PowerPoint's best attributes often turn it into to a sales or marketing presentation's worst enemy.
Its linear outline format makes it easy to organize your subject matter. But for the audience, that could turn into a mind-numbing drill of slide-after-slide-after-slide. Its charting and animation features make for visually stimulating communication. However when overused, they can overwhelm and detract from the overarching message as it gets lost in the clutter of too much imagery.
PowerPoint is easy and it's everywhere. And while other formidable companies have introduced their own presentation apps, PowerPoint remains the de facto program for business communication. Everyone knows it; everyone uses it.
The best way to sell something is to let the customer talk himself into it, according to Dale Carnegie. Which means the most effective sales and marketing presentations are collaborative conversations where both sides are contributing.
Therefore, the ability to present relevant content in an interactive format, as your conversation dictates, is liberating—and incredibly powerful in convincing someone. Retention from a meeting is six-times higher (PDF) when the information is presented visually as well as orally, as opposed to the spoken word alone.
So how can you build/host an interactive presentation given PowerPoint's linear nature?
Stop relying on the technology, and start using time-tested, old-fashioned proven sales techniques. They work!
1. Encourage Dialogue
It sounds simple, elementary even. But you'd be surprised how often we lean on the crutch of PowerPoint. It's safe to present the slides as you prepared them. That way, you cover all of your bases.
You might be motivated by nerves or genuine enthusiasm for your product; either way, you monopolize the meeting. But your client/audience/customer doesn't give a hoot about what you want to do, what products or services you want to discuss, or even how you think you can help them.
All they care about is what they need. Period. So, take a break from presenting, and from talking. Let them speak.
2. Ask Questions
Questions encourage dialogue. They turn the presentation into a conversation.
Let's say you have Silent Sam attending the meeting who doesn't give you any clue about whether he agrees with you. Not even head nod, or a smile. It's like presenting to a brick wall. So start the meeting with overarching questions that get attendees talking. Avoid yes or no questions. What solution are you using today? How has it helped your organization?
Try to avoid lingo. Instead of asking, What are its strengths? What are its weaknesses? Ask, What do you like about it? What don't you like? What would be the ideal, perfect-world solution for you? That will help everyone relax, and you learn valuable information about their business that you can apply during your presentation.
But don't just leave the questions to the beginning and end of the meeting. Take a break from your slides and ask a questions during the pitch. Look someone directly in the eye, use a self-deprecating, curious tone of voice, Would that work for your organization? How do you see your team using this? Does that make sense? Any questions so far?
The more they talk, the more they participate. The more they participate, the more you learn and less heavy lifting and hard selling will be required from you to close the deal. Plus, it's a lot more fun and interesting for everyone involved.
3. Interactive Web Meetings
These days, more of us are presenting via Web conferencing than in person. It's faster, cheaper, and more efficient than traveling. But it's very difficult as a presenter to read your audience's body language (even with a Web cam) to guide your questions or to determine whether they are engaged or just reading their email.
Acknowledge the limitation of this technology and admit, It's so hard for me to see if you are following along or not on a webinar since I can't see your faces... Does anyone have any questions or feedback so far? It's honest and adds a human element to your meeting, which will encourage your audience to speak up and break up the monotony of a slide show.
Furthermore, Web presentations by nature are monotonous. Everyone is looking at a screen. So it's even more important to present interesting, professional slides.
You don't have to be designer to create a great PowerPoint deck. Just remember: Less is more; too much of the same is boring. For branding and consistency, use the same background template. Then mix up the slide content: some text, some images, including charts, and a few videos.
Don't rely too heavily on one format. And don't put too much information on one slide.
4. Video and Pictures
Used strategically at critical moments in your presentation, videos and imagery will serve as powerful tools to drive your message home. Just be careful not to use too many, and choose media that reinforce the message and can stand on their own. You don't want to be in the position of having to explain the video that your audience just watched. And you don't want the imagery and video to overwhelm or detract from your message. It's a delicate balance.
5. Go Interactive
PowerPoint doesn't have to be linear. You can use its hyperlinking feature, which will let you jump to any slide in your deck, at any time. If you find that a little too complicated, you can also try a PowerPoint library app that will let you—during the meeting—search for and find specific slides at a moment's notice.
The ability go interactive, no matter how you do it, will empower you to speak with your audience on their terms. You can spend days preparing for a meeting, researching specific topics that you believe your clients interested in, only to have that same client throw out a curveball question. And then, you respond with, "Let me get back to you on that." Don't let that moment derail your meeting. Having the ability to "go interactive" will empower you to address your client's issues on her terms, and still maintain control over the meeting and how it progresses.
The goal is to get out of linear mode and into an interactive discussion. PowerPoint and other technology can make the most boring products and presenters come alive. They can help you speak, but they cannot help you listen. They can help you communicate a complicated proposition, but they cannot help your client solve his problem.
Only good salespeople can, and will do that. And to do so, they first must listen and learn. Only humans can do that.
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