Why your presentations are missing the mark
Robert Graham: I think that's one of those skills that people don't necessarily think about as a skill, telling stories, right? We all love to listen to stories, we all know people who are great storytellers. What we may not appreciate is the really good business storytellers. Like you're saying, Gina, how much work and pride practice and feedback does go into that.
Devin Reed: This is Reveal, the revenue intelligence podcast, here to help go- to market leaders do one thing, stop guessing.
Sheena Badani: If you're ready to unlock reality and reach your potential then this show is for you. I'm Sheena Badani.
Devin Reed: And I'm Devin Reed, coming to you from the Gong studios. The art of presenting and captivating your audience is more nuanced now that we live in a hybrid world. I'm sure you've found yourself adapting to what works in a virtual environment versus what works in person. And you know that nailing big meetings is a huge part of success in sales. And that's why we have Robert Graham as our guest today, he's a public speaking guru who's also an executive coach. He founded his company, GrahamComm, to coach executives on how to own the room and has made the pivot to coaching virtually as well as in- person speaking skills. Consider this episode your free coaching session with Robert and get ready for some insights that will help you master the art of presentation. Robert, we have a lot of amazing people on Reveal, but not always is it also a good friend, someone I'm real familiar with and get to work with. So, I'm extra excited to have you on the show. Thanks for hanging out with us today.
Robert Graham: I feel the same way, Devin. I was just thinking about not only do I know you both well, I've actually gotten to coach you both and sold to each of you. So, it's a unique dynamic we got going here.
Devin Reed: Absolutely. I don't think, Sheena, anyone else can say they've sold to us, maybe, maybe sold to us, but definitely not coached us. So, that's your unique differentiator. Well, I was going to say, that's why I'm actually excited as well, is because you have coached us and I can say the thing we're talking about today is the exact thing that you coached us on, which is presentation skills. Which I think it's like, maybe it's me, but presentation skills doesn't always sound super interesting, because I think there's so much underneath that phrase that is interesting, that we'll get in to today. But before we do, can you maybe introduce folks to GrahamComm LLC and your role as president? And then we can get into the bulk of the conversation.
Robert Graham: I came from sales, I've been in sales my whole career in a bunch of different industries from health and fitness to, I worked in the sailing industry for a while. I sold international telecom in Costa Rica for a while. At one point, I don't know if I've shared this with you guys, but I sold a kosher beer called Hebrew Beer.
Sheena Badani: Oh.
Robert Graham: The chosen beer, they call it. And I started GrahamComm... While I was in selling, I got involved in Toastmasters. It was just, I wanted to learn the skill around public speaking. And I just got super involved in it, did it for about eight or nine years. And it was during that time that I realized I really wanted to do two things. One, work for myself. And two, I wanted to get into the world of professional development, of training and coaching and speaking. So, I started GrahamComm in 1999 and been doing it for the last 22 years.
Sheena Badani: What an amazing ride and pretty cool industries that you've worked in too. It took me on a little vacation around the world.
Robert Graham: It was pretty varied. I got to live in London for a while in the early'90s actually. Well, late'80s and then early'90s in the health and fitness industry. And it was really early stages there in terms of health and fitness and health clubs. So, I used to have these situations where I would take people for tours around the health club and then we'd come back and I'd try and sell them health club memberships. And it was pretty expensive, this club that I was working at, and people would push back and they'd say," It's 65 pounds a month. That's quite a bit." And I'd say," Well, do you mind if I ask you just a few questions and how much do you spend on ale each month? How much do you spend on cigarettes?" And at the end of the day, it was like, well, there's 200 pounds on that stuff, and 65 here. So, interesting time.
Devin Reed: You said 65 pounds a month and I thought," Wow, that is a lot of weight to lose quickly. Those are great results." Only to realize that is the currency. So, 4: 15 PM my time, shows you where my brain's at. But that's great background, Robert. I think too, going back to what I said about presentation skills, right? So, you've been in sales for years. I've been in sales for a long time. And when Gong hired you to be our presentation coach, and forgive me if that's not the exact right label, I was like," That's cool. That's fine. But I've given hundreds of presentations and I've sold some deals, so how bad can I really be?" And that's when you really revealed, there's so much more to truly being a great presenter. Things like owning the room, being memorable, and then getting tactical, things like hooks and storytelling. And so, that's why I got, again, really excited for this and always love working with you, but maybe just to give us a starting point for our audience, what exactly are sales presentation skills to you and how do they impact conversations that salespeople have every day?
