Call And Presentation Reluctance

By Michael Rega

Publication: The Advisor

Most SH&E professionals have overcome much of their fear of public speaking (either naturally or through hard work) because standing up in front of groups to conduct training is an essential part of the job. However, consultants face a unique form of public speaking in the form of client calls, which is an entirely different animal. If this particular type of speaking is one of your largest fears, you have chosen an interesting way to make a living. Are you sure you do not want to go back to the corporate world? Just kidding, of course, but there is this thing called “presentation reluctance” (linked to inherent fear of speaking in public) that you must deal with.

What do you do when you must:

  • Face a complaint from your biggest customer?
  • Raise prices?
  • Make a presentation to a peer group?
  • Make a cold call?

Be honest for a minute.You may well have set yourself a regular task of calling a certain number of contacts a week to discuss new opportunities. Have you ever sat down to make one of these calls, cursed under your breath at how much you hate doing it and fired up solitaire on the computer instead? Justification comes like a warm blanket on a chilly night as we convince ourselves the contact would not sign up for any new services anyway. Guess what, you are normal! This process is not about being an uninspired sales rep. It is about being a normal human being filled with trepidation about another rejection-filled sales call. Can anyone blame you for not wanting to be beaten over the head again? Of course not.


If you are feeling sorry for yourself because you get nervous on a call, think about people in other occupations who experience call reluctance. Most of the real pros get it-entertainers, speakers and athletes. Just about everyone who must speak or perform before a stranger or a group of people gets stage fright in some form. Call reluctance manifests itself in a variety of ways. Some are destructive and some are healthy, including sweaty palms; shaky voice; cotton mouth; stomach butterflies; mental blank; heart pounding; exhaustion; and not showing up.

Woody Allen said, “Half the battle in life is just showing up.” This is not far from the truth in some areas, particularly in sales. If you have experienced any of the listed tension reactions, you are normal. It is human. In fact, if you do not get some degree of call or presentation reluctance, your presentation probably will not be an exceptionally good one. Individuals who do not experience any anxiety or reluctance are unable to use the natural energy created by these nerves and are often indifferent or seemingly unconcerned about the presentation.

Maynard Garfield, the father of persuasive communication, used to say we all make four presentations. First, the one composed; second, the one rehearsed on the way to the meeting; third, the one actually delivered; and fourth, the great one delivered on the way home. The more you recognize and address these fears, the closer you will come to delivering the fourth speech on the third occasion.


As the human race progressed through the centuries, it no longer needed to concern itself with daily survival from predatory enemies. These natural defense mechanisms have extended to broader situations. As we achieve and constantly aspire, the job has replaced the hunt; the family unit replaces the tribe; the debate or chess match the individual combat. In our strictly ruled society, we aspire for prestige, status and recognition. An important presentation before a group or person puts us in the spotlight. If we do a poor job, we can be embarrassed, lose face or look bad in front of our peers. A new type of fear has emerged-social fear.

With new fears, our bodies are still basically the way they have been for centuries. Therefore, when we are in a position of danger, even if it is social danger, our bodies prepare for battle in the same manner as our cave-dwelling ancestors.We begin to perspire, our hearts pound and sometimes we get so shaky we have trouble speaking distinctly. It is during those first few seconds when the tension is within us that we are most vulnerable. Somehow, it always seems when a sales call starts out poorly, it gets worse as it goes along. We are like a hot water heater with the pressure building up. While we are at our physical and mental peak, we must release some of the pressure, blow off some steam, relieve some tension and calm down a little so we can be effective. Unlike athletes who can exercise and jump around before the game, we must find more socially acceptable techniques for lessening the tension.


Over the years, the Ecliptic Consulting Group has had opportunities to share experiences with thousands of salespeople. The following list of techniques can be used to control call and presentation reluctance.

  1. Isometrics. This is any type of static physical exercise that creates physical tension. Pulling up on the bottom of a chair, pushing against a wall, squeezing the hands together tightly are common examples.
  2. Deep breathing. This is a great tension reliever in increments of three or four. If you continue, you may hyperventilate, pass out and blow the whole deal. The best way to do this is in through your nose until your lungs can hold no more air. Then out through your mouth with your tongue curled onto the back of the roof of your mouth.
  3. Lectern holding. This is contrary to most ideas concerning public speaking. Some public speakers squeeze or try to lift the podium for the first minute to drain off some tension, then let go.
  4. Trigger phrase. The trigger phrase is having the first sentence or two clearly fixed in your mind. This is based on the principle that once you begin the interview, you will generally do well. Knowing what you will say and having a positive attitude will contribute to creating a good first impression.You have a right to be there.
  5. Positive mental attitude. This is simply positive self-talk before the presentation. Rehearsing and feeling confident about your product, yourself and your ability to communicate can accomplish positive mental attitude. Visualize a successful outcome, have a clear goal in mind and be prepared.

When you are acting as a salesperson, it is normal to be nervous. Remind yourself that although you may be tense, you may be the fifth salesperson (of products or services) calling on the prospect that day. Therefore, you may not get the reception you are hoping for. It is not personal. You are in competition for the prospect’s time with every other salesperson trying to get attention. Make the most of it.


Professionals in all lines of work, such as doctors, athletes, entertainers and salespeople, always try to improve their particular skill through practice. If you want something to shine, polish it. Consultants must continually polish and practice their skills as well. Take every opportunity to practice your communication skills. If you need general improvement in public speaking, join Toastmasters or speak in front of church groups or local clubs. For more specific practice with sales presentation skills, try role playing with colleagues or friends-even practicing in front of a mirror can greatly improve your presentation. Success can be yours with all the excitement, prestige, status and money that go with it. The value of success far exceeds the painful cost of call reluctance.