How to Create a Killer PowerPoint Presentation: 10 mistakes to Avoid

Your presentation is your most powerful closing tool. You know that. You also know that every sales person confronted with a big sales pitch wants a presentation so compelling, so persuasive, so amazingly unforgettable that by the end of it the audience is sold. Why not?

I’ll tell you why not. I look at sales presentations every day, and I can give you at least 10 reasons why a presentation falls flat. And it is not a failure of PowerPoint. The bloopers I see are made by the “writers” of the presentation, either because they have no idea how adults hear, see, and process information, or because they don’t have the time or the creativity to do it right, or because they just don’t care.

PowerPoint is a foolproof software. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a fool of yourself when you use it; you can. It does mean that anyone can use it–and use it well–if you know what constitutes a good PowerPoint presentation. Whether you are in sales, education or service, whether you are a professional or a once-in-a-while presenter, it isn’t smart to annoy your audience or put them to sleep. You want them to sit up and take notice.

Here are 10 presentation mistakes I see most commonly. Avoid them and create a killer presentation.

1. There is no clear message.

The presentation is full of content but the message is unclear. There is lots of information, but what does it mean? If the audience was asked to state the message in one sentence, they wouldn’t have a clue.

FYI, your message is a strong statement of fact. It is the one most important thing you want your audience to remember if they forget everything else. It’s true that your message should never be written in full on the screen because the presenter will say it at the opening and again at the close–as well as several times throughout the presentation.  Nevertheless your audience should be able to discern your message from the slides they see.

For example, your message might be something like: we build the best cars in the universe. Or, our software protects your privacy. Or you can count on us to grow your money. Whatever it is, your slides should reinforce your message and your message should be clear from your slides.

2. There are too many slides.

A listening audience has a finite attention span. When you expose them to too much information, they lose track of where you are and what you are saying. Very quickly, they tune out and turn off because they have lost interest. It’s awfully hard to be a great presenter when nobody is listening.

3. The script is written on the screen.

An audience stops paying attention to a speaker when they begin to read. Plus, they are annoyed because if you simply wanted them to read, why did you ask them to come? You could have mailed it in. Moreover, a presenter reads more slowly aloud than an audience who is reading to themselves–and that creates a cognitive dissonance. So in addition to being bored silly, the audience becomes unhappy with the presenter.

4. There are too many words on each slide.

Never mind that PowerPoint has a “handout” version. Let your kids use that function for their classwork if they wish. But what goes on the screen is not for your handouts. Ever. Your handouts should be reader-friendly documents that reinforce the presenter’s message–not short-cuts to proper preparation. A good rule of thumb is: 3 to 6 words on a slide. Period.

5. The presentation amounts to an information dump.

Too much information makes all of it instantly forgettable. An audience needs two or three–no more than four– important ideas to remember. Give them more, and you may as well stay home and present in the shower.

6. There is no obvious organization.

These are the presentations where the presenter is likely to say: so the first thing is. And the next thing is. And another thing is. And so on. When organization of the presentation is not instantly obvious, the listeners don’t trust themselves to follow along, so they don’t even try. Of course, that means they lose trust in the presenter too.

If you want your audience to sit up and listen, you’ll need to organize your pitch simply and logically–ideally into 3 clear topics your audience will easily remember.

7. There is no graphic appeal and no originality.

Either the presentation is on a white background (to save color printing for handouts–which a presentation is not meant to be) or there is no visual impact to the slides. The problem could be overlooked if there were only a couple of slides. But when there are dozens, visual appeal is essential.

Of course, if there is no originality on the slides, the audience is left to conclude that you are just like all your competitors–and they have seen and heard all this before. They might as well write up their shopping list for next weekend.

8. There are grammatical or spelling mistakes.

Unforgivable and completely avoidable if you use no phrases or sentences on screen.

9. There are too many fancy transitions.

Yes, PowerPoint offers an array of swirling, twirling and eye-popping “transitions” the kids all love. But in a professional presentation, use none of them. That means zilch, nil, nada, zero. Just because you can do it technically doesn’t mean you should. In fact, those transitions physically nauseate most adults and practically guarantee your audience will be looking elsewhere.

10. There is little continuity or cohesiveness.

You know the old joke that says a horse assembled by committee looks like a camel. Sadly, there are too many camels on screen. Perhaps somebody puts in a slide they like from another presentation. Somebody else makes a slide at home and adds it. The marketing department sends you a slide you must use. Then you see a picture you think will fit in and you scan it to use on a slide. Backgrounds are different. Fonts are different. Visuals are different. Presto! A camel!

