Tailoring Presentation Techniques to Your Client

A Pattern of Good Habits Will Ensure a Close Fit Every Time.

Effective communication with the audience is the goal of every presentation. But with the overwhelming amount of technology at our disposal to create electronic and printed presentations, this goal is sometimes lost between the 18th bullet point and the 25th color slide.
Effective presenters use color, graphics, and electronic resources to increase audience attention and retention—not to show off technological talent and equipment. None of the bells and whistles of the latest presentation software or hardware can replace planning, solid research, and practice when it comes to making presentations.

Know Your Audience
Presentations vary: large-group presentations such as those made to executives in corporate boardrooms tend to be formal, simply because there is less opportunity for one-on-one contact with each member of the group. Small-group situations of two or three people may be more informal, especially if they take place in the more relaxed atmosphere of a client's office or around a conference table.

But whether you present to an audience of 300, 10 in a boardroom, or two in a private office, your foremost consideration is knowing your audience. Effective presentations are built around audience needs. This—more than anything—determines the content of your presentation and how you deliver it.

Knowledge of your audience also is the key to customizing your presentation to fit your audience. Each situation has a right style, and you should use the specifics of that situation to determine the degree of formality, the size of the presentation team, and the amount and content of information. And don't forget possible cultural customs that should be followed, particularly if you are presenting to a foreign or multinational corporation.

But before tailoring a presentation to a specific audience, you should establish a pattern of the following good habits to ensure a solid, seamless fit every time.

Phone First
Presentations made on assumptions rarely are successful. To best serve potential clients, you need to understand what their problems are and what they expect in terms of your assistance.

Before a presentation, you should always interview clients, either by phone or in person, to establish the needs and the goals of the presentation and the appropriate venue and format. Appropriate venue is important because it may control the equipment you bring or have available to you.

Often you'll find yourself responding to a request for proposals (RFP), in which case your questions will be directed back to the RFP for the company's desired needs and goals. Many companies are trained not to respond to questions to eliminate favoritism by personal response.

Researching the Presentation
During your pre-presentation interview, determine what is relevant to the assignment in terms of information: Owner's cost of capital? Plant inefficiencies? Distance from resources? Fit with an investment portfolio?

The questions you ask will vary according to the assignment, but be sure to delve deep enough into the specifics so you can provide solid answers to your audience's concerns.

Become aware of private individuals you are presenting to in as many ways as possible, including business history, family history, and previous transactions.

To start, obtain a copy of a company's 10-K or 10-Q public statement either from the company directly, your stockbroker, or the company's Internet site. It is amazing how much financial and site location information can be obtained from careful analysis of these corporate statements.

A company's annual 10-K public information disclosure of its financial condition (assuming it is a public company) is a way for the company to promote itself to the public and to stockholders. It gives the company's corporate mission statement and goals. It also usually includes a listing of all key personnel with short biographies, addresses of company facilities, and real estate owned or leased by the company. Sometimes disposition plans or regional expansion plans are noted in the 10-K as well.

A 10-Q statement, the quarterly update required by the Securities and Exchange Commission, notes any and all financial changes, such as acquisitions, dispositions, debt restructuring, and earnings.

Show Your Role
Often, presenters build their presentations around their own companies and the agents or consultants who will be involved. However, a corporate real estate executive who issues an invitation to present generally knows enough about your company to consider it qualified for the assignment or project.

Therefore, spending a lot of presentation time on who you are is wasting an opportunity. What your corporate audience really wants to know is how you are going to execute the business and deliver results.

Don't overlook the critical issue of how you are going to interface with company executives and keep them informed as the assignment progresses. Although they are outsourcing real estate functions to you or your company, they still must report on your activities to a chief financial officer (CFO) or other corporate officers.

Demonstrate your reporting process to them using examples of monthly reporting forms and status reports. Show real estate executives exactly how you are going to meet their needs.

The Presentation Team
Give a lot of thought to the preparation of the presentation team. Don't overpower the client with a team that is too large or that will greatly outnumber the audience unless it seems necessary.

Regardless of the team's size, every member should have a well-defined, preassigned function. For instance, who will answer questions in specific areas? Who will make different parts of the presentation? Will one person do all of the formal portion? These are issues to work out in advance.

Practice Makes Perfect
Smooth and effective presentations—even informal ones—will need to be rehearsed. Presenters do not want to appear wooden or scripted, nor do they want to stumble, talk over one another, and look around the table to see who will answer a client's question.

