I get it. Not everyone – particularly in our industry – likes to stand in front of a group and deliver a sales presentation. It’s so much more comfortable to avoid the eyes of the audience, turn away from them and read the PowerPoint slides up on the screen. Unfortunately, however, that’s not very engaging.

To exacerbate the situation, too often the slides themselves are horrible – 6, 7, 8 or more bullet points on a slide, each with a long, complete sentence. And because you don’t want to miss any of that detail, while your back is turned (see first paragraph above), you just read the slides . . . one long sentence after another . . . after another. Not very compelling, huh?

But wait, there’s more! The first several slides are all about your firm – your great history, the 17 different methodologies you’re great at, the 10 different industries you’re great at serving and the bios of the top executives at your firm and how great they are. Pretty great, right?

OK, so how would you feel if you were listening to that presentation? What kind of perception would you form about that presenter and his or her firm?

Like I said, I get it. We’re not all born presenters. What’s the statistic? People’s fear of public speaking is greater than their fear of death? (No kiddingl Google it.)

But we all have to do it at some point. So here are five guidelines to help you develop and deliver a compelling sales presentation that allows you to tell your story:

1. Edit The Content

Edit each slide down to just a few words. The words are not there for you to read verbatim. They are there to guide the audience and to be a trigger for you to remember what topics to cover in your story.

For example, rather than read a slide detailing the seven different qualitative methodologies you employ, simply write the words “Qual Experts” on the slide and then talk about your methodologies. Ask the sales prospect about their experience with qual research and tell a story about how your firm used qual to solve a particularly unique problem.

If all you want to do is read the slides, then just email the deck to the sales prospect so they can read it on their own.

If all you want to do is read the slides, then just email the deck to the sales prospect so they can read it on their own

2. Use Images

There ought to be imagery on every page. And if you follow the tip above, there will be plenty of room for big ones, too. Your audience will connect more with images than with words. Good imagery can help reinforce your message and increase “stickiness.”

Rule of thumb: Photos are better than graphic images. Photos of people are better than photos of things. Photos of people doing something are best of all. Also, it’s easy to pick out most stock photos, so strive for some authenticity and take your own photos where appropriate.

3. Bullet Points

While some people look at bullet points as the bane of presentations, there are times when they are necessary. When that’s the case, follow the “4x4 Rule.”

  • No more than 4 bullet points per slide
  • No more than 4 words per bullet

Again, these are not meant to be read out loud but simply used as a guide to help tell your story.

4. WIIFM – What’s In It For Me?

Do not start your presentation with several slides about your firm. Condense the “About Us” section to one slide and move it to the end. The attendees know what you do; if they didn’t, you wouldn’t be at the table. And besides, they’ve already been to your website.

Jump right into the presentation, talking about problems in the industry – preferably the same problems that this prospect has and how you helped to solve them. By the way, if you don’t know what problems or challenges your prospect faces, then you’ve done a really lousy job of preparing for the presentation.

  • For example, if you’re talking with a CPG company, talk to them about the challenges of developing new products, then show them how you’ve helped other, similar companies tackle that issue.
  • An automobile company? Explore market segmentation with them.
  • An ad agency? Share with them how you’ve helped others create results-generating print ad campaigns.

Here’s the bottom line: the people in attendance don’t care about what you can do; they care about what you can do for them!

the people in attendance don’t care about what you can do; they care about what you can do for them

5. A Few More Tip and Tricks

  1. Rehearse like crazy. Do it in front of a mirror until you can deliver the presentation almost without looking at the slides. Then present it to your office mates to get some third-party feedback.
  2. Swap business cards with everyone in attendance. Then, when you get back to the office, enter them all into your database and drop a brief “thank you” note to each of them. Maybe even invite certain ones to connect on LinkedIn.
  3. What are the next steps? Don’t leave the presentation without having established the next step(s) in the process. Maybe it’s a follow-up call in a week with your primary contact. Or it’s sending them a relevant case study. Whatever it is, don’t leave the process just hanging.
  4. Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. Ok, the presentation was three days ago, you sent a thank you note but haven’t heard back yet. And a week after that, same thing. Both you and the sales prospect committed a lot of time and effort to your presentation, but you must be proactive in following through. Do not rely on them to take the lead. And don’t give up if you don’t hear back after one email. Be persistent . . . professional, but persistent.

And not every follow-up contact should be a “So, are you gonna engage us?” selling contact. Mix it up a little. Send them a white paper you wrote or a link to a relevant article. You need to stay top-of-mind without pestering them.

Nothing in our industry happens fast, so be patient but stay in touch. Note: this also goes for you managers who are impatient with your sales reps.

And if you’re doing a software demo

Instead of a PowerPoint presentation, suppose your sales presentation consists of you delivering a demonstration of a new piece of software or SaaS (software as a service).

Good news: the rules above still apply.

  • Edit the content. Like a PPT deck, make sure that your “demo script” is tight and focused on the key ideas and talking points. Also, like the PPT deck, show them something on the screen, then stop demoing and start talking, telling your story. Don’t go zipping around all over the software. Instead, pick a few key items and focus on them.
  • Use images. Good news, a software demo comes with its own images built in.
  • Bullet points. Even better news, there are none needed.
  • What’s in It for Me? Especially important here. As you are scripting your software demo, keep asking yourself, “Will the audience care about this?” It’s so easy to get bogged down in the minutiae when, really, no one cares. Focus the demo on showing the audience how the software can help them be better at their jobs, save time or save money.
  • Rehearse like crazy. This is especially important for software demos. Make sure you know your software backward and forward, so you can instantly respond to any question posed by the audience.
  • Collecting business cards, setting next steps and following-up are just as important with a software demo as they are with a PowerPoint presentation.
  • About the Internet: Odds are you will take advantage of your host’s Wi-Fi. And 98 percent of the time, that’s fine. But what happens if the Wi-Fi crashes (or even if it’s just horribly slow)? If possible, have your tech team partition the hard drive on your laptop and install a virtual server on it. Then load all of the software on that server. That way, you’ll never need to worry about Wi-Fi again. Everything just runs from your laptop’s hard drive. Note: this is also a good idea when doing software demos while exhibiting at conferences.

The bottom line: The sales presentation is a critical part of the buying and selling process. A compelling and engaging sales presentation is within everyone’s grasp . . . but it takes some work. Follow these guidelines to help you develop a sales presentation process that allows you to tell your story and you’ll be on your way to receiving more bid requests and generating more revenue for your firm.

Good luck.