gets across whatever message they aim to communicate, be that education, information, or a sales proposition, and the audience finds it worthwhile, ideally in terms of both enjoyment and usefulness in some sense. Some direct or indirect leads resulting from the session would be even better. So here are my suggestions, based on my many hours of enjoyment and probably an equal amount of suffering at these events.
- The procurement audience is not really interested in the history of your business (unless it is REALLY fascinating), how many factories or offices you have around the world (particularly if you are speaking to managers who only operate in one city), or even the detail of your latest financial results. We will check out those things if and when we start to work with you.
- So keep the general background on the firm brief – when it was founded, approximately how big it is, what you do. Two minutes. The same applies to you personally. Two or three sentences about your background is enough. I’ve seen speakers spend half of their valuable time giving background that I guarantee no-one in the audience cares about.
- The audience does understand that you are there to promote your own firm, so don’t feel shy about doing so. But there are ways of making that interesting for the audience. Detailed product / service descriptions are rarely a good use of time. Similarly, actual demos (of software for instance) often lose much of the audience and can easily go wrong. A few screen shots can be useful though. If you have an exhibition stand at the event, you can offer to show delegates the product there.
- Think of the presentation in a similar way to the wider sales process. What is the problem or issue that the target audience is facing, and how does your offering help to solve that? Describe the issue, put it in context, explain why it matters, then outline how you can help. A little bit of looking to the future can be included and adds interest – “our new product, out later this year, will do this even better…”
- Don’t be afraid of making direct comparisons with your competition – but be honest of course. Even if a procurement executive sees the need, they will be wondering why they should buy your product and not someone else’s. Don’t criticise the competition too directly, but feel free to say, “our product does this and this which no other competitor can provide”. And there is nothing wrong with saying “we also have the lowest cost product on the market” if that is one of your selling points!
- If you work with many organisations on the buy side, you have an overview that each buyer may not have individually. That puts you in a good position to talk about broader issues, or the best practice you have observed, or provide “war stories” about positive or indeed negative things you have seen. Often, speakers only get into this when it comes to the questions, but that broader view can bring insight to the audience during the presentation.
- Surveys, reports and similar that your organisation has done or contributed to can provide interesting content – but be careful of the “so what” factor. The number of times I’ve heard a speaker saying “43% of procurement directors say they don’t have the right technology…” Well yes, but so what? Check that anything of that nature is relevant to your message and genuinely interesting to the audience.
- The question and answer session should be key. Debate is good, you can reinforce some of your key points, and even find out if you have interested prospects in the audience. So leave enough time. In a 30-minute session, I suggest 5 minutes for the introduction (you will inevitably start 2 or 3 minutes late), 15 minutes of core content and 10 minutes for Q&A. Have a question you can put to the audience in case no-one volunteers – “I mentioned the issues with managing stakeholders in the health service – has anyone found a good way of involving senior clinicians in these decisions”?
- Humour is fine if you can pull it off, but obviously be careful! Getting some involvement or reaction from for the audience early on is another tactic which increases participation and focus (personally, I find it also relaxes me as a speaker). If you don’t have a joke (a mildly amusing remark about something in the news can often work), maybe ask a question just to get some early engagement, relevant to your topic of course. “How many people here have sustainability as a key objective this year”?
- Do a timed run through (even if it means talking to yourself on the train on the way to the event) to check the timing. There is nothing more frustrating than a speaker who says, “I’ve only got a few slides, I’ll speak for 10 minutes then we can have a good discussion” and then waffles on for half an hour. Running out of time is amateurish and speaks of a lack or regard for the audience.
- Any slide that is on the screen for less than a minute or so is usually worthless (unless it is a clever, quick visual joke or something similar!) Equally, a slide with so much content packed onto it – words, charts, tables, diagrams – that no-one beyond the first row can read it is a waste of time too. If you have anything of a complex nature that you really want to communicate, put it on a hand-out. It is a personal thing, but I would tend to use between 8 and 10 slides for a 15-minute session. Trying to fit 30 slides into 15 minutes rarely works well. Not using slides is fine too, but you need to be a really good and confident speaker to pull that off.
- Presenting does not come easy for everyone. But do try and bring some energy and enthusiasm to the session. You are in effect entertaining the audience as well as imparting something useful. If you look or sound like you don’t want to be here with us, or it is clear that you haven’t put much effort into the session, why should the audience bother listening or engaging?
If you have thought clearly about your session, prepared and rehearsed well, you will feel better and more confident. And that means the audience will have a better experience too. Good luck!