Robert Graham: When I think about sales presentation skills, it's really any part of what we call the sales conversation. So, anything from building rapport to discovery, to the actual presentation, handling objections or uncertainty, closing, it's literally every stage of that process. Plus, just the preparation, knowing how to approach a sales conversation, how to be well prepared for it. A lot of these things we don't think of as skills, something like connecting, building rapport, genuinely building rapport. And yet, there is a process to it. And I'm smiling, because I remember years ago I went to interview this sales just giant, he used to sell for Tony Robbins. And I went there, I met him at his office in San Diego and I was going to interview him and he said," Well, before we do, why don't we go, let's go down the street, grab some lunch, we can build rapport and then we'll come back and do the interview." And I thought," That's such a funny thing to say,'Let's go build rapport.'" And yet, during lunch, we found out that we both love travel and we both love the same sports teams. We found these commonalities, and sure enough, we came back to do the interview and it was so much better than if we had done it before lunch.
Devin Reed: And good credit to him too, for not letting you interview him on an empty stomach. If you're anything like me, might have been a little crankier of an interviewer. So he's like," Hey, if you're hungry, let me make this extra easy for myself."
Robert Graham: Fact. And we went out for delicious Thai food, so that really helped as well.
Sheena Badani: So, you talked about like this one skill within presentation skills, which is building rapport. Why don't you break down the rest of the components of excellent delivery, excellent presentation skills, with that sales context that reps and sellers should be thinking about in their toolkit of presenting?
Robert Graham: When I think about the way we're selling today, and almost all of us are doing what we're doing right now, right? We're virtual. And there's a few things that can give people just an immediate win, without even having to improve their skills or do anything. And so a couple of them are procedurals. One is, is just dialing in your virtual setting. So, if you're working at home, wherever it is, things like camera and mic and lighting, and background and framing, right? These are all part of your prospect's experience when you jump on a call with them, this is all part of their experience of you. And it's just a quick win for people, realizing that we're all going to be doing this for a long time. Even once the pandemic has passed, clearly we're going to be doing a lot more virtual selling than we were doing before. So, it makes sense to spend a little money and get yourself set up well. So, that's one. Another thing I'd mention is making sure that people have their videos on, and this is a strange thing to mention, but so many of the people that we coach, they go into these sales situations where the client, everybody's on mute, everybody has their videos off. And so, they're just speaking into this black hole, they get no feedback, no engagement. And all that data shows that both the seller and the buyer get so much more out of these interactions when everyone's video is on. And so, a couple things we do is when we send out the invitation, we'll say in the invite, we'll say," Look forward to having everyone's video on and fully participate so that we can get the most out of this." And then even once we jump on the call, if some of the people don't have them on, we'll give them a nudge or even phrase it as a question and say," Sheena, should we turn our videos on? We're on Zoom, should we turn them?" And most people will reluctantly say," All right, let's do it." And then we all get more out of it. I was just going to add one more, because neither one of those is actually a skill, and you asked about skills. The other one that I would call out is storytelling. And Devin, you're the master at this, I take notes when you're on the mic, because you do such a great job at this. I think we all know how important it is, as sellers, to use stories, but we don't all do it well. And I'll tell you a story about stories. Just this morning actually, I was pitching, I had a big pitch to one of the biggest defense contractors in the world and they want us to provide sales presentation course to them. And we were talking about stories and they said," Sometimes people come in and they're presenting to us, and we have literally admirals sitting at the table and they'll come in and tell a story about the puppy that they bought over the weekend or something that's just not connecting." So, we all know storytelling is important. It's also important to tell the right kind of story, and in the right way, as a skill.
Sheena Badani: It's so interesting, when you think about presenting in the old days, pre being virtual, there was a concept of being professional, the professionalism and how does that show up? And it was in having your slides that were perfect and your suit and tie and dress, and that was looking sharp, and how you shook somebody's hand. There were all those components, of which many of those have fallen off and they're not even relevant anymore. And others have come into play. And it's how you're setting yourself up on that virtual stage that really demonstrates that professionalism now.
