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PowerPoint Torture

It Doesn't Have to be Agony

What is it about PowerPoint?* It's a brilliant tool, but it seems to bring out the worst in all of us. We change our voice into a droning monotone and present our case with an enthusiasm that would make the Bourne films about as exciting a 1975 Open University lecture. On pencils. Is it any wonder that death by PowerPoint has become such a widely recognised cliché?

So why are you doing the same? Here are a few of the horrors that we need to join together in stamping out...

Let's get started   toggle button

No, I mean it; let's get started, not let's preface the whole thing with a bloody agenda!

At this point someone always pipes up "I was always told to tell 'em what I was going to tell 'em, tell 'em, then tell 'em what I've told 'em".

Great. I was always told that Santa didn't visit bad children, but I grew out of that too. Let go. An agenda makes your presentation look very long. There's also a danger of giving away the punchline before you've told the joke. Worse still, the bits that interest your audience tend to be right at the end. You might as well say, "I'm going to rabbit on about boring stuff now, so try to wake up when I get to point seven."

Here's a better agenda:

  • Tell 'em what you're going to do for 'em
  • Prove that you can do it for 'em
  • Call 'em to action

Pretty short isn't it? So you don't need to put it on screen. So don't

It's all about me   toggle button

Not long back I started a presentation seminar with "Before I get started, let me tell you something about my company". I then went on to say that I started the company in 1922. No response. Even my kids don't think I look that old. When I got to "In 1968, we received a Queen's Award for research into atmospheric fish", someone in the front row finally focused and said, "Hang on a minute...". Up to that point, they hadn't heard a word.

Now tell me it's a good idea to start your presentation by talking about your company.

Who just said, "Yes, but people want to know who they're dealing with"? Was that you? It was, wasn't it?

You're going to hate this: They don't want to know who they're dealing with, because they're not dealing with you. Frankly my dear, they don't give a stuff.

I refer to my shortened agenda above. Start with what you can do for them, then prove you can do it. If they need to be convinced further they'll say, "Can you tell us a bit about your company?". Now tell them all that good stuff and they'll actually listen.

It's only logical   toggle button

Beware logic.

Mr Spock

If everyone reacted logically, you'd win every sales pitch you make. And Jedward would be stacking shelves. But you don't, and they aren't.

Your biggest competitor is always inaction. Your proposition may be what they need, but they don't want it enough to go to the trouble of buying it. People buy when they want, not when they need. Most of us accept that we need life assurance, but we want Sky+. So where does your sixty quid a month go?

Your sales proposition is no different. You've got to make them want your solution personally, not just establish a corporate case. Remember that you're face to face with your prospect; there's no need to be general. What pushes the buttons of the person you're talking to? It might be cynical view, but years of experience have taught me that the prime drivers for most corporate executives are:

  • Freedom from blame
  • A minimum of distractions - They're already too busy
  • A safe chance to shine

Call me a cynic if you like, but tell me I'm wrong. Appeal to these wants and you're in a much stronger position than you would be by identifying their needs.

So think about your proposition differently. Instead of thinking "They're an energy supplier, so I'll use my utility company slide deck", try "I'll be talking to the Sales Director, the Marketing Manager and the Purchasing Manager; what's likely to make each of those people tick?"

Logic might beat the pants off your market competitors, but it loses out to your biggest competitor: just doing nothing. Think back over the prospects you've failed to turn into business. How many of them did you lose to your competitors? And how many just ended up not doing anything?

See what I mean?

You weren't supposed to see that   toggle button

PowerPoint startup screen

Here's an easy one. When you're getting ready to start your presentation, don't show your audience your desktop, your Documents folder and the PowerPoint loading screen. OK, that's a lovely photo of little Tarquin eating a Curly Wurly on his potty, and they probably didn't notice the folder with the name of their biggest competitor, but is this really the image you want to present?

I've actually been at multi-million pound conferences and seen a presenter plug his laptop in, stand there embarrassed for five minutes while it booted up, then search most of his hard drive for his presentation. The screen was live the whole time, and the audience was highly amused by some of the filenames in his Downloads folder.

If you can, always get everything cued up before you get anywhere near your audience. If not, at least switch off the projector display or turn the screen to face you. The first thing the audience see should be your title screen.

Think about saving your presentation as a PowerPoint Show (.ppsx). You can still edit it in PowerPoint, but double-clicking the file takes you straight into presentation view, without revealing your full slide deck to the audience.

* I'm using Powerpoint here as a catch-all term for any presentation program. But whether you're using Keynote, Google Slides or good old Harvard Graphics (remember?), the results are often depressingly similar. Whatever you want to call it, don't blame the tools!

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