cold openings

The only thing worse than having a bad habit is not realizing you have one. You can’t change what you don’t recognize.

I’m 100% certain that one of these bad habits cost my company a great deal in terms of lost opportunities. After becoming aware of it, I noticed too that this is a habit shared by many business presenters.

It’s what I call the “Cold Opening.”Perhaps you can identify with what it sounds like:

“Thanks for the opportunity to meet with you today. I’d like to start out by telling you a little about our company.We’ve been in business since 1992 and have more than quadrupled sales since after introducing the first…..”

Here’s another version:

“I’m really excited to be here today. And I can’t wait to show you how our product will do for you what it has done for companies like ABC inc, Newco, and many others. The reason we have become the most preferred product n our category is because we …….”

This approach to opening a meeting is something I wouldn’t have questioned any more than I would question how to breathe. It was part of my muscle memory and an approach that I had long relied upon.

My heads-up moment came at an inopportune time and one that is particularly embarrassing given my background in brand marketing. It was right after finishing a critical credentials presentation.

I began the presentation by introducing our agency’s capabilities, our strategic approach, and our client roster. At that point, I passed the baton onto the next person who provided relevant case histories. After all, this is what our prospective client had asked for in their RFP.

At the conclusion of our presentation, the CEO, who was texting most of the meeting, looked up to say, “Thanks for coming in. I don’t mean to be rude, but I really need to get to my next meeting.” His entourage followed him out of the room after giving us forced smiles and restrained “thank-you’s.”

“How could they dismiss us like that?” I thought. “Given all the experience and success we’ve had in this category – what went wrong?”

When we returned to our offices, I began to take a hard look at what we had done to cause such a turn-off. And then, as if wanting to come out of hiding to hit me over the head, I saw the problem: In effect, we were like the 400 lb. doctor talking about how successful he is at getting patients to lose weight. We had presented example after example of how we successfully created advertising that engendered an emotional connection with customers, yet when it came to presenting ourselves, we relied solely on cold, hard facts. Our performance was like a spec sheet put to slides.

Clearly, we needed to change our approach. Our case histories were on target. However, we had to do something different during those all-important first-impression moments that would be more effective than fact-spewing. “We have some significant accomplishments,” I thought. “But there’s got to be a better way to serve them up so that our audiences become more emotionally engaged. ”

The vehicle we decided upon was a story. Not a “3 guys walk into a bar,” kind of story. Nor am I referring to your basic “once upon a time”tale. No, we needed a particular kind of story – one that would show, not just tell, prospects who we are and why we exist.

And so, what we developed was a story that started by identifying a growing problem faced by all advertisers in general. Specifically, we talked about how distrust in advertising has been increasing as customer reviews and other forms of non-commercial information were becoming more accessible over the internet.

Seeing this as a problem lead to our moment of insight. We went on to say that it had become painfully obvious that consumers want more than a self-interested portrayal of boastful advertising claims. What they now want is a greater understanding of what the brands they buy stand for. Advertising’s role has changed. In addition to selling a point-of-difference, advertising now has to sell its point-of-view, a point-of-view consisting of human values and beliefs that resonate with targeted consumers. Our story concluded by showing how this new-found purpose was being demonstrated through our work.

That was our story. Yours will undoubtedly be different. But as we could readily see in future meetings, this approach was far more engaging than the “cold opening” that once started our sales presentations. Instead of staring at cell phones, we began to notice that meeting attendees were sitting forward in their seats, fully attending everything we had to say. Add to this, we started seeing more head nodding and active participation.

There can never be any guarantees when it comes to giving a sales pitch. However be assured that there’s more opportunity than risk when you can connect with your audience through a meaningful story that provides evidence of what you do, as a function of why you do it.