Robert Graham: 100%. And again, I just see it as a quick win, spend 100,$ 150 and really dial in your studio and it will dramatically affect the way you come across to people.
Sheena Badani: There's some of those quick wins, but then there's the other side, like storytelling, for example, which will require years and years of practice and something that you really need to hone and where you can get further development and feedback from others to continuously be better.
Robert Graham: Completely. I think that's one of those skills that people don't necessarily think about as a skill, telling stories, right? We all love to listen to stories. We all know people who are great storytellers. What we may not appreciate is the really good business storytellers, how much work, like you're saying, Sheena, how much work and practice and feedback does go into that.
Devin Reed: It's funny, you mentioned that, Robert, because I used to think that storytelling was like a cocktail party trick. Honestly, yeah, cocktail parties and social gatherings, like yeah, I can be that guy, I can be entertaining, but in the business professional, that's a different type of skill or it's like a hobby now, it's not really like a skill. But having worked with you and other presentations is like, it's really an attention game. Can you grab and keep someone's attention? Because if you can't do that, they're not going to buy. Right? And they're going to zone out. It's like what you're saying, Sheena, is like, when you're in a conference room with me, other than just being blatantly rude and looking at your phone, you're stuck with me. I'm who you got today and you got to give me the 30, 60 minutes. Virtually, it's very easy to be more, I say disrespectful lightly, but looking at my phone while you're talking, because maybe it's under the monitor or under the screen, you can't see it, or my eyes divert to the right for a few seconds at a time, because I'm checking email.
Robert Graham: I'm doing it right now, Devin.
Devin Reed: Yeah. Yeah, probably, I've been monologing. I can't imagine you're paying attention still. But you know what? Your virtual, that's to me the first step, it's not, like you said, Sheena, it's not just how presentable you are or even the deck. It's like, are you presenting it in a way and yourself in a way that's going to grab and keep attention? Because that's the number one thing. And there's so many more distractions in your home office or your living room, wherever folks are working from. So, that's why it seems like small wins and they are, they're small changes that make huge impact on how you perceive and ultimately how your deal's going to go.
Robert Graham: Yeah. I mean, it's so true. And it's funny, when I talk to a prospect and they want to do a presentation training or a sales presentation training, and I always ask," What are you trying to solve for? What are the main skills that you want to work on?" And that is always at the top, Devin, is how to engage. Our people need to be better at engaging and re- engaging throughout the sales presentation. And of course, it's a combination of a bunch of things. It's what you say. It's how you say it. It's your voice. It's your body. It's your pace. It's the lighting. It's everything. But that is such a challenge these days, because like you say, in the conference room, people can at least feign like they're paying attention. They're much better behaved. These days, mm- mm( negative), you got to be... It reminds me of that, who was it? Steve Martin said," You got to be so good, they can't ignore you."?
Devin Reed: Yes. And I'm excited, because I have that quote in my office. I have that quote in my office. It's so good." Be so good that people can't ignore you." Well, here's a question for you, Robert. At Gong, we're really big on game tape, right? Which is watching yourself after a presentation with the desire of getting better. So, I'm curious, in the presentation communications world that you're in, what's your take on game tape?
Robert Graham: As you can imagine, I'm a huge, huge proponent of it. Every presentation course or coaching that we do, we're always recording, not only recording, but then we make people actually watch the recording. That's the tough part. And for me, actually, this came from Toastmasters. This club, I was a member of a club that met in San Francisco, Downtown, every Tuesday morning at 7: 00 AM. It was just insanely painful. I still don't know how I did it for that long, but this is ages ago. We had one of those giant VHS recorders and a big old tripod, and they would record every speech that people gave and then they'd give it to us and we'd go home and we'd watch them. And it was so interesting, because Gong's all about reality and it really highlighted this disparity between what we thought was reality and what actually was happening. So, when you're on stage at Celebrate, you're having your own experience, right? That's your reality, but that's not necessarily the same reality that we have. And so, for example, your heart might be pounding and your palms are sweating, but you go up there and you're so prepared and you're passionate. And so, to us, we have a different take of it. And when you watch the game tape, people get to see objectively how they're actually coming across to the world, which is often, again, different from what they think.