If you want to engage your audience from the very first word, take note of the 10 most common mistakes I see and avoid them. Make your organization logical, your message clear, and your presentation energetic. Then take pride in delivering presentations that knock ‘em dead.

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Sales Presentation? 3 Steps to a Perfect Pitch

You are in sales and chances are, you are articulate, friendly and knowledgeable. You are a person who likes people, and it shows. You may even have the presence and charisma we admire in the world’s best speakers–I call it The Likability Factor.

But the fact is, even great presentation skills are useless if your PowerPoint gets in the way of your ability to connect–and close the sale.

That happens when you copy the style you see most often–because most PowerPoint presentations are shockingly ineffective. It happens when the people “writing” your presentation have no confidence in you–or when you lack confidence in yourself. It happens when somebody thinks that every word they want to say is so stunningly important it must be in print lest they forget.  

And it happens when presenters ignore the fact that there is an audience with needs and interests and better things to do than to listen to a reader read to them. 

Just last month, a new client sent me his PowerPoint sales presentation in advance of a “presentation renovation” we had scheduled. He assured me it only needed “tweaking”. Then I opened the file to see 57 slides of mind-numbing text on a white screen.  The first slide said: Hello. My name is Tom Smith and I want to thank you for inviting me here today. Surely Tom could have remembered his own name! 

Some people call it: Death by PowerPoint. I call it: The PowerPoint Sleeping Potion. But whatever you call it, bad slides can wreck a good pitch. Not good.

The trick to a perfect pitch is simplicity.  This is your stuff and you could talk about it for hours; you don’t need every word on the screen to bore your audience to tears. Equally important, when you simplify everything, your audience pays close attention to you instead of checking your slides for grammatical errors and mistakes in parallelism.

For a powerful presentation, deliver a memorable message and eliminate everything that intrudes on the connection between you and your audience.   Here’s how: 3 steps to the perfect pitch.

1. Reorganize content to simplify it.

Print out your presentation and toss the pages on a table. Assemble all the pages into 3 distinct piles of information; each pile covers one topic. (Limit yourself to 3 piles because three is all your audience can remember.)

  • Give each pile a title that implies a benefit–such as Cost Savings or Innovative Technology.
  • Review each pile and eliminate as many pages of text as you can.
  • Look for another way to convey the message on each remaining page of text. Perhaps a pie graph would do it, or a powerful graphic. Failing that, choose two or three keywords for the slide that encapsulate the essence of what you want to say.

2. Find a unifying theme and use it throughout.

Think about your Big Message–the one thing you want your audience to remember about you–and determine the theme underlying that message. For example, your message may be about evolution or breakthrough or attention to detail. Whatever it is, come up with a graphic idea that conveys that theme.

  • Find a high-quality picture that conveys the idea instantly.
  • Don’t insert the picture so it looks like an afterthought in a box. Use it as the slide background.
  • Dull down or fade the background picture and write your two or three keywords in big white or yellow font.
  • Once you have your theme, use it both verbally and graphically to create cohesiveness and to reinforce your message.
  • Review your titles to be sure they are in keeping with your theme. Modify or change where necessary.

4. Convey authenticity.

  • Present like a real person–not a robot. When you are no longer tied to the screen, you can speak conversationally–like a friend.
  • Use real, everyday language; I call it Shirtsleeve English.
  • Eliminate jargon, businessisms and acronyms.
  • Feel free to gesture and move–like a real person in friendly conversation.

Power comes from passion. Simplifying your presentation frees you to be passionate and energetic. When you streamline your pitch to create a memorable message and theme, you’ll find your own enthusiasm is contagious and reflected in your audience. 

Once you are liberated from a script on the screen, you can introduce humor, conversational comments and appropriate stories. Your body language will be friendlier, your language less stilted, your ideas more compelling. You can be the warm, knowledgeable and likable person you are naturally.

Your presentation is your most potent closing tool. Simplify, eliminate and purge to make it look good. And when you free yourself to be yourself, your Likability Factor will soar making you look fantastic.

Results are predictable: your powerful pitch will connect with your audience and you will close more sales. Simple.

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Persuasive Presentation: 5 Rules to get it Right

Instant judgement is the most popular non-contact sport in business today. Nobody likes to admit it, but within minutes of meeting somebody new, most people form an opinion. Is this new person worth listening to? Do I like him? Do I trust her? Would I want to do business with this person?

