How many times have you found yourself the victim of a sales call?
If 'victim' is too strong a word, then how about 'hostage'? Or maybe merely 'prisoner'? If you've ever been forced to sit through a sales presentation that has you asking yourself, above all, "when will this end?" — then you know what I'm talking about. And one sure way you know you're likely going to be in trouble is when the salesperson walks into your office carrying a laptop. You see the computer bag, and your first thought is of your brother-in-law walking up your drive with suitcase in hand.
Why do we feel like prisoners during the 'dynamic' discourse that accompanies the flying words and paragraphs describing how life just can't go on without our buying this super new product or service? Because for the most part, the slides that make up the sales presentation are not designed to enhance your experience — they're designed to walk the salesperson through his spiel. In fact, the slides are often designed by the salesperson's manager as a way to ensure she will cover all the features that management deem essential to the sale.
PowerPoint does a great job of providing the memory-challenged salesperson with a structured way to remember everything he's supposed to convey to the prospect, but usually at the cost of the prospect's attention — or worse, his consciousness. And although its probably true that in many cases the prospect has been know to say 'yes' just to avoid having to sit through one more slide, the track record for most laptop sales presentations is not good. The negative experience of feeling prisoner to the 100+ slide deck more often counteracts any of the benefits that the sales-centric set of slides tries to show.
These days, PowerPoint is consistently called upon to perform tasks for which it was never designed. PowerPoint 1.0 was launched in April 1987, a Macintosh-only product that allowed non-programmers to put together simple black-and-white overheads without the need for a corporate graphics department. Dennis Austin, a software developer who was one of the originators of "Presenter," the program that would soon become PowerPoint, recalls finding an old business plan from that time describing the concept behind the new software. One phrase read, "Allows the content-originator to control the presentation."
Later that same year the originators sold the program to Microsoft for cash and stock.
Modern business would never be the same. Immediately, business presenters who had little or no background in design fundamentals were now able to do what thousands of recently empowered “desktop” publishers could do: produce very technically competent garbage.
The software improved over time, and new products made by competing companies offered increasingly sophisticated and sometimes useful enhancements. Eventually, it became apparent to some that instead of simply designing ever more impressive overheads, what this new genre was really all about was its ability to be a means to itself — that the computer was no longer the design machine, the computer was the presentation!
With each new version of computer-based presentation software we would find new ways to dazzle and impress ourselves with words and pictures in the dynamic environment of an LCD screen or projected image. By the time the first Windows95 version came out, Microsoft was touting on the box cover that the software was “For everyone who can’t wait to get a good idea across.” Were they suggesting that instead of taking the time to create good content, we should just use screeching brakes?
And somewhere along the way, the notion that the visuals were supposed to be about the audience, rather than the presenter, was swept away by the breeze of the flying text. By far the majority of the slides that our customers send us for review are crafted to be useful for keeping the presenter on track, period. When we asked a food-processing client of ours if they believed it was really necessary to list all 18 ingredients that went into their new vegetable soup concentrate on this one slide, they replied, "Well, probably not — but it’s the only way our salespeople can remember them"!
To know whether or not any given slide in your presentation deserves to be there, you have to be able to defend each of them like a junk-yard dog lawyer. And to do that, you must be able to make the case that without the slide, the customer's experience would be lessened.
For example: If you were designing a presentation to sell people on a seven-day Caribbean cruise, you probably would include a slide that listed all the features of the trip. The slide would likely have a set of bullet points like this:
• Spacious, luxury accommodations on-board
• Dine each night to dramatic ocean sunsets
• Visit over 7 exciting ports-of-call
• Day-stops at sunny pristine island beaches
• Free rum drinks and on-board dancing nightly
Your list would serve you well to remember to tell your prospects about all these great reasons to reserve their stateroom now, but what do they do to enhance the audience experience? Actually, a slide like this is totally indefensible.
What your prospects need more is a way to visualize what the trip is all about, and for that you need just that — visuals. So instead of one slide for you, you need at least five slides for them: One with a full-screen picture of their room, one of a happy couple enjoying dinner on the evening deck, and others with great shots of the ports, the beaches, and the nighttime parties. All these images should be good enough to need very little explanatory verbiage from you.
Next presentation, make sure you can defend every slide, every graph, and yes, every bullet point like your life depended on it. Because your sale does.