Tony Compton, Managing Director
You’ve heard a lot about stress tests in the last five or six years, especially around banks and financial institutions. It’s a result of the last recession. In the United States, the federal government and its regulatory agencies have placed numerous institutions under scrutiny, simulating extreme market conditions to see how well a financial organization would hold up under pressure.
On a similar note, I’ve been watching a television show called Bar Rescue starring bar and nightlife consultant Jon Taffer. Each week, Mr. Taffer visits a bar that’s failing and attempts to quickly turn it around. Usually the establishment is a bar that also serves food. Sometimes they have entertainment. But if they’re on the show, the establishment is failing in nearly every aspect of their business. Each episode follows this format: Mr. Taffer observes the bar in question, passionately delivers his assessment to the bar owners and their employees, then goes to work to turn around said bar. Part of the assessment is a stress test. Mr. Taffer packs the bar with thirsty and hungry customers. Bartenders are swamped. Cooks scramble. Orders pile up. Many go unfulfilled. Frustrated customers walk. The stress test continues until Mr. Taffer sees enough and throws in the towel. Once the test is called off, the bar is closed (temporarily) and the real work of introducing new processes and supporting technologies jump starts the forthcoming turnaround. The transformation process is not always pleasant a sight, but Mr. Taffer gets results. I enjoy watching the show.
All of this talk and TV about stress tests got me thinking about the application of the same technique to two critical areas of your sales and marketing efforts. Specifically around presentations. Only two areas to start, but I’ll be pleasantly surprised if members of your team could pass either one.
The (All-too-Common) Presentation Comfort Zone
What a nice feeling it is. You’re a product manager supporting a software suite, and you have to deliver a presentation at the upcoming annual customer conference at Big Resort and Casino, USA. Your presentation is earmarked to give the state of the world with your products, share the exciting features and benefits of your new versions, and unveil the one-to-three-to-five year roadmap. You may even add a short demo and a nice case study for additional flavor. You get to travel to the meeting, make rounds at the event, deliver your presentation, and go home. The beauty of it is that you know you’ll only have sedate attendees in your session. Few ask questions, expectations are low, and as long as you go through the motions you can get in and out without anybody wondering whether it was worth it to send you to the show in the first place. Unfortunately, the preparation for this given customer session matches the expectations. Very little. (That’s just one scenario, but it’s the one I’m thinking of while writing this post.)
Introducing the Presentation Stress Test
Now, let’s shake things up with a presentation stress test. (You’ll quickly discern that this stress test can be applied to anybody about to deliver a presentation, not just our friends in product management.)
Start by scheduling a test run for your next corporate presenter weeks ahead of their scheduled presentation. Find a meeting room and book the necessary amount of time. Ask your presenter to be ready to rehearse the presentation. Slides, props, supporting materials…the works. Then book the marketing and sales people that will be in attendance for that same session. Tell them that they will be on hand to mingle with the audience to uncover leads and identify opportunities.
Then tell the presenter, marketers, and sales people nothing else.
Behind the scenes, book enough people to pack the room for the rehearsal. 25, 50, 100, whatever it takes to surprisingly fill it to capacity with unfamiliar faces. Ask this audience to come prepared with questions, comments, and follow-up for sales and marketing. Ask your faux audience to come prepared with the desire to know how to get more information about the company and its software products, where to go for such information, what number to dial if interested in buying, which social media channels to visit, and what to expect in the next steps of the sales and marketing process. Keep in mind that the people you place in the fake audience don’t have to be employees pretending to be customers. You could treat friends and family to a catered lunch, ask partner company employees for a few hours, or even hire actors for a few bucks to play extras in your corporate show.
On the day of…
When the presenter shows up to rehearse, surprise!
When the marketers show up for the (perceived) easy-hour rehearsal, surprise!
When the sales team shows up for the same exercise, surprise!
Now you have an audience. A real, live, engaged audience.
But wait, there’s more to this presentation stress test!
Minutes before the rehearsal, confiscate equipment. Simulate a power outage, or a computer failure. Pretend the light bulb on the overheard burnt out. But whatever you do, force the presenter to lead the session without technical support. Markers, white boards, and flip charts, are okay. See how creative your presenter can be. See how well everybody pulls together as a team.
Tensions will mount. Tempers may flare.
Remember, it’s a presentation stress test.
Make sure cooler heads prevail but go ahead, add you’re own creative ingredients to this concoction.
By now you’ve picked up on where I’m headed with this. The presentation stress test is designed to throw curve balls at your presenters to see how well they’re able to deliver their material without the fall back comfort zones of slides, complacent audiences, and absent marketing managers. They’re also designed to put marketers and sales people to task to see how well they can work a session room to produce tangible outcomes. Are they interacting with attendees? Gathering data and competitive intelligence? Is there a pipeline process that’s supported? And do the customer-facing teams speak with one voice?
Improved Presentation Performance, and Session Outcomes
The presentation stress test is designed to improve sales, marketing, and presentation performance, and its relative outcomes. It’s not designed to embarrass, single out, or humiliate anybody or any team of people. It’s a tool (by design) that puts people to the test in an extreme situation, but it’s also a tool that will bring out the best in your colleagues.
Top performers will love the challenge.
All who participate will benefit from the presentation stress test experience.
Evaluation forms are a must.
But it’s important to have leaders who can guide the experience, and measure and share the results.
Most will want to ride the ride a second or third time.
I can’t wait to let you know what I’m thinking about with other marketing stress tests, especially in the area of conferences, corporate events, and trade shows.
Can you guess what I’m thinking about for those areas?