When an audience awaits your sales presentation, they actually want to like you and they are hoping for the best. They are open to buying–or they wouldn’t be there–and they want you to be interesting, intelligent and informative. They hope you will inspire trust. They are eager for you to be fascinating or motivating or entertaining.

And yet, according to research, when you present, you have about 45 seconds–I call them “golden moments”– to convince an audience you are worth listening to. If you don’t, they will tune you out before you get a chance to turn them on.

So, as a presenter, you had better make those golden moments count.  Turn on your personal power and become the persuasive speaker you’ve always wanted to be. Here’s how.

1. Power Up Your Presence

Take your place with authority. Look important and your audience will see you as important. Stand tall and take up space. That means using gestures to punctuate your comments and facial expressions that can be seen at the back of the room.

When President Kennedy was preparing for his presidential run, he practiced smiling in front of a mirror every day–to be sure his eyes crinkled. Why? Because he wanted to project sincerity. You can do that too, to be sure your smile reaches across the room and appears genuine.

2. Control Your Voice

Practice voice control. It’s hard to be persuasive when you sound unsure or insincere. Women who have a sweet or “girlish” voice face an even greater challenge if they want to be taken seriously. 

A strong, sincere voice carries weight and projects authority. Work on projecting a strong, warm voice. That’s persuasive.

And that’s not all. Vary your intonation. I don’t mean the silly sing-song, up and down tune of the flight attendant. Their audience is usually buckled up and sound asleep by the end of their pitch. No, I want you to inject emotion into your voice so it sounds real, enthusiastic and energetic. That’s persuasive!

3. Project Energy

Energy is magnetic. It draws people to you and is a requirement of every good presenter. If you can’t muster up the energy to present, ask somebody else to present for you.

Don’t guess about your energy level; this is too important. Find out if you project sufficient energy by simply taping yourself for two minutes. Turn off the sound when you watch the replay and you’ll quickly see if your energy comes across. If it does not, try it again. And while you are watching yourself, check your smile. Do you smile often enough? Does it look genuine? If not, try harder.

4. Enrich Your Content

To enrich your content, add the human element. There is no need to add detail, data and minutia to your slides. All that good stuff was in the proposal that got you invited to the short-list presentation in the first place. Plus, if you are smart, it is also in your handouts–not your slides.

In any case, at this point, your audience knows what you propose and likes it well enough they want to know you better–so they can decide if they want to do business with you. Now is the time to make the human connection.

Sprinkle interesting anecdotes, appropriate stories and great quotes throughout your presentation. Be sure these tid-bits are on point, brief and engaging. Try them out on a colleague to be sure you can tell them successfully in two or three minutes and use them to highlight the important points. Use humor and real life examples to emphasize a key idea or message. And no, you may not tell jokes. Leave that to professional comedians.

5. Make Solid Eye Contact

You’ve heard about eye contact before because it is essential. Lock on to a pair of eyes in the audience for 3 to 4 seconds–no more. Then move on to another pair of eyes. Practice doing this as you talk so it appears to come easily and naturally. This take a bit of practice because if you move from one person to the next in order, it looks contrived. Rather, skip around the room and the eye contact you make will convey a real interest in each audience member.

Follow these simple tips and you will capture your audience and hold their attention. Your personal power will be magnified and in the end, you will reap the rewards of making a compelling impression in those first golden moments.

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Power Up Your PowerPoint: the heart of the art

The Software

Even if you are not a technical whiz, PowerPoint is a cinch. You open it. You choose a background you like, and you are presented with an array of options for layout. All you need to do is insert your pictures and fill in the blanks. It’s painless. But you already know that. What you may be wondering is if there is more to creating a powerful presentation than that. The short answer is: no. There is less.

It doesn’t matter that PowerPoint makes it easy to insert, write, whirl or twirl. Just because you can do it does not mean you should do it. It doesn’t matter that you can have sentences dance across the screen. Good slides don’t have sentences. In fact, the busier your slide, the more likely it is that your audience will tune you out completely.

The Power of PowerPoint

The power in PowerPoint comes not from the all tricks it can do or from all the words you can jam onto the screen. It comes from the technology’s effectiveness as a conveyor of images. As a visual aid, PowerPoint gives you the opportunity to be a great presenter. As a visual adjunct to your presentation, it can enhance, simplify, emphasize, entertain, underscore or highlight what you–the presenter–are saying. But as an information vehicle, it fails miserably.

