In the final stage of your presentation, audiences should be led to take an action that improves their situation: to fulfill the outcome you established at the very beginning of the process (see Power Play #1). Sometimes, they’ll do something right then (e.g., register, buy something, give you a purchase order), and sometimes you’ll ask them to do something later (e.g., agree to a demonstration, set up the next meeting). But even when the action is to take place later, you should ask people to make some kind of commitment.
In our presentation training programs, we always ask people to write down what actions they’re going to take with the information they’ve received, to make a few commitments to themselves that will improve their skills, and to share those with us. If you don’t do this or something like it with your audience, all the great work you’ve done in your presentation can be rendered ineffective.
The motivation they had during the presentation might go away. And you’re stuck calling people back, possibly trying to convince them to move forward on your outcome over the phone, with more meetings and an ambiguous outcome, stringing out the process.
Presentations end in one of four ways. The best, obviously, is with audience members agreeing to take the action you’ve designed the presentation to persuade them to take. Or maybe they don’t take that action immediately, but the presentation advances them closer to it, which isn’t so bad, either. The third thing that could happen is that they say they have some interest, but they don’t commit to anything. In this case, they aren’t any closer
to taking action than they were before you arrived. I call this a “continuation,” and it’s the worst of all possibilities, because the chance of them following through on anything is very low, but you usually end up spending many hours of wasted energy chasing after them. Even the fourth alternative, a firm NO, is better than having to follow up endlessly with someone who’s trying to avoid you!
When you sense someone is trying to give you a “continuation” rather than make a decision, see if you can turn that into something else. Ask for some kind of commitment. Rather than leave with them saying they’ll be back to you in a few months, get specific: “What month are you targeting?” If they say July, for example,
you can schedule an appointment on the spot—ask for a specific day and time when you can get together again. Ask if they need any more information between now and then. In other words, ask enough questions so that they can put some skin in the game and that you’re assured they agree, at least in principle, that moving forward is a step in the right direction.