Start sales presentations successfully: How to guide

Start your sales presentation so you get lift off!

Start sales presentations successfully: How to guide - Get lift off like a bird

In 30 seconds:

Start your sales presentation standing. Sitting indicates you are in a meeting. A sales presentation is not a meeting!

Being funny shows you are relaxed and confident. But if it goes wrong your sales presentation will bomb. Do not start by trying to be funny.

Great starts to a sales presentation begin with a great problem. Start with the problem. 

Starts the sales presentation with one of 7 hooks if you need to get attention.

Start sales presentations badly and you kiss goodbye to a deal. Start them well and things will fly.

Because the start of a sales presentation sets the tone for everything else, it must be great. No excuses.

This point applies to sales presentations in any sector. I currently gives sales presentations in security technology. But I have given them in energy, retail, food and finance and it is always the same. A strong start to a sales presentation is crucial.

Why read this article?

I have tried different sales presentation starts, and many have failed. Because I screwed-up I got:

  • Hot black coffee poured into my lap.
  • Escorted off site by security.
  • Shouted at by a large scary men.

From these mistakes I have learnt the right way to start a presentation. I share these lessons at top business schools, companies and online.

You cannot afford to screw-up the start of your sales presentation. Read on.

The Scene

Imagine this: You and your team enter a large room with lots of seats and a conference table in the centre. After pleasantries are exchanged your future customer says ‘please begin your sales presentation’.

It is show time! What next?

To stand or not to stand, that is the question…

Starting a sales presentation while sitting:

  • Feels comfortable.
  • Feels natural.
  • Invites questions and interaction.

This is a problem.

You should not feel comfortable, natural or invite questions. Because this is the format for a meeting. A sales presentation is not a meeting.

A meeting is an exchange of ideas between two or more parties. However, a sales presentation is one party trying to get another party to agree to their ideas.

Sit to start your sales presentation and you tell your customer it is a meeting.

Sales presentations are not meetings

Start a sales presentation sat down and your audience will:

  • Respect you less.
  • Ask uninvited questions.

To present is a test of nerves and preparation. Therefore, it deserves recognition and respect. You deserve ‘the floor’ during a sales presentation.

Sales presentations deserve respect

Do not let your customer ask questions

After the sales presentation you can invite questions and hold a ‘meeting’. However, if a customer asks questions at the start of a sales presentation:

  • You lose track of the presentation.
  • Someone will find a rabbit hole and spend 10 mins talking about a minor point.
  • Your flow is lost.

Sales presentations should be a beautiful performance to highlight your value.

sales presentation are performances. No one should interrupt a performing artist.

Stand to start a sales presentation

Stand to start a sales presentation and your customer will be quiet. Because when one stands and others sit, we are reminded of the:

  • Theatre
  • Classroom

This tells the customer someone with authority is about to speak.

Also, the customer has a small hope the person standing will entertain them, like in the theatre!

Stand to start sales presentation, then what?

What you say and when you say it forms the structure of your sales presentation.

Do say…

Do say ‘thank you’ to the those in attendance. For example:

‘Thank you Peter, Jo, Kim and Miral for inviting me along today and making time for me and my team’.

Do not say..

Do not say ‘I promise to make this time as painless as possible’.

This is self-deprecating. Therefore, it instantly devalues the start of your sales presentation. Also, it is predictable and usually means a boring presentation is about to unfold.

Are you funny?

I am a funny guy. But not everyone thinks I am, can you believe that? Therefore, I do not try and be funny in a sales presentation.

The TV series ‘The Office‘, won comedy awards. But less than 5% of people watched it.

Being funny at the start of a sales presentation is risky. Because if your joke falls flat you will struggle to recover. It will look like you do not know your customer.

Even comics have warm-up acts to help relax their customers / audience. Therefore, the start of a sales presentation should not include humour.

Do not start by talking about your company

Start a sales presentation by talking about your company and you will switch off your customer.

Your customer is not ready to hear about you. Because your customer wants to know you know them.

Show you know your customer by talking about their problem.

What happens if you go on a first date and straight away you talk about how great you are?

There is a time talk about how great you are. But the start of a sales presentation is not that time.

The one exception to this rule

The only exception to this rule is if your customer is unfamiliar with you. In this case, you need to establish credibility. Therefore, you can talk about your ‘social proof’.

How social proof helps start a sales presentation

Social proof establishes credibility by showing others approve of you.

Because people are risk averse, they like to de-risk purchase decisions by buying that which other people have already approved. This implies their purchase decision is not the exception. We humans love other people’s approval.