I know. When you look at the PowerPoint templates, they practically beg you to begin typing. Resist! Think visuals, not text, because the more text you have, the more tedious your presentation will be.

If you want power in your presentation, if you want your audience to be excited and persuaded and ready to buy, the source of important information must be you–not your slides. Indeed, if you expect your slides to be anything other than a visual aid that reinforces your message, you suck all the potential power dry.

The Truth about Visuals

Presentation power comes from the emotional connection you make with your audience. Visuals are a major stimulus to an emotional response and it is a mistake to underestimate their value.

Whether you want to excite your audience or move them, delight them or disturb them, great slides enhance an emotional connection. Bad slides interfere with it. Your choice.

Perhaps you’ve heard me say it before, but it is a truth worth repeating. Your PowerPoint is not the presentation; you are. Put another way, PowerPoint is the icing; you are the cake.

So here it is in a nutshell. The stronger the image, the more powerful the slide–and the more effective you can be as a presenter. The more words on the screen, the less effective the slide–and the weaker your presentation.

As in many things, less is more. In the case of PowerPoint, less stuff on the screen = more impact on the audience.

How to Improve Your PowerPoint

Look for original images that convey a strong message. Search the professional photo sites to find high impact pictures. Think of words that describe the emotions you want to provoke in your audience and use those words in your keyword search.

When you find a picture that knocks you cold, buy it and use it as your background template. Then look for additional images that build on the theme of the first one and use them where appropriate–perhaps to define your topics.

Once you have your new images, you’ll need to rethink and reorganize the whole show. When you do, be sure your visuals are strong enough they help you tell your story–and keep your audience emotionally engaged from beginning to end.  If you’re stuck with a template from ”marcom” that leaves you cold, you can bet your slides do nothing to help you win the sale. And when you own the sale, well… 

The Heart of the Art

Can you do the slides yourself? Maybe. Maybe not. Manipulating images to create high impact slides requires some serious technical expertise and the eye of an artist to get it right. You may need to hand off this piece of the work, but powerful slides produce powerful sales results. And that’s the heart of the art of presentation.

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Get Your Money’s Worth from Consultants: 3 Questions to Ask

Two years ago, my favorite client asked for a proposal for a major initiative. It’s right up my alley and I was delighted to be invited to help them achieve their goals for the project.

Now, I think these people are the best thing since Sputnik and they think I walk on water, so it’s a mutual admiration society. Excellent relationship. I asked good questions and got good answers. I worked hard on their proposal taking care to stay within budget, deliver the pieces that would meet their goals, and offer added value. I was sure I’d nailed it. They agreed and accepted it.

And then all hell broke loose. The economy tanked,  the sky fell in, and my proposal was put on hold indefinitely. I understood and over the two years, we’ve exchanged a few staying-in-touch notes.

Last month they called with a request to begin immediately. Or even sooner. Of course, their objectives have changed since we’d last met and my recommendations changed in kind. Nonetheless, I got it done–with projected timelines as tight as I felt I could make them.

Again, my proposal was accepted. But before they sent the signed contract, they called with a request to push up the dates. 

Please understand that I really like these people and I was eager to give them what they want. What’s more, I pride myself on my flexibility. Hey, it’s part of my brand.  So I figured I’d work weekends, pull in some extra help, push it to the limit–and acquiesce to their request. 

Then last night–somewhere between counting baby lambs and deep REM sleep, I awoke in a panic. What was I thinking? These people deserve my best efforts and I am committed to delivering exactly that. They may not realize it, but I’m as deeply invested in their outcomes as they are–or nearly so. In good conscience, I couldn’t allow them to compromise results by pushing the project through in a compressed and unrealistic timeframe.

Okay, I may lose this bid. If so, I’ll be hugely disappointed, but I called this morning and laid it all out. I’m still waiting to hear.

The reality is that there are only 3 questions every buyer should ask themselves before they engage a consultant.

1. Do you trust this consultant?

2. Do you believe they will be fair in all dealings–from pricing to performance, and everything in between?

3. Do you think they can deliver the results you want?

If you say “no” to any of those questions, find another consultant. If you can answer “yes” then allow the consultant to guide you. They know what they’re doing; that’s why you’ve called them in. Let them do what they do best–and get your money’s worth.

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5 Writing Errors that Cost You Money

Okay, I get it. Nobody knows what a comma splice is and nobody cares.

