Joe DiMaggio, the baseball immortal, was once asked by a reporter, “Joe, you always seem to play ball with the same intensity. You run out every grounder and race after every fly ball, even in the dog days of August when the Yankees have a big lead in the pennant race and there’s nothing on the line. How do you do it?”

The Yankee Clipper replied, “I always remind myself that there might be someone in the stands who never saw me play before.”


No Room for Evergreens

Like a pro ball player playing out the same moves hundreds of times, you will likely find yourself giving the same business presentation over and over, to hundreds of audiences. This isn’t unique to network marketing; it comes with the territory of professionalism. A salesperson may present a new product to many different groups of customers. A human resources manager may need to explain the new company benefits plan to dozens of small groups of employees. In the financial world, particularly IPO road shows, company officers must make their presentations to many, many different groups of investors. Typically, this requires 60 to 80 pitches over a period of two to three weeks, often six to eight presentations in any given day.

Under these circumstances, it can naturally be difficult to keep your presentation fresh and vital. In part, this is a matter of energy and focus. When you have to make the same points for the third, or tenth, or fiftieth time, it’s hard to feel the same sense of enthusiasm, spontaneity, and excitement as the first time. It’s all too easy to become bored with your presentation and let your attention flag.

However, if you go on autopilot, your presentation comes across as “mailed in,” and your audience feels uninvolved, unmoved, and unconvinced.

The challenge for the professional presenter is to find ways to overcome this sense of tired repetition. The key is to emulate Joe DiMaggio—to treat each and every iteration of your presentation as if no one in your audience has ever seen you present before. To achieve “the illusion of the first time.”

The phrase “the illusion of the first time” comes from the jargon of stage actors, who often have to perform the same role in the same play hundreds of times while conveying to each new audience the sense that every speech and every action is completely spontaneous.

Contrast the theatrical approach to that of the world of journalism.

In journalism, an article that is suitable for running any time, in any edition of a publication, is called an “evergreen.” Evergreen status relegates the content of the article to that of mere filler. Never, ever make your presentation an evergreen. As Shakespeare had Hamlet say, “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.” Create the illusion of the first time, every time.


External Linkages: The Key to Freshness

Here is the key to creating that illusion: modify your presentation for each new audience.

As a business presenter, you enjoy a freedom that stage actors don’t have: You can reshape your script and give every performance a new dose of freshness and spontaneity.

Does this mean you have to change your recurring presentation each time? Not at all. You can customize the core material with the techniques that follow. In fact, you can use these very same techniques to customize a one-time-only presentation as well as every repeating presentation you’ll ever give to every audience you’ll ever meet.

“External linkages” are words, phrases, stories and other materials you can insert throughout your presentation to make it fresh for each and every iteration of every presentation to each and every audience.

Mention specifically, by name, one or more members of your audience. Gather this information in advance by doing research about the companies in your target audience on the web, or by chatting informally with several participants just before your presentation (what is known as “schmoozing”).

Make reference to a person, company or organization related to both you and your audience. Again, collect this information in advance.

Address a question directly to one or more members of your audience. Make the question only about opinions, rather than facts. Your questions are meant to create involvement, not to be a quiz.

Make reference to what is happening today. Find relevant stories on the web or the daily newspaper and work them into your content.

Make references to the venue of your presentation. Cite local companies or businesses.

Make reference to current information such as population or market data that links to and supports your message.

Start your presentation with a slide that includes your audience, the location, and the date.

External linkages comprise but one of many narrative techniques you can use to make your presentations fresh and alive. While they are among the least often implemented of presentation techniques, they provide the biggest bang for the buck. Incorporate them in your presentations and watch your audiences come alive.


JERRY WEISSMAN is a leading corporate presentations
coach and author of
Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story.
His expertise has helped top executives and
management at companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo!, Compaq,
Cisco Systems, Intel, and Intuit.