Apple and BMW do not need social proof

Apple and BMW do not need to start a sales presentation by showing social proof. Because we see other people driving BMWs or using Apple phones all the time. We know these big brands have other people’s approval.

But if your customer is not familiar with you then you may start a sales presentation with social proof.

How to show social proof?

Social proof is shown in lots of ways. For example:

  • # of customers
  • # of subscribers
  • Revenue
  • Recommendations or testimonials
  • Pre-orders/letters of intent
  • Partners (e.g. accelerators, universities, companies)
  • Government contracts or grants

Do not make social proof a big thing

Start the sales presentation with social proof but then quickly move on.

No more than 30 seconds should be spent on social proof.

Establish other people approve of you then quickly move on to start the sales presentation.

Start a sales presentation by talking about the customer problem

The start of the presentation is all about the customer problem. Only after you have proven you truly know their problem do you talk about yourself.

Bond, James Bond, starts with the problem

If you look at movies or novels you will see they start with the problem. For example, James Bond has problems called villains. The villain is the problem, and the solution is James Bond. For instance:

  • Goldfinger
  • Blofeld
  • Jaws

Because the villain is brilliantly wicked and vicious we remember them. All great James Bond movies have great villains.

Get to the true customer problem

Get to know the customer problem and you stand a good chance of winning the deal. However, do not expect this to be easy. The true customer problem is not always obvious.

Where to find the true customer problem

People do not tell you their true problems right away. For example, when you first meet someone, you talk about socially acceptable problems. You do not talk about those problems that really bother you.

For instance, you might mention travel problems. But you do not start by talking about your partner problems. Because it takes time and trust to talk about your true problems.

Explicit and Implicit customer problems

Look for two types of problems:

  • Explicit
  • Implicit

Explicit problems are known. Therefore, you find these on the web, in publications etc.

However, implicit problems are usually private and only shared with a few people. Sometimes they are given away without the customer intending it. For example, on the way to the lift.

The world’s richest man knows the customer problem – he has empathy

In the article Jeff Bezos’ 5 tips to grow your security company I highlight how the Amazon founder has a ‘customer gene’.

Bezos has tremendous empathy. This gives him a brilliant insight into the customer problem. Empathy is a super power!


Careful how you tell someone they have a problem!

No one likes to be told they have a problem, even if they know it. Security guards escorted me off site because I got this part of the sales presentation wrong. Because of this experience I learnt the best way to tell someone they have a problem is by first, looking back in time.

Start at the beginning – The problem in the past

Begin the sales presentation by describing the customer problem in the past. Not only does this provide context but also it means you tell the customer something they already know. As a result, the customer will agree with us.

Of course, we want the customer to agree with everything we say. Therefore, tell them something we know they will agree with at the start of the presentation. As a result, they are more likely to agree with us later on (check out consistency theory if you want to know more).

The present problem

After we have described the problem in the past, we describe how the problem impacts our customer today. It is important the past logically leads to the problem today.

For example, ‘in the past coal has been an important power source for our homes. But over time it has become clear coal’s carbon emissions contribute to global warming. Because of the world’s commitment to zero carbon emissions, today coal is no longer the power source of choice.’

The future problem

Describing the problem in the future is a great way to elevate your presentation above others. Because it is easy to do and gives your customer a feeling that you have a vision of the future.

Describe what the problem looks like in 5 – 10 years should it go untreated. For example, ‘if we continue to invest in coal as we have done then it will be responsible for 30% of the planet’s carbon emissions by 2030. As a result, we will miss our carbon emissions targets’.

Talking about the future elevates your presentation. Not only because few people think to mention it but also because it gives you an opportunity to declare your vision.


Every start of a sales presentation needs a vision of the future. 
Start sales presentation with past, present, future problem timeline


People like people with vision

Anyone that has a vision of the future is attractive to others. Because as humans we dislike uncertainty. People that provide a sense of the future are appealing, even if we do not agree with them.

Predictions are difficult, particularly about the future… Niels Bohr

Niels Bohr, the Nobel Prize winning physicist knew no one knows the future. Therefore, it gives us all a great opportunity to claim it. Do not be scared of articulating the future. 

How to start a sales pitch presentation for Tesla

In the following video I explain the past, present and future structure to pitch a Tesla car.

Check out how quickly I talk at the start. This is not how to start a sales pitch presentation. I have given this talk hundreds of times but this was the first time I delivered it to the kids.

You never know how you will react to your audience. I once gave a sales presentation to heads of the emergency services. I froze for a second and shivered when I looked out and saw a room full police, fire and ambulance people!

The important thing is not to abandon your sales presentation. You can recover!