It seems to me that statement must be true because I see comma splices everywhere I look these days. So I tell myself, “Get over it, Fern. Nobody ever lost a client over a comma splice.” And even if comma splices give me heartburn, nobody else seems to know or care about them so I’d better learn to live with them.

But I teach Strategic Business Writing to sales people who want to improve their closing percentages. I give them a magic formula and whether they write an e-mail or a major proposal, that formula makes a serious difference in the responses they receive.  Still, I want to give them more.  I want them to convey credibility, to avoid the kind of errors that make them look dumb–because what people put on paper or screen has a lot to do with sales results.

Now, I’m not going to suggest you avoid all grammatical errors because I don’t believe you can. Indeed, the grammar check on your computer can’t do it either. It often makes terrible suggestions where grammar is concerned. What’s more, perfect grammar rarely makes great reading because it’s too stilted and unnatural. Yes, bad grammar makes a bad impression, but pretty good grammar is really good enough for the majority of readers.

Still, I am going to suggest you correct the mistakes that jump off the page and make you look dumb–because looking dumb costs you money.

Here are the top 5 errors to avoid.

1. Spelling mistakes

While your grammar check is unreliable, your spell-check is good. Use it every time. A spelling mistake is unforgivable and tells your reader you care little about detail and less about following through. That’s not good.

2. Comma Bloopers

When I ask workshop participants if they know where to use commas, the most common response I hear is: wherever you’d take a breath. Nonsense! I can’t imagine who came up with that urban fantasy, but it simply isn’t true. Following that rule makes it look like you haven’t got a clue.

If you don’t know “the rules” about how to use commas correctly, don’t use them at all. These days, it’s preferable to omit a comma rather than put one in the wrong place–and yes, there are real rules for comma use. Check them out online at Garbl’s Style Manual or simply stop using commas.

3. Confusing i.e. and e.g.

Both of those short forms come from Latin and they are not interchangeable. They do not mean the same thing.

The first one is the short form of id est–which means:that is.  When you write i.e. you are saying: this thing only.  So, for example, if I said, “I teach a variety of workshops, i.e. writing.” I’ve made an obvious mistake. I should have used e.g. –the short form of exempli gratia–which means: for example.

4. Incorrect use of apostrophes

An apostrophe is used to indicate ownership or to show where a letter is missing. That said, “it’s” and “its” may be confusing, but using them correctly separates the smart from the not so smart. The same might be said of “you’re” and “your”. So, let’s be sure you know when to use which.

“It’s” is a contraction of “it is”.  The apostrophe indicates an “i” is missing. Use “it’s” when you mean: it is. Use “its” when you mean something belongs to it.  An example of both might be: it’s a good day for a dog and its owner.

“You’re” is a contraction of “you are”. The apostrophe indicates an “a” is missing. Use “you’re” when you mean: you are. “Your” means belonging to you. An example of both might be: you’re smart if you take your umbrella today.

5. Between You and I

“Between you and I” is a major grammatical error and people who care about grammar know that it is. Yes, you hear it often–even from TV anchors who should know better–but that doesn’t mean it’s right. To be correct, a person would say, “between you and me”.

As children, “me” is commonly misused and provokes frequent corrections from adults. When a child says, “Johnny and me are playing,” someone usually says something like: that’s Johhny and I.  As a result, some people get fixated on the “Johnny and I” construction thinking it’s correct every time. It is not.

“I” is the subject. Use “I” when it’s at the beginning of the sentence and a verb follows as in, “Johnny and I are playing.”  On the other hand, “me” is the object. Use “me” when a verb comes before the pronoun–i.e. when the pronoun is at the end of the sentence as in, “Give the toys to Johnny and me”.

You’ll know if you’re right by simply removing the other person from the sentence. You’d never say: give the toys to I. You would always say: give the toys to me. Adding “Johnny and” does not change the form of the pronoun.

And please, don’t choose “myself” instead of “me” just because you think it sounds fancier. In other words, don’t say, “send it to myself” when “send it to me” is preferable.

By the way, a comma splice is the use of a comma to join two independent clauses. Without getting into the finer points of grammar, I’ll simplify. A comma splice is the use of a comma instead of a period at the end of a complete sentence. Here’s an example: Margaret had a great time at the party, she danced all night. 

To be correct, I should have written: Margaret had a great time at the party.  She danced all night. 

