Can you imagine standing up before your next sales presentation and feeling so comfortably prepared that you simply leave the projector off?    I sure couldn’t – and unfortunately it took a really dreadful performance to grasp how real a problem I have.

I was fifteen minutes into a one-hour meeting before I realized my slides had not been shared with the key attendee dialed in to our meeting.  Forget the fact that those slides didn’t address the specific issues the prospect had expressed.  That matter became irrelevant as we waged a technical battle to find a USB drive, transfer the deck from one laptop to another, connect to the WIFI then email it to the guy on the phone.  At the time I was just grateful he was sitting on the end of a fast connection, not driving to his next meeting.

The meeting was off tune from the moment we started and never found a rhythm.  The situation we were in required a straightforward conversation.  No slides, no pictures, just discussion.   The prospect wanted to reach a decision and instead we backtracked, lost momentum and maybe the deal.

For many of us, PowerPoint long ago stopped being a content platform and instead has come to define the conversations we have with prospects, clients, colleagues and staff.    Title slide, agenda slide, bullet slides, next steps slide, thank you slide. True, most presenters include graphics, charts, tables, or even multimedia – but too often those elements end up perpetuating the problem.   Items like these are often confusing, sidetrack the discussion because of their detail or disrupt the flow of the speaker.

Even when the slides are perfect, it is impossible for most audiences to hear and understand a speaker while reading bullets or studying charts.  It is just as difficult for the speaker to observe, listen and react to their audience when trying to stay in synch with slides or explain complicated charts.  Neither participant fully engages since both are simultaneously attempting too many complicated tasks.

From recent conversations I know many of you feel as I do, we have lost the core sales professionals’ skill to sincerely speak with and engage an audience.

If you are ready to step away from your PowerPoint I encourage you to read Presentation Zen, by Garr Reynolds and also visit his blog.   (Thank you for my copy, Mark Goren!)  Then swap your laptop for your sketchbook and completely rethink your next presentation.  Get it right and you will impress yourself – and quite likely your audience too!