People have been giving presentations for thousands of years, from Moses with his stone tablets to Elon Musk revealing his grand plans to colonize Mars. While the elements of a great pitchman generally have remained the same over the past 5,000 years — conviction, charisma, credibility — today’s successful presenters do more than just get in front of an audience and talk. They meld together technology, data and multimedia to hammer home key talking points that keep viewers engaged throughout.
So how do you project the power of Moses in your next presentation? Those of us operating without divine intervention typically rely on PowerPoint as our stone tablets. PowerPoint has been around for more than 30 years and has changed not only the way we present, but also how we write and communicate.
PowerPoint allows anyone to create a professional presentation with relatively little prep time. As a result, it has proliferated and become the business norm. The pitfall is that too many of us rely on our slide decks to do too much, to the point that it overshadows the presenter and dominates the meeting.
For a really engaging, productive presentation remember that your slides are there to support you, not the other way around. Utilize the following tips to build a supplemental deck and presentation management strategy that will support your voice, reinforce your thoughts, and keep your audience on the edge of their seats.
1. Start With the Story
Tell a story, don’t sell a product. Sixty percent of people find generic sales pitches to be irritating, according to Hubspot. Only 5 percent of attendees remember individual statistics, but 63 percent can recall stories.
We remember stories because they are about us — human beings with hardships, happiness and feelings. Speakers who connect with us in that way have a better opportunity to fully engage us.
That may sound challenging in a business environment where your material is very cerebral, like financial forecasts or charts conveying clinical data, but in those cases you can translate that data into its human consequences. Financial forecasts? Yay! You’re going to be rich (or going broke). Clinical data? You’re cured from that horrible disease. Life is good.
Money and health are two things we all feel with our hearts. When you are selling a consulting service, it’s great to talk about the experience your experts have, but remember to include how you can help your customer — make their jobs, their lives, whatever, better and easier.
2. Lead With Your Eyes and Body
Without even realizing it, we say more with our bodies than with our voices. How we stand — strong and upright projecting confidence, or slumped and hunched over projecting defeat — will do more to convince an audience than any of the words that come out of our mouths.
How we express ourselves, with eye contact and animation, also creates a bond. Former President Ronald Reagan was an expert at this. He rarely gestured with his arms. Rather, he used his eyes and his facial expression to talk with the American people.
Look your audience in the eye. If you are presenting to one or two people, that’s easy. If you are presenting to a large group, go across the room, one-by-one, pick a person and make eye contact for five seconds. (When you’re speaking, five seconds seems like an eternity. It’s hard, but not impossible.)
You probably won’t get to everyone in the room, but that’s not the goal. By keeping eye contact and making that connection, you become more relaxed and conversational. You will converse with individuals rather than orate at an anonymous audience. Sales success is as much about creating and maintaining relationships as it is about the products we sell.
What about Web meetings? Today, we are all logging in through our screens, whether phone or computer. Making eye contact and using body language might sound antiquated. It’s not. Do it anyway. Turn on your video camera, and even if it’s just a call in, remember that our voice, our tone, and our body language contribute to our overall manner and influence how people respond to us. Even if your audience can’t see you, a confident, yet relaxed manner will still have a positive effect.
3. Follow the Conversation
PowerPoint’s linear format has forced us into a rigid outline for presentations to keep everything in a strict order. The problem is that we don’t think in a linear order. The human mind likes to wander. Our audience’s mind is wandering as we’re speaking. So forcing them into a strict, linear outline with bullet points will bore them.
Diversions or questions at the wrong time can throw off a presenter’s game. Instead, presenters should get out of linear mode, go interactive, and let the presentation follow the conversation. Break up the slides with questions to the audience. Engage them, make direct eye contact, and ask a simple question, “Does this make sense so far?” or “Are you all following me?” or “What do you think?”
In doing so, you are turning your presentation into a conversation. You are breaking up the corporate monotony associated with PowerPoint. Above all, you are bringing your audience into your presentation so they become a vital part of the broader discussion. As a result, they are more invested in you and your message. Your message transforms and becomes their message. They sell themselves.
4. Use Analytics to Determine Messaging
Until now, we’ve talked about style, but substance matters too. Large organizations invest millions to create the right message, with the right graphics and brand. Despite that expenditure, 70 percent of content never gets used, and 90 percent never gets reused — a wasted investment. Why? Usually it’s only because your sales rep can’t find the slide or content needed while preparing the deck. Give your sales team substance.
Give them the content that helps them sell. Reporting and analytics can tell you what’s resonating in the field with customers and what’s not, so you can create more, better content going forward and retire content that’s not working.
If Bob just closed a major deal using his deck, see what elements he included and then make them standard in the decks of your other salespeople. Real-time data helps guide the type of content you should be creating for your salespeople to perform optimally, while helping you get rid of bad and unused content that’s just a cluttery distraction.
You don’t need divine intervention to be an effective presenter. You just need your company’s best content combined with your best self. This presentation management strategy allows your salespeople to worry less about slides, focus on their customers, and make a human connection that builds trust. You don’t need to be Moses to sell. You just need to be yourself.