Or I might have written: Margaret had a great time at the party; she danced all night. 

But inserting a comma where I did is a mistake.  That mistake is called a comma splice. So now you know about comma splices lucky reader, and you can get heartburn too.

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In Presentations, Convey your Brand with a Clear Message

Last week I met with a client to help them redesign their sales presentation. When I arrived, I found the board room table strewn with materials–graphs and pictures and data–and everyone was eager to assemble all of it into a winning presentation. But it quickly became clear that nobody at the table really understood the difference between brand and message. 

It was important they understood the difference so we could talk the same language and because a solid communications strategy pivots around the two. I’ll explain.

Your brand is your corporate personality. That is, everything from how the telephone is answered to what kind of Christmas party your company has.

Your brand is more than the logo. It is the company–how employees perceive it, how company leadership understands it, how the world understands it and the way you want it to be understood.

Think of your brand as a person. How would you describe that person? What is its story? What are its attributes, image, values and voice? If you can describe all that, you understand your brand. If you can’t, you have work to do.

But I’m not finished yet.

A well conceived brand is based on positioning in the market. Positioning is always in relation to other brands and traditionally stated as “the x for y who want z” as in “the dish soap for women who want softer hands” or “the hotel for businesspeople on the go”.

Any good consultant will tell you to find a position that is:

  • available–nobody else is using it
  • sustainable–you can maintain your positioning over time
  • defensible–you can prevent others from matching you
  • expandable–you can use it to expand into new markets and products in the future.  

There’s a lot more to know about positioning, but for this brief blog entry, suffice it to say that once you have your positioning, you need to develop it by determining the brand communication points.


Communication points should be limited and consistent. In other words, exactly what do you want and need to convey? Choose descriptive words carefully. Think in terms of your positioning and your target market.


I like to refer to McDonalds as a good example of a company with a strong brand and clear message. If I asked you to tell me about McDonalds, you could probably tell me a lot–whether or not you are a fan. You know their position in the marketplace. For example, they are inexpensive and don’t compete with gourmet restaurants. You’d also know they are good corporate citizens, that they like the color yellow and that speed and cleanliness are important to them. In fact, you could probably tell me lots more, but I’ve made my point: you have a vivid perception of the McDonalds brand.


And even if you’ve never stepped across a McDonalds threshold, you know their message too. It’s something like: at McDonalds you can feed your family decent food at a reasonable price.


When you plan your sales presentations, keep your brand’s communication points in mind. Discard any information that is not on-position and that does not differentiate you from your competitors. Eliminate all the excess detail and market bumph–unless it is on point and conveys the brand personality you want your audience to understand.


Once you’ve accomplished that, be sure your message is clear.


Your message is your brand promise to the world. A strong message is based on the brand attributes, positioning, image and voice and it is said as a statement of fact.


What is your message? When you present, don’t make your audience guess. Say it! State your message early and often–to differentiate yourself from the compeition and win.

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10 Key Steps to a Winning Sales Presentation

If you’re in sales, you know your presentation is your most powerful closing tool.  Even if you’re speaking at a conference or in a public arena just for the fun of it, you want your presentation to be engaging and memorable.   Either way, you wish you knew the secrets that make a presentation great.

If you’re like so many people I meet in my workshops, you’re probably convinced it’s all about content. It’s possible you’ve suffered for days over content, hoping to dazzle your audience with details.  Perhaps your whole team has been busy assembling content–sticking in everything they might possibly need.  They may have struggled to get it into a logical order. Maybe they’ve even written a script. It’s possible they have given serious thought to the “message” and if so, it’s likely they decided to put it at the end–to be sure packs a really big punch.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

Whether you are in sales, education or service, whether you’re a professional or a once-in-a-while presenter, it isn’t smart to put your audience to sleep.

Yes, I’ve written about this before, but the question comes up again and again–so the answer is worth repeating. Whether you’re presenting for two hours or twenty minutes, for predictably positive results, here’s a better way. Ten easy prep steps.

1. Craft your message. To you, your message is the one key concept you want your audience to remember. To your audience, it’s what sets you apart and above your competitors.  Without a strong message, a presentation is just an information dump–often confusing and easily forgotten

Be sure your message resonates intellectually and emotionally. It should sound like a strong statement of fact–something special about your product or service or gizmo that your audience can count on.

Polish and simplify your message–to make it clear and memorable

For example, a good message might sound something like: we build the safest strollers in the industry. Or count on us to grow your money. Whatever it is, your slides and your talk should reinforce your message and your message should be clear from your slides and your talk.

