Fly with out the PowerPoint

By | August 19, 2010

By Ed Cunningham, Vice President Sales W. A. Wilde

I was flying home from a new business meeting the other night and realized I was in rarefied air…but not in the plane. This air was in New Jersey of all places. It was the fresh air that my team was breathing when we presented to a prospective client without the aid (read: “crutch”) of a PowerPoint presentation. Got the client, by the way…

Oh, we had one in the bag, but thankfully, we never took it out of the bag. We just talked and connected with the people in the room.

I heard a guy that is much smarter than me, Glen Urban of MIT, talk about a new dynamic that we are all playing under called TRUST. People (note: I didn’t say companies) want to partner with people they can trust. In his estimation, everyone wants to trust–they just don’t know who to trust. By connecting with the people in the room without the barriers of the computer, the cords, and the overhead projector, we quickly established ourselves as a group that was not hiding behind anything: we could be trusted. In turn, that helps build customer loyalty.

Why else was not having a PowerPoint so effective? People are tired of them.

This client even jokingly said, “Thank God you’re not going to do a PowerPoint. We’d just rather talk.” Enough said. They want to talk so they can gauge what kind of person you are and if they can trust you. Only then will they open their kimono and tell you what their real problems are and specifically what you can really do for them. Once you understand their pain, you can give them an honest assessment of your solution against your competitor’s.

Need more reason to ditch the Powerpoint? I’ve got 250 million more.

According to Microsoft’s own estimates, there are 30 million PowerPoint presentations made every day. EVERY DAY! I couldn’t believe it either. Imagine the dollars wasted on making so many people sit through so many poorly constructed and prepared presentations. I saw some astounding guestimates on the total dollars wasted, and it looks something like this:

  • 4 people per presentation
  • 1 half hour presentation
  • 1 half hour presentation = a quarter of the time wasted

That means that we are wasting 15 million person hours per day. At an average salary of $35,000, the waste per day nears $252 million!

Let’s take a step back, and figure out how we got here and how we get out.

We have 3M to thank for the advent of the slide presentation. With the advent of plastic film, companies were suddenly able to produce computer-generated slides which would be projected onto a wall through an overhead projector. Then came PowerPoint.

PowerPoint was originally built for the Mac. The original name of the program was Presenter; however, due to some trademark issues, it was later renamed and released as a software package in 1987 by Forethought. Microsoft acquired Forethought and quickly added the software to its Office Suite. Seems to me that if smart guys like Bob Gaskins and Dennis Austin named it Presenter, they assumed that we would let the software take over the presentation–and that’s exactly what many of us have done the past few years.

An old article I saw by Edward Tufte reminds us that our misuse of PowerPoint has also allowed the presentation to become a substitute for the presenter rather than a supplement. He contends that the misuse breaks one of the more important rules of speaker which is respect your audience. He also demonstrates where these presentations can be misleading and dangerous.

So how we get out of this rut? I subscribe to the KISS mantra on this one. So I have 3 easy steps for you to follow:

  1. Stop using PowerPoint tool as a crutch.
  2. Become the presentation.
  3. Look them in the eye (without the glare of the projector), connect with your audience, and build their trust in you. 

Editor’s Note: Ed also claims that by leaving the projector and the laptop back at the office, his presentations are not only more effective but he is also flying through airport security these days. That would make 250 million and 1 reasons to lose the Powerpoint!

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5 thoughts on “Fly with out the PowerPoint

  1. Michael Balton

    By all means, ditch the PowerPoint presentation. And while you’re at it, leave your pants back in the hotel room. That will heighten the sense of intimacy you can establish with the prospect. Airport security will appreciate the gesture as well.

  2. Thomas Bougher

    Death by PowerPoint is a reality.

    Prior to making a big presentation a few years back I picked up a great book, Presentation Zen. It certainly helped me focus on what was really important and hopefully prevented more unnecessary pain.

  3. Elizabeth

    Well – I don’t plan on leaving my pants back in the hotel room – but I recently talked one of my customers into going into a sales presentation without a Powerpoint. Like Ed says in his post, we had some in the bag, but we went in to talk. As it turned out, the person at the client company who set the agenda was not on the same page as the rest of the 14 people in the room. If we had started presenting from a deck we would have blown the whole meeting. Because were were “freeform” we were able to redirect the conversation to where the customer ultimately wanted to go – and still get the “sales message” across. Didn’t feel naked for more than 30 seconds 🙂

  4. David Ewell

    I could not agree more; in a 1 hour meeting it is beyond me why people would want to save the most engaging, informative and interactive portion of the meeting for the last 10 minutes with the slide that reads “questions???”. It seems much more productive to use the 1st 50 minutes of a meeting engaging like human beings, and save the last 10 minutes of the meeting to throw up a slide or two to better illustrate a concept that is relevant to the conversations. Oh..and for the presenters that start each PPT presentation by saying “I want to keep this interactive!!!” …they fail more than most presenters

  5. Leonard Will

    Surely it depends on the nature and content of the presentation. I agree that establishing rapport with the audience is important, so that the level and approach can be adjusted appropriately, but this does not mean that PowerPoint does not have a role. I personally can take in information more easily if it is presented visually, and I think that this is essential for more technical presentations where diagrams and charts can help. If numerical data is being presented, then it is almost impossible to grasp the significance of a series of numbers that are just read out, and even if it is a qualitative argument it is helpful to see both sides set out as a series of bullet points. But certainly PowerPoint can be used inappropriately, with “cute” clip art graphics and trite statements which can be conveyed adequately by voice alone.

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