The end of the beginning

“This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end but it is perhaps the end of the beginning” Winston Churchill

After you have described the problem in the past, present and future then you declare you have the solution to the problem. You show how your solution works and move into the rest of the sales presentation.

Take a look at this live sales presentation

In this video I analyse Richard Yu from Huawei. I say three things I love and three things I hate about his live sales presentation of the new P20 and P20 Pro phones.

At the end I highlight how his sales pitch presentation would be stronger if the problem came before the solution.

Tip: 6 Words to help you start the sales presentation

If you are struggling with what to say at the very start of a sales presentation then use an exposition.

An exposition is background information that sets a scene in a story or narrative. For example, you might open your presentation by talking about the problem in the past, explaining these six factors:

  • Where
  • When
  • Who
  • How
  • Why
  • What

(In no particular order)

Example of an exposition

For example, 100 years ago [when] an old woman [who] lived in the woods [where].  He used a large axe [how] to chop wood [what] for the local village [why].

Lets apply this method to start a presentation for green energy. For instance: 50 years ago [when] 30% of all electricity in the developed world [where] came from burning coal [what]. Homeowners [who] used coal to heat their homes [why] by lighting fires [how]. However, little was known about the harm this did the planet…..

This is a super solid way to start a sales presentation. It orientates your audience and gives GPS coordinates for the brain.

Did you know…

Two thousand years ago great Greek speakers used the same trick to start a sales presentation. They used an exposition and time: the past, present and future to sell their ideas.  This trick’s is called ’deliberative rhetoric’.

Use time to show your view of the future is true because of what happened in the past. For example, politicians want to sell their future policies. Therefore, they start by pointing to what happened in the past to support their idea about the future.

For instance, a democratic politician may want to sell the idea of democracy. Therefore, they may say it is the best political system around, just look at the past failure of communism.

How to deliver the start of your sales presentation

How you deliver the words at the start of your sales presentation is important. For instance, if you open by talking too slowly your customer may fall asleep. But if you start too quickly they may not understand a word you say.

Show and tell

You may have heard the expression ‘show and tell’.

  • Show we care about our customer problem in the way we deliver our words.
  • Tell our customer we understand their problem.

Start sales presentations by showing you care about the customer problem

The start of the sales presentation must be easy to understand. Therefore, deliver your first words with a tone that is slow and calm. This is called the ‘commander tone’.

The commander tone

The commander tone should sound like the commander of a military troop delivering instruction. You are calm and speak at less than 150 words per minute.

For example:

Apply the commander tone to the problem in the past and present.

This is followed by the enthusiast tone.

The enthusiast tone

The enthusiast is excited. Therefore, speak more quickly, up to 250 words per minute. Speak with a sense of urgency.

For example

Apply this tone to the problem in the future. Because we are trying to warn our customer of something bad that is about to happen. In this case we need to convey a sense of urgency.

7 Hooks to start a sales presentation

It is 2pm on a Wednesday. Your customer has seen four sales presentations already. They have eaten a ton of crisps and sandwiches. Therefore, they are sleepy and tetchy. How do you start the sales presentation in a way that gets their attention?

Here are seven hooks to get your customer’s attention at the start of a sales presentation.

1. Metaphor

Start a sales presentation for a dating app with a metaphor:

Mother Teresa once said “If you want a love message to be heard, it has got to be sent out. To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.”

2. Description

Start a presentation for a new power source with a description:

It is smaller than a child’s fingernail yet stronger than graphene.

3. Story

How to start a sales pitch presentation with a story for educational technology:

When I was 11 years old my grades were predicted too all be ‘D’s. I changed teacher and met Mrs Childs. Within 5 years I had achieved straight ‘A’s. I want to give the world access to their very own Mrs Childs.

4. Quotation

How to start a sales presentation with a quotation:

Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.

5. Strong statement

Start a sales presentation for health with a strong statement:

1 in 10 of you will in this room will die from this unless we act now. 

6. Interesting question

How to start a sales presentation with an interesting question:

Why is it that in western countries poor white boys have the worst life outcomes?

7. Statistic

How to start a sales pitch presentation for clean energy with a statistic:

70% of you in this room have already bought my product, you just don’t know it.

How to start a sales presentation: Conclusion

The start of a sales presentation is often an anxious time. Things never go as you plan. But nonetheless you must plan and prepare.

The start of your sales presentation is more likely to fly if you remember:

  • Stand
  • Do not try to be funny
  • Structure your content to start with the customer problem
  • If your customer is inattentive start your presentation with a hook

Finally, if the start of a sales presentation does not go to plan, do not give up. People love people that try!