2. Assemble your content. Content is not important for its own sake.  It is simply proof that your message is true. To decide on the content you need, write down every point you could possibly want to make. Eliminate everything that is not absolutely essential.

3. Organize your content.  People pay attention when content is organized simply and logically–ideally into 3 clear topics they can easily remember. In deciding on your topics, choose titles that support your message. And do stick to the magic number 3. Then organize all your points under the 3 titles you’ve chosen.  If you’ve got too much, toss it. The reality is, too much information makes it all instantly forgettable.

4. Create a Title Slide for each topic.   A good Title Slide reinforces a benefit. Create one for each topic and insert the appropriate content on a couple of slides that follow each title slide.

5. Eliminate excess verbiage. Remove all sentences from your slides and use essential keywords only. A good rule of thumb is: 3 to 6 words on a slide. Period.

Keywords will keep you on track and keep your audience focused on you. An audience stops listening when you start to read from the screen because they are reading too. So don’t do it. It’s annoying. Besides, if you simply wanted them to read, why did you ask them to come?

Moreover, a presenter reads more slowly aloud than individuals can read to themselves–which creates a cognitive dissonance. So in addition to being bored, the audience becomes unhappy with you.  That’s not good for sales.

6. Eliminate all fancy transitions. Yes, PowerPoint offers an array of swirling, twirling and eye-popping “transitions” the kids love. But use none of them. That means zilch, nil, nada, zero. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. In fact, those transitions physically nauseate most adults–literally.

7. Come up with a metaphor that captures your message. Use that metaphor as a continuing theme in your graphics and in the way you deliver your content.

8. Create an engaging opening. I’ve left the opening until now because it’s only when you’ve got your whole act together that you can come up with a powerful opening. Remember, you’ve only got about 30-60 seconds to convince your audience you are worth listening to. That means you have no time to waste introducing yourself and expounding about how happy you are to be there. You’ll introduce yourself after the audience is hooked–not before.

Hooking your audience with a strong opening is the key to engaging them. And here’s how you do it.

Tie your opening (and your close) to your message in an original way. You might use an anecdote, a story or a magic trick. Whatever it is, be creative and original. It works even in the stuffiest arenas.

I’m not suggesting you go all show-biz if it’s not in your nature. But I am suggesting you come up with an engaging way to open into your message while differentiating yourself from your competitors.

Yes, you will say your message several times—most importantly, at the beginning and at the end. Still, an engaging opening makes your message stick.

Find the essence of your message and look for a story or anecdote that illustrates what you mean. For example, your message may be something like, “When you buy an XXX computer, we make sure it comes with all the pieces you need. You know it will work as soon as you plug it in.”

Since your main point is, “we put all the pieces together” you could open with a story about your kitchen reno or about assembling a scooter that didn’t work because the wheels were missing. Just be sure your opening leads to the point of your message.  Then you’d say something like,  “Don’t worry. With an XXX computer, you’re ready to roll as soon as you plug it in. We put all the pieces together for you.”

For the close, repeat a variation of your message–maybe even showing a perfect scooter so you can say,  “This scooter has all the pieces. So do our computers. And you can be sure they work the first time and every time–the instant you plug them in.”

9. Practice delivery. Whether it’s just you or a team event, you must practice from beginning to end. Use a coach if you can–or a video camera if you don’t have a coach.

Open with a story that leads to your message.  State your message. Then rehearse delivering your slides—until you are totally fluent and at ease. And practice your close. Do it again—and again—until your energy and enthusiasm are all the audience sees.

10. Deliver to win. That’s it! You’re ready to roll.

If you want to engage your audience from the very first word, follow the 10 steps here and you’re bound to succeed. Your message will be clear, your organization will be logical, and your presentation will be energetic.  Indeed, 10 steps of prep is all you need for a winning presentation.

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Improve Your Sales with a Memorable Message

I continue to be stumped by my clients’ misconceptions about message. Indeed, it sometimes boggles the mind.

Last week I met with a client for a Presentation Renovation—that’s when I work with presenters to blow up their presentation and reassemble it in a way that captivates their intended audience, simplifies delivery, and moves the decision-makers to buy. (Sometimes they don’t yet have a sales presentation and we start from scratch, but the process is much the same.)

