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How do I communicate in a way that is credible and assertive but that I can still be myself?

I recently read surgeon and journalist Atul Gawande’s bestseller “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.” It’s about the amazing power of simple checklists. For example, a five-step checklist saved 1,500 lives and $200 million by reducing infections in Michigan hospitals.

The first step on that checklist was that the doctor must remember to wash his or her hands.

That got me to thinking about putting together a checklist for winning new business presentations.

Checkpoint 1:
Before the presentation, speak to the client.

I worked with an architecture firm that was shortlisted for the chance to design a corporate headquarters. They had no idea of the motivation behind the project. I told them that without more information about the client’s needs, you have almost no chance of winning.

Checkpoint 2:
Present solutions only.

If it doesn’t bear on your plans to solve the client’s problems, dump it. If you’re selling accounting software, talk only about how you’re going to help the prospect’s finance team save time and money.

When you introduce the team, don’t tell where everyone went to school. How does someone’s attendance at Harvard help your client save money? Instead, talk about how each team member will help the prospects accounting challenges.

Will your firm’s fascinating history help solve the client’s problem? No? Then dump it. No one cares.

Checkpoint 3:
Start by articulating the Client’s business problem.

First words out of your mouth? How about “We understand that the key challenge you’re going to face in this matter is how to limit liability while at the same time training your existing employees how to comply with current law.” Don’t know what their key challenge is? Either see “Checkpoint 1” or save everyone’s time and stay home.

Checkpoint 4:
Limit your message to a few key points.

Leonard DaVinci said “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Limit your message to three points and you seem both sophisticated and easy to work with. You might say, “We’re going to talk about three things today:

  • Saving you money
  • Saving you time
  • Increasing your revenues

You want people leaving the presentation thinking, “Wow, they were easy to understand.”

Checkpoint 5:
Tell success stories.

One of the easiest ways to build credibility for a solution is to tell how the solution has worked elsewhere. “We worked with ACME corporation on the same challenge and we were able to save them $1 million a year in costs.”

Checkpoint 6:
Create a list of 50 questions.

Fumble just one question and you’re toast. So be prepared. I recently worked with a construction firm as they prepared a pitch for a large hospital construction job. I urged them to send an email to their entire firm asking for suggested questions. They received 150 questions from their team members. On presentation day, they were ready.

Of course, you need to practice answering the questions.

Checkpoint 7:

I asked a program manager who watches dozens of presentations what he thinks separates one firm from another in a competitive pitch. “One easy separator is practice. It’s easy to tell who has practiced and who hasn’t.”

Use this seven-step checklist and you’ll win more presentations.

Joey Asher

Joey AsherJoey Asher has worked with thousands of business people helping them learn how to communicate in a way that connects with clients. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations” is available now. He is also the author three previous books including “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”, “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.”