Devin Reed: It's funny, the Celebrate one, I got the recording. I actually got it later that night, because I was so eager to watch it back. And what's always interesting is the things I thought I nailed, I didn't do as good as I thought. And the things that I thought I bombed or stumbled, actually weren't that bad. So, it's always this nice reality check of like, oh, okay, there's definitely some room to improve and things aren't always what they seem. And, Sheena, I know you do a lot of presenting too. I feel like the presentation itself, time is so fast. It feels like everything's moving really, really quickly. And you look at the game tape and you're like," No, it's just normal speed." It's reality in the sake of the speed we're used to. I don't know, Sheena, is that the same for you too?
Sheena Badani: Oh yeah, it's like in a warp zone and time has a different dimension and it goes by so quickly when you're on stage. It's over before you know it and you don't even have that mental capacity to think about... You may have been thinking about 10 different things when you were practicing, your stance and your delivery, and the slides, and the audience. But when it's happening real- time, at least for me, I can't focus on all of those things. It's like, okay, we're just on and we're doing it now.
Robert Graham: It's so true. And it's one of the reasons why we're, as you both know, we're such strong proponents of practice, of doing it over and over, out loud, not memorizing, but just doing it over and over out loud, so that you have that physical experience, that muscle memory, so that you don't have to try and think of everything at once. And what I always notice is that everything is less than you think it is. And I'll tell you what I mean by that. Like, you might come down from the stage or from a presentation or Zoom or whatever, and think," God, that was great. I mean, my energy was up here and I was..." I don't know if it's a pause or eye contact, or whatever it was. And you watch the tape and it's always less. So, your pauses are shorter. Your eye contact is briefer. Your energy is lower. And so it's funny, it's that distortion that happens when you're presenting.
Devin Reed: Robert, when you're coaching folks and they're looking at game tape recordings, what do you have them look out for? Are there three, five, maybe more, maybe less, key things you always look for, for these few attributes?
Robert Graham: First thing I'll say is, it's not easy, and wine helps with watching it.
Devin Reed: There's your first action, right there. Get a little bit of wine, if that's your flavor, and then look at the game film.
Robert Graham: Exactly. Wine, tequila. I will also say that it gets a little bit easier the more you do it. And so, at Gong, you guys are so good about recording everything and analyzing everything and you become desensitized to the potential trauma around it. And it's funny, when people watch their videos for the first time, I call it the vanity viewing, because initially all their reactions and observations are things like," I need to join a gym. I need a haircut. I dress funny." But once you get past that stuff, you can really start to zero in on some of the, yes, the messaging, of course the messaging is important, the verbal, but then there's the nonverbal. And especially if you're doing something like Zoom or video presentations, really be aware of things like framing, facial expressions, right? This is a big one. I tend to have a dour, neutral, bitchy resting face, I'll just say it. And so, I've had to become more aware of that over the years, because when you're on Zoom, everybody's paying attention, even when you're not talking. So, I encourage people, when they get their recordings, do two things. One is, close your eyes and just listen, just listen to the vocal communication. And then do the opposite, turn the volume down, and then just watch. And even fast forward and fast reverse it so that you can see all your gestures and your facial expressions and everything accentuated. And what we have people do is make a list of, what are your opportunities to develop? Those always jump off the screen at people. But also, what are you doing well? What are your strengths that you can really lean into? Are you a great storyteller? Are you a really passionate speaker? Do you have this natural sense of when to pause and let something breathe with people? So, you got to know what your strengths are also.
Sheena Badani: And I think we can sometimes be harsh on ourselves too, where you feel like," Oh, my list of the things I can improve have 50 things on them, and what am I great at? I'm not really sure." So, maybe even pulling in a friend or a colleague or somebody else to help with that assessment, what do you think about that, Robert?
Robert Graham: Boy, that's so true, because almost everybody is way too self critical. And it's funny, I will always... So, we do these multi- day presentation trainings and the homework after the first night or the second night is go home, watch your videos, come back ready to discuss what you liked and what you didn't like. And it's so hard for people to come up with things that they liked, but their colleague will chime in and they'll have a long list of things that people did well. And in the same vein, just back to this concept of practicing, but practicing in front of people, not just your colleagues and your coworkers, but try it in front of your kids or your spouse. If you want some really candid feedback, give that a shot.