Rehearsals solve both problems. The more familiar you are with the material, the more comfortable you—and your team members—will feel making the presentation, lessening the chance for mishaps.

In addition, the more structured a presentation, the better the presenter can coordinate its flow, integrating the necessary printed material, graphics, and other visuals with the actual vocal presentation. Even informal presentations need to follow a format to ensure communicating all of the necessary information in the allotted amount of time.

In the big presentation, you will only get one shot. This is not the time or place to wing it based on knowledge and expertise. Certainly, that knowledge and expertise are necessary for a presentation, but so is organization, preparation, and practice.

Controlling the Physical Aspects
To the greatest extent possible, exercise control over the physical setup of the presentation, but subtly, as part of your preparation. If you arrive early to set up equipment, use the opportunity to position the seating of the audience and the presentation team. Avoid, if possible, the we-and-they seating on opposite sides of the table.

Place key individuals in a position to most easily observe screens, flip charts, and the interaction around the room or table. The presenter's position also is important both for watching what is going on and controlling the electronic presentation. A relatively inexpensive infrared remote mouse that controls your laptop from across the room can be a big help in this situation.

The presenter is the person to whom most of the questions will be directed, but not necessarily the person who is the best-prepared or the most appropriate to answer every question. Think about seating arrangements with regard to making transitions from one team member to another as smoothly as possible.

Customizing Your Approach: Two Examples
The better your research and the better you know the person or persons to whom you are presenting, the more effectively you can tailor your presentation. Take two recent presentations made to Fortune 500 companies that were as different as night and day.

The Boardroom Presentation. In one case, we presented to the director of real estate, the CFO, and the son of the president who was assigned to the real estate department. This was a boardroom presentation environment that called for pulling out all the stops. We clipped the corporate logo and included it in the electronic and print presentation materials, used regional maps obtained from the company's 10-K, and graphically indicated brokerage coverage over the map. Handout pieces augmenting the electronic presentation were used at strategic times during the meeting to break the electronic program and show work product that could not be reproduced in an electronic format. Knowing that the client wanted to see certain experience and work product allowed us to build hard copy examples that met the client's requirements.

In preparation, we called in advance and spoke with the head of office administration to determine the room situation, including the availability of pull-down screens. We chose to rent a high-powered projector so we did not have to dim the lights extensively. We also arranged to set up the equipment in advance.

The Office Presentation. In contrast, in a presentation to another Fortune 500 company, we knew from research that the corporate real estate manager was in a one-person office with administrative support. This manager handled the company's real estate around the world. The meeting was to be in his office at the corporate headquarters.

Since several hundred real estate facilities were handled from this one office, we had less knowledge of how the real estate director handled this task. This presentation included discussion and dialogue with a lot of open-ended questions to draw out information and understand the processes and systems that the director used in fulfilling his needs.

Then, from a folder of prepared color graphics, we selected those that demonstrated how our company could meet the manager's needs. Maps played an important part of that demonstration, as did charts and graphs on company size and geographical coverage.

This approach requires advance preparation of generic information on you or your company that answers questions on capability, experience, training, market coverage, and references.

The main presentation piece used in this latter presentation was a proposal prepared in advance, including the director's name, title, and company name, and showing our capabilities as a buyer's representative. Several outstanding software programs that allow for the easy customization of standard tenant representative or seller representative proposals are worth a hard look by commercial brokers. Some have built-in lease versus own and lease versus lease analysis capabilities.

The "Beauty Contest"
If you are responding to a corporation's RFP—sometimes called a beauty contest, where five to seven companies may be in competition—your response will be somewhat controlled and directed by the RFP. You literally will be answering questions in the format and sequence that the company requires.

But that does not mean that your presentation—whether written, electronic, or both—should not be customized to that company. Generally, you have some time to prepare and respond, which gives you time to do your research and tailor your response to include logos or maps that demonstrate how you can handle the specific assignment.

Organization, preparation, and practice are as important to today's presentations as color charts and LCD screens. Thorough knowledge of your audience and advanced preparation are the needle and thread—the fundamentals that allow you to construct your presentation to fit clients' every size and sew up the deal.

Ryan Lorey, CCIM

Ryan Lorey, CCIM, is a director at Calkain Companies in  Herndon, Va. Contact him at rlorey@calkain.com.