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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