Devin Reed: I'm afraid to ask that audience for feedback.
Robert Graham: It's tough. You got to wear your thick skin for that one, Devin.
Devin Reed: There's a good exercise, Rob, I remember you had us do, which was really interesting. And when you put it into terms of like an elevator pitch for sales, but it was me, I think it was Shefa, and Yoni. One of which has an accent. And I'll get to the why I brought that up in a second, but you had us, I think, basically write our intro and then read our intro, all three of us, and do what you just said, which was give a positive piece of feedback and then give something that could have been better. The really interesting part was Shefa speaks really quickly. She does speak quickly and she called that out. And Yoni has a, I would call a medium accent, I can understand it, but he came into it thinking... His concern was," My accent will be too thick." And then they both did their intro. And both of those people thought those were their weaknesses. I put air quotes on weaknesses. But in fact, my compliment was," Shefa, you did a great job pausing. I actually, I thought you did great. And Yoni, your accent is totally fine, man. No one's getting lost in the sauce there." And you could see this relief of," Oh, it's not that bad and they could be strengths in some ways." So, just putting a bit of a pin on that concept of really getting someone else's feedback and giving yourself some benefit of some positive feedback to start this presentation journey, if you will, it was cool to see such early and quick wins for these folks. And now they're fantastic presenters.
Robert Graham: I remember that as well. And one commonality is that people tend to be better than they think they are. And a few of the things, and you called out one of them, a few of the things that people realize when they watch their videos is that number one, they don't look as nervous as they may feel. And that's almost across the board. If you're presenting, and again, your heart's pounding, whatever physiological symptoms you're having, then you watch the video and you're like," People can't even tell." So, that's one. Another one is that things tend to make more sense than you think they're making when you're saying them at the time. Yeah. I don't know if you guys have had this experience, but you're in the middle of a presentation or something and in your head you have those internal thoughts, and in your head you're going," What the hell am I saying? This is making no sense." But if you ever watch them later, it actually, you're like," Yeah, I was putting together coherent sentences." And then the third one is what you called out, Devin, which is that people, a lot of times, if English is not their non- native language, they'll think that accent is a bigger deterrent or a bigger challenge than it actually is. And it's really helpful for people to be able to let go of stuff like that and just say," All right, well that isn't a problem. What do I work on next?"
Devin Reed: Getting your audience's attention is one thing, but the real beast is keeping it, especially when presenting to a virtual audience. A survey revealed that four out of five business professionals tend to tune out from the speaker they're watching at least once during their presentation. Guilty as charged. In a virtual world, distractions are even more prevalent than they were in person. During virtual presentations, focus on how you can use the virtual environment to your advantage. Consider adding a real- time poll or survey to keep your audience engaged, or insert Q& A breakouts to ensure that the focus stays on you and not their email inbox or their phone. Another key piece to keeping your audience's attention is actually knowing who your audience is and what they care about. After you've crafted your presentation, always take time to revisit your content through the eyes of your audience. Think about what they care about most, what they want to get out of your content, and where they'll find the most valuable information. Then you can focus on inserting attention grabbing content in the places where you might lose them. Here's more from Robert about leaning into what you know about your audience.
Sheena Badani: Robert, I'm curious, so for folks in go- to market professions, some of their presentation engagements are going to be with clients. Others are internal. So, for a sales leader, they're presenting to their org, or you need to lead a cross- functional meeting or something of that nature. Are there any nuanced tips or things to consider for those internal sessions, that may not be relevant externally or vice versa?
