During challenging economic times, buyers look for value. The more value you provide, the more likely you are to become the provider of choice.

Presentations offer you excellent opportunities to provide that value at different stages of the sales cycle. Here are five ways to create more value in your presentations.

1. Solve a problem instead of peddling programs

People know when they're being sold to, and it makes them uncomfortable.

Prospects invest their time in attending or listening to a presentation because they believe it will benefit them in some way. They don't attend to hear a thinly veiled sales presentation. Violating those expectations by promising one thing and delivering another constitutes a bait and switch that quickly turns prospects off.

Prove to them they've made a wise investment by making your focus education, and you'll find a more receptive audience. When you can solve a problem or remove some pain, you're positioned as a resource instead of a vendor.

The problem you address should resonate with the audience's experience. That means some analysis is required as you prepare the presentation.

What are some of the questions your target market asks most often? What are the three biggest challenges they regularly face in their businesses? What are the top mistakes people in similar situations make?

When you have the opportunity to survey the audience in advance, you can further customize your message. Use an online survey tool such as Zoomerang or SurveyMonkey.com to find what issues are of greatest concern.

Incorporate the research in your presentation with a statement such as "More than 65% of you reported that your greatest concern  during the current economic climate is retaining your customer base." Your solution to the problem should be immediately actionable.

2. Provide value-based marketing materials

The typical presenter hands out colorful brochures, slick flyers, and glossy postcards about the presenter and the services offered. Those materials provide no value to the audience. Even when taken out of courtesy, they're usually quickly disposed of.

Instead, distribute whitepapers, special reports, checklists, and tips booklets. They serve as resources the audience will use and keep. They also provide top-of-mind awareness after the presentation.

One of the pieces I circulate includes a four-page resource guide on creating and using visuals. It contains step-by-step instructions on how to create effective visuals, examples of different types of charts, and an article on how to avoid the most-common errors with PowerPoint presentations. I've seen it in clients' offices five years after they received it.

You add value through such collaterals when the information helps the audience save money, increase their available time, or perform a task more efficiently.

3. Get your presentation accredited to count for continuing-education units

Many professional organizations require continuing education to maintain professional designations. Partner with one of them to develop a presentation or course that meets those requirements.

Doing so provides value to the organization's members and increases your demand as a speaker. Conduct some research to determine which courses are mandatory and which are electives. Focus on the former so your course-development efforts provide information people must have.

Most organizations require a certain number of professional-education hours annually, so you can develop ongoing repeat business.

4. Offer a complimentary initial consultation for attendees

If people aren't willing to hire you yet but will take the next step, an initial consultation can serve several useful purposes.

First, it's an added benefit from attending the presentation. You'll be giving audience members another reason to see they're getting a good return on their time investment.

Second, it provides an opportunity for each of you to explore the other's approach, working style, and personality. You can probably determine in that initial conversation whether you can work together productively.

Third, it gives prospects the opportunity to "try before they buy." It can increase their comfort level in hiring you and move them further along the sales process. Limit the offer to the first 10 respondents. That way you can set boundaries for yourself and increase the sense of urgency.

Don't worry about "giving too much away." Prospects will recognize your generosity, and you'll build a relationship based on trust.

5. Partner with noncompeting professionals who serve your target market to create an educational seminar

For example, an attorney and an accountant might co-produce a seminar for small-business owners on "10 Strategies to Collect Accounts Receivable in Tough Economic Times." A business broker and a banker might organize a seminar on "Five Essentials You Must Know Before You Buy a Business."

Such cooperation allows you to share expenses, combine the power of your individual lists, and leverage different perspectives on the same topic. You'll need to agree on the desired outcomes and to make sure the project is mutually beneficial.

* * *

You'll have to invest some time to incorporate those benefits into your presentations. It will require some thoughtful audience analysis, creativity in designing materials, and determined follow-through with accrediting agencies and partners. But the return on that investment can be significant.

When you add value to your presentations, you pull business in from, rather than pushing it on, prospects.

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Joseph Sommerville, PhD (sommerville@peakcp.com) is president of Peak Communication Performance (www.peakcp.com) and author of Rainmaking Presentations: How To Grow Your Business by Leveraging Your Expertise, the first chapter of which is available at www.rainmakingpresentations.com.