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A company spent a lot of money pulling their small sales force (about 20-30 people) out of the field for a meeting at headquarters. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce the company’s new products in advance of a users’ conference.

The agency I worked for at the time had helped produce the day-long meeting, but the executives preferred to handle their presentations on their own. Busy as they were preparing for the customer event, the executives–including the VP of Sales and the VP of Marketing–hadn’t spent much time preparing their presentations for the sales force.

And, boy, did it show!

I sat in the back and watched as the management team ad-libbed their way through each speech. The presentations were unorganized, the PowerPoint slides were sloppy, and the executives often contradicted each other. At one point, the VP of marketing, while discussing the new products being rolled out, said, “If you don’t like the names of the products, well, blame Dave [VP of sales]; he came up with the names.”

I was in the room when that happened. I watched the faces of the sales force. They were looking at each other as if to say, “What the hell kind of Mickey Mouse organization do we work for???”

Instead of the strong and cohesive management team they thought they worked for, the sales force got a very different impression of their corporate overlords. Not only did that impression NOT fill them with confidence about the company’s longevity in the marketplace, it made them question their loyalty to their employer.

Fast forward a few years to another company, which was also rolling out new products. This company had also spent a lot of money pulling their sales force out of the field for a meeting at headquarters in advance of a customer meeting. These executives were just as busy with their regular jobs, but they understood the importance of the meeting: If their salespeople weren’t impressed with the new products, they would not put much effort into selling them.

I was brought in to help the executives write their speeches. But I didn’t just ask each one what they wanted to talk about. I made sure I understood what messages they wanted to convey. I actually rearranged the order of speakers from what they had originally intended. It just made sense from a communications strategy.

When the executives spoke to the sales force, they had a coordinated message. The president of the company talked about the big picture. The VP of manufacturing talked about the details of the new products The VP of marketing talked about the marketing in place to support the sales force. The VP of sales talked about the incentives that would be available to the sales force. Each executive spoke for about 30 minutes.

Three very simple rules of thumb can help your company get the best bang for its corporate meeting buck:

  1. Carefully consider the message you want to deliver, especially when the audience consists of your employees and/or channel partners.
  2. When it comes to multi-speaker functions, coordinate the presentations to create a logical flow of information from one speaker to the next and to avoid any hint of contradiction among speakers.
  3. Develop your presentation long before you plan to give it and rehearse it several times. Never, ever, ever just wing it.

Have you or your colleagues made any presentation faux pas? Share your favorite stories by emailing me at