Robert Graham: Well, I think the first one that comes to mind is you just have a lot more intel to work with if it's an internal presentation. And by that, I mean, this can be around personality. You potentially, hopefully, know the people that you're going to be presenting to. You may know their idiosyncrasies, their quirks. This defense contractor we were presenting to this morning, they told me before the call, we had a pre- call meeting yesterday to prep for today's call. So, I talked with two people yesterday to prep me for the big call with the whole team today, of seven people. And they said," Look, the last two vendors who have come in have crashed and burned. And so, we wanted to have this call with you today to help you be prepared." And I said," Well, tell me, what did they do? How did they crash?" And they said," One of them just came in and they were pitching something that we didn't need. They were pitching basic presentation training, when what we need is something much more sophisticated about how to influence C- level executives." So, they missed the mark on that one. And as soon as they did, the people in the meeting just shut off. They were still there, but not mentally. The second one, they apparently got too cutesy somehow. And again, these are ex- military people who, they have 15 minutes for this meeting. They don't have time for that. So, it's really helpful to... The more intel you can gather, the better your chances are and the easier it is for you to prep.
Devin Reed: The call before the call, as it's called. How about that? But no, it is true, the better you know your audience, the more you can deliver it. And I'm sure we've all been there. Maybe not cutesy, but not quite hitting the key notes early enough, especially when it's a C- level exec, high stakes meeting. I love too that they called you in, because you know whoever called you for that pre- call was like," Hey, it's our job to bring in this vendor, and our first two that we brought in didn't make us look very good." And that's an angle you can use as a seller is like," Hey, how do I make you look good in this meeting? If you're bringing me to your boss, what's going to make you look good?" And that's a great way to open up, what do they like? What do they dislike? What has worked in the past? What hasn't? And then, you can build your strategy around that.
Robert Graham: So true. And the more specific examples you can get from them, like," Tell me what happened. Tell me, what are the landmines here? What are the blind spots? What should I look out for? What's the culture like? That intel is so useful.
Sheena Badani: So, Robert, we ask all of our guests one question, it's the same question. And I know you've listened to some episodes, so you may know what it is, which is, how would you describe sales in one word?
Robert Graham: Preparation.
Devin Reed: Do you have any ways that you prepare, that maybe we didn't talk about today, maybe part of your playbook, maybe how you prepared for this podcast interview?
Robert Graham: Well, funny enough, I'm glad you brought that up. It may not show, but I did actually prepare quite a bit for this. And your team, initially, we had an initial call and then you sent me the questions. And then for each question, I thought through what points, topics I might want to cover for each of those. And then before we turned on the camera this afternoon, I did a run through out loud, answering each of these questions, just walking through what I planned to say for each one. And then when the camera was rolling, the questions were a different order and the whole thing flowed, but I had basically been through this conversation with you guys already. So, it felt very familiar.
Devin Reed: One thing I would do for sales presentations was go through what you said, but obviously I'm the one asking the questions and I would go," Where could this go sideways? What question could they hate? What question could they go,'Yeah, but...' And go a different direction?" And obviously that could create a whole mess of what ifs. But I've found, just like you said, walk through, well, what if they do turn the question back on me or this and the other? You don't get caught on your heels quite so much. You know what I mean? You roll with that conversation, because nothing tougher than being, like you said, maybe it was some admirable... Admirables. Admirals, or some C- level execs, and get caught on your heels. And before you know it, you're on the ropes trying to get back on your feet.
Robert Graham: Yeah. And then you start sweating and your brain stops working and then you're done.
Devin Reed: Well, Robert, thanks again for hanging out with us. Lots of great nuggets for folks to take home and hopefully put into use later today, or tomorrow, if you're listening to this at night. So, thank you again, Robert. Always a pleasure.
Sheena Badani: Thank you.
Robert Graham: Great having a conversation with you two.
Devin Reed: If you're ready to own the room on your next sales call, or if you want to improve your sales team's virtual selling abilities, head over to gong. io for more resources and check out how revenue intelligence can help you. And if you liked today's episode, go ahead and give us a five star review on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever it is you're listening.
Robert Graham is a guru of the art of the presentation. As a coach to hundreds of executives and sales professionals, he shares decades-worth of knowledge that will help you become a better presenter, communicator, and seller.
In his conversation with Devin and Sheena, Robert talks about the importance of keeping your camera on (even when you don’t want to), why storytelling is a skill you need in your toolkit, and why you’re probably better at presenting than you think you are.
[5:35-6:57] - Building rapport with who you're presenting to
[11:56-14:40] - The importance of storytelling
[17:53-18:51] - Practicing, not memorizing