The Wrong Question: PowerPoint or Whiteboard?

Whiteboard PowerPoint PresentationsA question I frequently hear raised in sales forums is whether a person should use PowerPoint or a whiteboard for their presentation.

I would like to suggest a different question, as asking which tool to use places inappropriate focus on the tool.

Lesson from the Woodworker

Imagine approaching a skilled woodworker and asking him, “which tool should I use, a hammer or a saw?” His response would be quite predictable…”What are you trying to build?” Depending on your answer, he may suggest one, both or neither. The key, of course, rests upon what you are trying to ‘build.’ So a better question is, “What are you trying to build?”

The Presentation Trap

Let’s look at a common scenario. A prospect or customer asks you to come and deliver a presentation to their team. We won’t get into it in this post as to why this might be a yellow flag, if not a red flag. For this example, let’s assume it is appropriate for you to meet with their team to present.

The prospect, knowingly or unknowingly, predetermined your communication to be a “presentation.” As a result, you are enticed to look through the lens of “presentation” and subsequently question whether you should use PowerPoint or a whiteboard. If this sounds familiar, you have fallen into the presentation trap.

TIP: When asked to do a presentation, don’t be hemmed into the same format your competitors will use. Ask the prospect if by “presentation,” (s)he means the ‘tool’ you should use (e.g., PowerPoint) or instead, means to effectively achieve the mutually predetermined outcomes in a way that will resonate with the audience. The question alone, begins to set a refreshing contrast between you and the competition.

Reps can get so excited by the opportunity to ‘present’ that what gets emphasized is the presentation, subsequently compromising your opportunity to present the case for change.

Common Mistakes

As a result, sales reps invited to do presentations will often prepare by addressing three areas – The audience, the message and the presentation. The three areas aren’t the problem, but rather the focus within those areas and the amount of time given to each is generally the bigger problem. For example, reps I encounter across a variety of industries often place inappropriate focus and time to each area:

  • 60% on Presentation: Building/designing the presentation, provided the same message isn’t used for everyone
  • 30% on Message: What’s intended to be communicated (e.g., Info about your company, product, solution)
  • 10% on Audience: Identification of audience members (e.g., Who will attend and what is their title/role?)

While the percentages are merely illustrative, not recommendations, I often see even lower time given to the audience with much greater time given to designing presentations.

Change the Focus

Instead of focusing mostly on the presentation and tool, and the least time on your audience, change your focus and amount of time spent in each area. Consider something more along the lines of the following:

  • 60% on Audience: While knowing titles/roles is necessary, it is not the goal. Know your audience well enough that even with a mixed audience of finance, operations, sales and marketers, you can tailor and speak specifically to the problems they face from their respective areas.
  • 30% on Message: The message should clearly demonstrate that the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. The proposal for change should ultimately lead to the areas your organization is uniquely able to solve.
  • 10% on Presentation: Shift your focus from building presentations to building a case for change (i.e., The message). The presentation of your message should heighten the case for change. If the tool doesn’t do so, don’t use it.

Important to note is that if you have not created a core message* that demonstrates the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change that generally addresses the problems of the industries you work with, the percentage of time spent goes up greatly for the message the first time you create that. This is not only appropriate to spend more time here, but is critical to your success.

*By ‘core message,’ I mean that given the industry you work in and the common issues those within your industry struggle with are at the core of the industry. The representative ‘30%’ indicated above is therefore, referring to the amount of time it will take to tailor your core message into a specific message for your prospect, given the audience and unique problems they face.

In Summary

Don’t think and act like your competitors. When they hear “presentation,” they think ‘tool’ or ‘output’ (i.e., What do I want to present and in what format?). Instead, when you hear “presentation,” you think about the unique problems each of your audience members are facing from their respective areas, and ask, “What will be the most effective way to build the case for change that will lead directly, and exclusively back to my solution?”

Upcoming Posts on Presentations

Over the next two days, we will take an unconventional look at the unintended consequences of using PowerPoint and whiteboards for presentations. For quick reads on each, see the posts here:

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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