Death by PowerPoint

Putting PowerPoint (or any of its presentation cousins) into the hands of some sales reps is like putting matches into the hands of some children. The results often lead to disaster.

As members of the Information Age, we may have come a long way in our presentation technology, but one could argue that some reps are no better at creating visual presentations than their ancestors who first carved visuals on cave walls 30,000 years ago.

Electronic Excess

No matter how many flying bullets, builds, or fades you can produce with your computer, if buyers are confused or bored by what they are seeing, you will have struck a bad visual chord with them. Don’t go overboard with the technology. Keep it simple. You’re there to make a sale, not to win an Oscar for special effects.

Do you remember the term “visual aids” from school? The screens in your PowerPoint presentation are just that: “aids.” They are meant to clarify and communicate a message, not to muddy and overwhelm it.

The Killers

People make many mistakes with visuals. Below are three of the biggest ones that I see in my seminars. Compare these to the ones in your current presentations. Are they working for you as sales messengers or sales killers?

Killer No. 1: Drowning with words. “Hey, I know. I’ll include as many full sentences as I can to describe what my site/service does.” If you want to know how effective that is, may I suggest that you put a phone directory on the floor, turn to the page where you think your name is likely to appear, put the directory opened to that page on the floor, and try to find your name looking down at the page. Now you know what it feels like to an advertiser who is trying to make sense of what you are showing when you show all text pages.

Instead of using text-heavy visuals:

  • Use bullet points; have a maximum of five to six per page

  • Ruthlessly edit — a maximum of five to six words per line
  • Separate with white space

Compare the following:

Text-heavy visual:

  • We have 23 million unique users per month, which makes us No. 1 in our category.

  • Another advantage is that we offer an unduplicated audience for your advertising.

Non-text-heavy visual:

  • No. 1 — 23MM unique users per month

  • Unduplicated audience

When you present text-heavy pages, you tend to read them, which becomes remedial reading. So not only are you boring your advertisers, but you are insulting their intelligence as well. Moreover, since the human eye moves faster than the human mouth, your advertisers are reading point number four, while you are still presenting point number two, so they are not even listening to you. A disaster all around. Hit that space bar, and edit, edit, edit!

Killer No. 2: Smothering with visual sameness. Bullet-point visuals are best used for lists and summaries. Page after page of even good bullet-point pages becomes numbing to listeners. Graphs, charts, and pictures have much more impact.

Pick up a copy of your favorite business publication, whether it’s Business 2.0, Business Week, or The Wall Street Journal, and look at the business-to-business advertising. The overwhelming number of ads show a picture with the text because copywriters know what good presenters know: The eye picks up and remembers pictures far better than it does words. Look at any publication’s graph, chart, or table, and invariably there is a pictorial element to it, for example, oil wells used in an energy growth bar chart. (Some call that the USA Today effect.)

Use the guidelines below to liven up your message.

Explaining trends? Use line graphs
Describing a series of steps? Use a diagram
Comparing capabilities? Use a table
Showing comparisons? Use a pie chart or bar graph
Explaining how your site works? Show the site

In all of these, include color and, where possible, pictures. The bottom line is that by showing real visuals versus screen after screen of words, you will be helping your advertiser truly understand your message. Even Einstein preferred real visuals. He said, “If I can’t see it, I don’t understand.” If Einstein had problems with words-only information, think about the effect of your wordy visuals on just us regular folks.

Killer No. 3: Torturing advertisers with meaningless titles. The last thing in the world you want is your advertiser thinking “Why is this person showing this to me? Who cares about a headline that just describes what’s on the visual?”

Give meaning to the information you are presenting by replacing descriptive headlines with headlines that sell.

    Headlines That Tell versus Headlines That Sell
    Our Statistics versus Reach Your Best Customers
    Advertisers versus Be With the Best
    Reporting and Targeting versus Tailor to Your Needs

Since many of you leave hard copies of your presentation with advertisers to review, you want to be sure they get the selling story straight. The proper headlines will do that job for your information.

In summary, Peter Drucker quite rightly said that communication takes place in the mind of the listener, not the speaker. Look at the visuals in your presentations from an advertiser’s point of view. Are they sales killers, or are they as strong as they can be to help sell your story?

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