My definition of “Sales”:

The ability of an individual to convey his or her thoughts in a clear and orderly manner such that an audience can understand and follow what is being said.

Sales is an extremely important skill. I only discovered the importance and the power of sales after I graduated from college. In my first few years working in advertising I witnessed thousands of sales presentations. You might be thinking that “thousands” sounds like an exaggeration and in some ways you’re right. The number of formal sales presentations I saw numbered closer to a few hundred, but sales is not something that is limited to formal sales meetings, or even to salespeople. I’ve seen sales meetings take place between media buyers and advertisers, I’ve seen “sales” occur between colleagues debating what should go into a presentation, I’ve seen sales from subordinates regarding why they should get to take a three week vacation, I’ve even seen walk-by sales pitches disguised as hallway conversation. Sales is all around us. It’s pretty much anything that involves an opinion and a presentation – verbal or otherwise.

The question I’ve been wrestling with this week is: What is the best way to give a presentation? And further, does that “best” way include using Microsoft PowerPoint?

As most of you probably know, it’s very hip among self proclaimed thought leaders to call out the deficiencies of PowerPoint. I do agree that it has negatively impacted the way we give presentations, but I don’t think, as a tool, it’s inherently evil. Rather, I think it’s the way we use PowerPoint that has led to the epidemic of bad presentations.

I can sum up all of my feelings about the misuse of PowerPoint in one anecdote. Early in my career, one of my first bosses was critiquing a presentation I had prepared for a client. Three quarters of the way through the critique we arrived at the slide that was going to accompany the conclusion of my analysis. The purpose of the slide was to display a few supporting charts to reinforce each of my supporting points. When we reached this crucial slide, my boss stopped, flipped over the printed slide and started to write out bullet points on the back of the slide. “Here is what this slide is trying to say,” my boss said – and scrawled five or six bulleted sentence fragments on the back of the slide.

As I was being educated on what my PowerPoint slides were trying to say, all I could think about was how it didn’t make a damn of difference was the slide said – I was the one giving the presentation, not the slide.

All presentations should focus 80% on the presenter and 20% on visuals or supporting evidence. It doesn’t make a difference if you use PowerPoint, a slide projector, printed boards, or just draw on a whiteboard. As long as the star of the presentation is the presenter, then there is a decent chance that the presentation will be a good one.

Sales, Presentations and PowerPoint
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  • Well, I disagree with your redefinition of sales.

    I think you’re claiming that communication is a core skill in selling; but I don’t think you can make it syonymous with sales, to the point where even having a disagreement involves “selling.” It’s also worth pointing out that sales is not synonymous with persuading, convincing, etc.

    Sales by definition involves an exchange of goods and/or services.

    But anyway: your post isn’t about sales, it’s about communicating in a convincing manner – to get people to accept what you’re communicating. To be distinguished from communicating information, where the audience does not need to be convinced as well.

    Back to your post.

    PowerPoint – and all computer-aided presentation tools – make it easier to make a presentation. The obvious result is that while previously you had a by-default curated market (specialists e.g. graphics designers created presentations) now you have an open market, because the barriers to entry dropped dramatically.

    Naturally, you see an explosion of content – most of which is worse than the “curated” content before. The same thing has happened with blogs & journalism.

    Thus the movement “away from PowerPoint” since PowerPoint is an emblem of the problem – so they say “abandon PowerPoint” when they mean “abandon ye all those bad practices that are easy and fast in PowerPoint.”

    Of course, it’s not like the new tools are necessarily better. But they attract precisely those people who are dissatisfied with bad PowerPoint presentations, so the average quality of presentations using PowerPoint goes down, as the average quality of those not using PowerPoint goes up.

    Incidentally, the one thing I wished more people used in PowerPoint is the animation effects.

    The key thing is the control the AMOUNT OF INFORMATION ON THE SLIDE, so the focus remains on you – the presented – and not the slide. People reading ahead is bad.

    As an example of what’s possible – though very difficult, because it’s so complicated – to do in PowerPoint, check out the “5 Rules” presentation Duarte did in PowerPoint 2010:

    The actual PowerPoint file is included as a template when you install PowerPoint 2010, so you can open it up an look at it.

  • Dadio

    Hey Drew,

    I guess there’s no way I can pass making a comment on this entry because sales, or more specifically selling, is a pet passion of mine. We have talked about it in the past so let’s talk some more.

    The perspective of your entry, this week, leaves out my entire universe of selling experience. I have never used Power Point and have been successful enough to stay in business for a while.

    Your 80/20 concept of presenter vs subject, for me, misses the foundation element of the sales process. That is the ability to keep one’s focus on the prospect and his or her needs. I know you understand the importance of this because we talked about your recent gig at Skidmore and you told me, in so many words, how important you feel it was to engage your audience.

    I have also mentioned to you, in past conversations about selling, the tools I have found to be most helpful. The “decision tree” and Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs”. When you searched for the former you failed to get the version I use and we lost the connection at that time. A third tool that I use is proprietary to an international sales training service provider and it’s called “wimp junction”. I use all three, together, to demonstrate to people who have no formal sales training that the sales process is like a game. One that you are playing whether you realize it or not.

    My small business prospects know little or nothing about Power Point and wouldn’t have the resources to facilitate a presentation using it if I wished to, which I don’t. I’m sure it’s a valuable tool in the correct setting.

    Your “definition of sales” at the top of this entry confirms, to me, that your focus, in this entry, misses the point I am making.

    A good presentation is one that leads to a sale. “Wimp junction” is the tools which reminds us that one should never even make a presentation until one has qualified the propect in four critical areas. It’s not easy to resist the temptation to present your product or service and it’s always difficult to qualify one’s prospect to the degree suggested by this sales tool. Nevertheless, it’s criticla and that’s why it’s called “wimp junction”!

    Your blog entry, this week, focuses on the presentation process not the sales process. I believe.

    I agree that we are always selling something to someone. I would add that we are in the process of buying something even mor often. We are all sophisticated purchasers of products and services because we have been doing it all our adult lives and I found it important that “wimp junction” presents a tool that helps us understand both the selling and the buying perspective.

    How many times have we made a presentation that we thought went well only to lose the connection, later, with the prospect for some reason?

    Selling effectively is sooooo hard! But, if you approach it as a game, it’s easier to keep your perspective on that which will lead to the desired result.

  • Andrew_Eifler

    Michael and Dad –
    Really like your thoughts here. What this has taught me is that everyone thinks about sales a little bit differently because everyone has had a little bit of a different experience with Sales situations.

    Definitely like the point about PowerPoint being an enabler so the number (both good and bad) of presentations have increased exponentially

    Dadio – i’ll have to connect with you more about wimp junction – didn’t find much about it online, but would like to learn more.

  • Andrew

    Just stumbled upon this TED talk about powerpoint. It’s incredible.