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How to Avoid Death by PowerPoint

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Come out from behind the slides to build sales relationships that pay off.

We’ve all been there. The lights dim, and everyone in the audience looks through bleary eyes at a screen in front of them, listening to a product manager, salesperson or executive read each PowerPoint slide—word for word. It’s not an engaging way to present information. It’s not an engaging way to receive it. And it’s just painful. You look at your watch every 30 seconds and wonder how much longer the torture can last.

But the world doesn’t need to be this way. Our world (business and social) is personal. Imagine how much more engaging business meetings and presentations would be if, instead of launching and reading a presentation, we spoke directly to one another (using slides as reference or illustration)?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not anti-technology. New, fancy technology is alluring and often empowering (remote email and document access do make our business lives easier).

Business tools are helpful, but they have their place. Technology connects the world, global economies and former schoolmates, but it also creates distance from the people right in front of us. Think: the ineffective PowerPoint presentation, texting on your mobile phone during a presentation or an in-person conversation, checking your email at the dinner table with your family….

Before you employ technology, employ your brain. Think about your client’s concerns, your colleague’s challenge or your audience. What’s the most effective way to connect? I’m willing to bet it’s person-to-person. And in sales, the personal connection makes all the difference.

Person-to-Person Power

Here’s a real-world example: One of my clients, Bill, met with a prospect, George, late one Friday afternoon. Bill arrived at his meeting prepared: He’d conducted intensive research, understood George’s business issues and prepared a PowerPoint presentation to address them. George walked into the room looking frazzled, and Bill asked if everything was okay. It turns out George had a terrible day with back-to-back meetings and many fires to put out.

Time to launch the PowerPoint presentation? No, definitely not.

Bill did exactly what a seasoned salesperson should do. He closed his laptop and told George he wasn’t going to go through the presentation, and why didn’t they just talk? George let out a sigh of relief and told Bill he wished more salespeople ditched the PowerPoint.

Ironically, regardless of whether a business is ultra-high or super-low tech, the most important business decisions a customer makes rely on personal relationships. Research about why customers make buying decisions confirms it’s because they like and trust the salesperson and his organization. PowerPoint puts a wall between people instead of building a personal, trusted relationship.

First Impressions Matter

There’s a saying among salespeople: Customers buy with emotion and justify with fact. If our customers don’t like or feel comfortable with us, they won’t buy from us, no matter what impressive facts we present. We must wow prospects first with ourselves and with our companies, and then, once they know we’re honest and reliable, wow them with our technological know-how and impressive data. Companies that sell software face even greater challenges with PowerPoint. It is typical (and easy) to present a product demo, walk your audience through slides—either in-person or via the web—and expect a rousing “Wow” from the sales prospect. This is the wrong approach.

The demo is only part of the story. The impact of the software—the value—is the bigger and more important story.

Get Out From Behind The Curtain

I challenged one of my clients to leave his sales engineer and PowerPoint at the office when he headed out for a sales call. I had the support of the sales VP, who confirmed: Our customers don’t buy our software; they buy what our software does for their business.

Bring yourself. Bring your knowledge of your client’s business and industry challenges. Bring your results.

It’s easy to hide behind PowerPoint presentations. When we present, we’re not listening. And if we’re not listening, we’re not talking with the clients about their business and can’t connect the dots between their problem and our solution. How many salespeople in your company have the skills to conduct an interactive, engaging business conversation? Have they outlined a questioning strategy and potential responses? Many people rely on PowerPoint to make their points because they don’t know how to have a business conversation. They’re freaked that the client may ask a question they can’t answer. So they play it safe and get stuck in the depths of PowerPoint.

The digital world—as great as it is—threatens personal connections. Humans need to connect. Even with whisper-light computing power and immediate, 140-character Twitter posts, we are a face-to-face species, one that thrives on interpersonal communication and being in the presence of like-minded individuals working together to accomplish results. Email, texting, social networking, PowerPoint presentations—none of it takes the place of an in-person conversation or personal connection.

True Confessions

My name is Joanne Black, and I use PowerPoint. I admit it. It’s a powerful tool in many situations. But think about whether it’s the right tool at the right time.

Determine if PowerPoint helps you advance the sale, and if so, follow these best practices:

  • Include no more than five bullets per slide (three is better).
  • Use your slides to expand your examples and engage the client in conversation (don’t read from the slides).
  • Include photos and graphics that make your point. For many people, these are even more impactful than the words on your slides—especially when your language is not your audience’s first language.

Results Matter

Your client wants to hear only about the ways you contribute to his objectives and success. What solutions do you offer to help him implement his business strategy? You can show your presentation and demonstrate your bells and whistles later—if the client ever expresses interest. A PowerPoint slide deck doesn’t build trust. The magic doesn’t exist in the technology, but in you. How do you create trust? How do you connect with your audience?

So if you want to sell, put down the mouse and step away from the computer. Come out from behind the curtain of technology and learn to speak to people, in their language.

Connect with people, and you will have the business. If you connect with the business problem only and don’t take the time to relate one-on-one with your client, you won’t win the sale. Business is serious, but people are complex—engaging, fun, driven, human and individual. So get personal, leave the PowerPoint behind and make the person-to-person sale.

Joanne S. Black, an expert on referral selling, is a professional speaker and the author of No More Cold Calling™.

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