In the military academies, seniors preparing for their oral exams use two key processes for preparation and improvement called Murder Board and Hot Washes. These processes will increase your sales effectiveness by huge multiples if you include them in your sales process.

Murder Board. The Murder Board is a committee of selected peers and teachers who prepare a student for oral exams by posing anticipated questions to the student and then provide critique of the answers. This same process is now used by politicians who are preparing for debates and I hope you will use it for preparing for key presentations.

To get the full value of this process, you need a few things:

  • Really smart people.This means that you are going to use people who are knowledgeable about your own business, your industry, your competitors and the prospect.
  • Enough time.The Murder Board process will take twice as long as the presentation itself, and then some. To be successful, you will need to go through the presentation from start to finish without sidebar interruptions. Then there is the aggressive Q & A from your Murder Board that is designed to challenge you and help you shape your presentation as well as your answers.
  • Your full pitch team. You need to have the people who are going to be doing the pitch, all of them. I have seen the absence of just one person during the Murder Board then create a dynamic in the presentation that was damaging.


You are doing this process with the intention to sharpen yourself and your team up to your razor level to deliver a fantastic presentation. To get the most out of your Murder Board, follow this framework:

  • Assign the voices.You probably know the people to whom you will be pitching. For this reason, assign those people’s perspective and personas to members of your Murder Board. This can be funny, but that’s not the point. The real issue is that you want finance questions from the finance guy, technical questions from the tech person, and so on. This also allows your Murder Board participants to be more focused in their listening and challenges.
  • Bucket the questions. You need to get the questions into context. It is not helpful to your cause if there are just random questions. Although that may be representative of the anticipated meeting, in rehearsal it is more helpful in developing a consistent and coherent answer if you have grouped the questions. I recommend the inclusion of these categories of questions, but you should feel free to add and edit your categories:
  • Compare and Contrast.Questions asked for you to speak about your company in relationship to the other competitors.
  • Why?Examples include: “Why should we hire your company?” and “Why did you choose to use that technology?” These are intentionally challenging because the implication is that another option is better or one that the prospect prefers. That may not be the case, but the question does challenge your approach.
  • Implementation.These are nuts and bolts questions around working together. Who?, How?, When? and Using what process? Are all examples of the structure of these types of questions.
  • Blind spots.A good Murder Board member will be looking for those areas that are under represented or missing in your proposal or presentation. These need to be declared in the preparation so that special attention can be paid to them.
  • Your known vulnerabilities. When you have done a few presentations, you will become very familiar with the areas in your business that are weak. It may be your size, your technology, your financial strength or other concerns. These are your weak spots. Your strategy is to craft airtight answers in these areas and rehearse them. This is a particularly great use of your Murder Board in the preparation process.


  • Shoot for three.On the key areas, Murder Board members need to push 3 questions deep on that area. The follow up questions are more important than the initial questions. Your prospect will dig, so your Murder Board needs to dig.
  • Record the session. Don’t trust your notes or your memory. Great things come out of these sessions and you want to make certain to get it all. An audio recording is fine – the equipment is cheap. Better yet is a video recording if you can make one. The technology is not as important as the ability to review the answers, capturing the best ones and improving the weak ones.

I recommend that you do the Murder Board exercise within 48-72 hours of your presentation. This gives enough time to practice and revise without so much time that you second-guess and forget.

Hot Washes. After the exams, students either reconvene their Murder Boards or use other advisers and mentors to do a thorough review of the exam. This is to make certain that the lessons are learned. Again, this approach is now used for politicians so that they can improve from one debate or presentation to the next.

This process is a review seeking to identify 2-5 key lessons for the future. In doing a hot wash, the process should be relatively quick and surgical in its approach. Here is the way that conversation should be structured:

  • What parts of the process worked.A presentation starts at the lobby and ends when you get in the car after it is over. There is a process in the middle- from how we enter the room, where we sit, how we present, who presents in what order, how we handle questions and answers and so on. Without focusing on the content, as the questions about the process and score each of the steps as to its successfulness.
  • What content worked.You need to capture the language, the content and the tools used that the presenting team or person felt worked. Focus on this question in the dialogue, “What behavior did you see from the prospect that made you feel it worked?”
  • Which relationships worked.Often times there is a connection made between people in the session. Possibly it is because of a shared background in education or where we grew up. It could be because of well-received answer to a question. Whatever the cause, relationships are forming and possibly improving in the presentation. Name them.
  • Reverse field.Now cover the three areas above in reverse- what didn’t work. Be honest and get it out on the table.
  • What will we change.Focus on the 2-3 important things that you will structurally change in your approach. You may decide that a particular picture is too dark for the PowerPoint- but that’s no we are really talking about here. You are looking for the more important things that will make a difference in all of your presentations going forward.
  • What will we do exactly the same. No easy ones and no more than 2-3 ideas. We are looking for the high-leverage things that we did in this presentation that we want to make a part of our permanent arsenal.


I use Murder Boards and Hot Washes to this day with sales teams I am coaching on their biggest deals. They increase confidence and force learning for real improvement.

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