Clients usually want to start with content—because they think it’s content that sells. They’re quite certain that if they present enough data and facts and graphs–oh my–the buyer will be persuaded to buy. The reality is, content is merely proof that your message is true. What’s more, if I don’t like your message or if I don’t understand it, I won’t care a whit about your content.

So, as the consultant at the helm, I insisted we begin with message.

“What’s the message?” I asked. It turns out these folks had worked hard on their message. They’d suffered over it, polished it and couldn’t wait to hit me with it.

I can’t tell you what it was because I can’t remember it. Nobody could! What I can say is that it was unintelligible. It sounded like a jargon joke. What on earth were they trying to say?

“What does that mean?” I asked. “Aha!” they replied. “That’s what we want you to ask—so we get a chance to explain.”

Now here’s the bad news: nobody wants an explanation. A good message is never opaque, confusing or unclear. If listeners don’t get it when they hear it, you lose.

A good message intrigues people so they want to know more. A great message resonates intellectually and emotionally. And the best messages are impossible to forget.

Let me put it another way. A message is not a tag line or a catch phrase. It’s bigger than that. Your message is your brand promise.

For example, if you think about Volvo, you might say their message is something like: Drive a Volvo and keep your family safe. With BMW, you might say it’s: A BMW is the most exciting car you’ll ever drive. HP’s message is something like: HP delivers up to the minute technology you can count on.

You’ll notice I don’t have the words exactly as a marketer wrote them—but I do have the real meaning of the message. And that’s what message is about: communicating the essence of your brand promise.

So, here’s what you need to know about message.

Your message is the one big take-away you want your audience to remember if they forget everything else. It sets you apart. It’s what you would say to complete the sentence: so in conclusion, what I really want you to know is…

Without a clear and memorable message, your presentation is indistinguishable from your competitors’. It’s merely a recitation of stuff your audience can’t possibly remember. What’s more, if they don’t get your message, they have little reason to listen and less reason to buy.

The good news is that crafting a message just means making yourself clear. Use what I call shirtsleeve English and talk like a real person–not a spin-meister. What do you want me to remember? How do you want me to think of your product or service or brand?

Put it into real words anyone can understand—and that’s your message. Get it right, and you’re golden. People listen. They like you. They are motivated to buy from you.

Get your message right and you win! It’s the secret to sales success.

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ThanksEnomics: the art and science of writing to network for profit

It’s been said that collaborative relationships are the key differentiator for successful selling in the 21st century. We all know that people buy from people they like, so it follows that building business relationships is a serious matter. It’s the reason so many are tweeting, blogging, face-booking and, well, connecting in any way they can.  Well connected people are simply more likely to flourish financially than those who are not.

But in today’s competitive marketplace, those connections are often superficial with little pay-off. And while you may be wracking your brain to come up with a 140 character pitch, it’s hard to make a real connection with a tweet and becoming progressively harder to get in front of the customer. Even worse, creating customer loyalty may feel like a naïve dream.

It needn’t be that way. There are a number of creative and successful techniques for getting in front of your customer when you can’t be face to face. I call it ThanksEnomics: the art and science of networking for profit.

Psychologists describe something called reciprocal psychology. Applied to business, it’s the art of giving to get. Since you know that people buy from people they like, it’s a way to increase your likeability quotient—to build relationships, stay top of mind, and increase your profile. Learn to write strategically. Give your reader something for nothing–your attention, your thoughtfulness, your thanks–and in the end, you’re more likely to get something back.

It begins with warming up everything you write. Forget the quick and dirty e-mail. Write friendly e-mails that convey your interest in the reader. Drop a signed, hand-written note into the mail box.  Just as your mother said, send “thank-you” notes after a lunch, a meeting, even after a coffee–and do it within 48 hours. Drop a tear sheet–that’s an article or ad you’ve found and torn out of a publication–attach a note card to it, and write: this made me think of you.

When it comes time to make your ‘real” pitch, the connection is already solid, putting you in a much better position to make the sale. 

Almost everyone in sales is busier than they’d like to be and less productive than they wish to be. They search for ways to connect with new customers and old—and come up empty. This innovative approach is based on the latest scientific research, newest strategies, and best practices. It sets you apart from your competitors and puts you way out front.

Think about writing to:

  • creatively target new customers
  • connect regularly with current customers
  • access old customers
  • encourage customer retention
  • initiate, build and cement relationships where the competitor is strong.

 Good relationships increase your likeability quotient—and your opportunities to close the sale. Try ThanksEnomics and profit from it.

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