The Problem with PowerPoint Presentations

PowerPoint PresentationThere is an old adage that warns those ‘speaking’ that no learning about, or from, your audience occurs when you are doing the talking.

The premise for this assertion, of course, is that when a person is doing all the talking, they learn no more than what they already know. This makes sense.

But how does this apply to the sales professional in which presentations are a key part of their sales cycle?

We like to poke fun at PowerPoint and those that use it for presentations, as the cartoon above suggests. The aim of this post, however, is not to admonish against the use of the tool, but rather to point out problems sales and business professionals alike, may create for themselves when choosing PowerPoint for meeting with others.

Four Pitfalls of PowerPoint

In my previous post on ‘The Wrong Question: PowerPoint or Whiteboard?,’ I spoke of determining first, what you are trying to build or create as a result of the presentation, then prioritizing your preparation differently for where to focus and how much time to devote to each category. After this has been firmly settled, you can determine which tool — PowerPoint, Whiteboard or other — should be used.

Assuming you have a solid handle on your objective of the presentation, which should be more than a “closed sale,” as that is a byproduct of behaviors, let’s look at a few of the pitfalls or unintended consequences that PowerPoint can create.

  • Pitfall #1: Static vs. Dynamic Content. PowerPoint slides obviously need to be created, designed and prepared in advance of doing the presentations. Problem: If the rep’s presentation includes their solution, they are often doing so prematurely without having ever spoken with most of their audience members. Question: How would you respond, if someone approached you and said, “I know we have never met, but I have a solution for you?”
  • Pitfall #2: Orientation to Screen vs. Status Quo. The rep’s graphic-laden presentation has successfully captured the focus…or at least the place where eyes rest…of your audience. Don’t believe me? Try inserting a blank slide and watch how many people continue to stare at the screen while you speak. Problem: Eyes glued to the screen does not equal engagement. More often it is a conduit for concealed disengagement whereby the audience does not have to confront their biggest issues. Question: Is PowerPoint the most effective way to get your prospect to look at their status quo? Sometimes yes, but more often, not.
  • Pitfall #3: Defending Your Point vs. Their Point. Let’s face it. Once you put something on writing on your PowerPoint, you’re committed. Problem: If you have posed a point of view devoid of understanding how the prospect may counter, you are stuck to either defend your point of view (the typical course of action), or admit that you hadn’t considered their point of view when creating the presentation. Question: Have you created a presentation without knowing the problems your prospect will present?If so, you have no business presenting at all, especially if your solution is included.
  • Pitfall #4: Presentation vs. Conversation. I am currently working with a company who is looking to solve why people don’t go to church anymore. One of their key findings in the declining attendance is due to one-way conversations of pastor to congregation. Important to remember is that talking isn’t necessarily teaching, nor is listening necessarily learning. Problem: Research by the University of Texas found that people will only remember about 10% of what they read or hear, but remember up to 90% of what they experience. Question: Are you creating an experience worth remembering through your PowerPoint presentation?

“Talking isn’t Teaching, and Listening isn’t Learning!”

Tips for Presenting with Repeatable Success

We all can fall victim to ‘presentation bias’ as we tend to concentrate more on what we want to say, than what a prospect needs to hear. If we continue to emphasize the presentation vehicle, then the only reason for prospects to choose one supplier over another comes down to whose presentation was best.

There will always be a better presenter, or a better designed PowerPoint. Therefore, if I am to focus on where to be the best, I would rather focus my energy on helping my prospects get to the center of their own story. This is the place where the prospect sees themselves in a situation that is completely untenable, and realizes that their pain of changing pales in comparison to the pain of staying the same.

When I choose PowerPoint as the vehicle best fit for disrupting how prospects see their own circumstances, I do these three things:

  1. Use presentations to tell ‘A’ story and use conversations to tell ‘their‘ story. The difference between the two is often the difference between what their industry faces, whereas THEIR story focuses on them within their industry.
  2. Use an image [and words, only when necessary] in the presentation to enhance the emotional connection to the story. Heads nod in agreement when the story about their industry is on track. This primes them for leading them to the center of their own story.
  3. Keep the presentation to just a few slides to prepare them for the conversation we are about to have and use the blackout function at key conversational points. I aim for one iconic image to anchor our conversation to, that will allow me to point back to something tangible that will resonate with the prospects in grappling with their own story.

In my next post, I will look at The Problem with Whiteboard Presentations.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

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2 thoughts on “The Problem with PowerPoint Presentations

  1. Anonymous says:

    The challenge I come across time and time again are clients rigidly prescribing the content, structure and sequence of what is presented. This is a re-selling exercise to those who read the proposal/quals and an introduction to those on evaluation panel that weren’t included in evaluation of the initial package that was shortlisted. The presentation is less about having an active conversation and more about re-hashing the proposal/quals, demonstrating personalities, speaking ability, team cohesiveness, etc. I love when adequate time for Q&A is allowed so a conversation can occur and we’re allowed to color outside the lines for the purpose of differentiating ourselves by further strengthening our pre-sell efforts when insights and understanding of the real issues were uncovered.

    • Hi [anonymous] and thanks for your comments.

      You are right in the fact that prospects can often “prescribe content, structure and sequence.” My outcomes were dramatically improved when years ago…through frustration…I changed the rules of how I would do presentations, if at all.

      I didn’t do it cavalierly or arrogantly with prospects, but rather respectfully. I shared in advance that I respected their time, and trusted that they respected mine as well, and therefore, let them know in advance how things would go. By taking control of the process, I found that most the time they would follow my lead. I did occasionally run across prospects, who pressed harder than others for a specific format, as you described above.

      Depending on circumstances, I would often times respectfully decline the offer to participate. This typically led to questions as to why, and baiting questions like, “don’t you want a chance at our business?” This question gave me an open door to reframing how they were going about the decision making process in a manner that was conducive to either one of our businesses. This naturally prompted more questions, and a common outcome of those discussions turned into me presenting something far different than what they prescribed in the first place. As a result, it stood in stark contrast to my competition as well.

      Key to all of this so many years ago was recognizing that I was not the prospect’s prisoner in which they could make all the demands. My challenge to you is to consider that you have more control of the process, presentation, etc. than you think.

      Again, thanks so much for your comments.

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