The biggest problem that most sales presentations face in terms of structure is time. How do you engage an audience for the full time slot? Sure, your typical switched-on business audience will be all ears at the beginning - and they’re canny enough to smell the coffee and tune back in come the end. The trouble, all too often, is the middle. The middle is where people’s minds wander. The middle is where people get bored, drop off and begin to wish they were anywhere else in the world other than sat listening to you.
Don’t believe it’s that bad? This graph by Mills, H R (1977) illustrates what happens to audience attention span over 40 minutes:
Bullet point lists do not guide audience attention; they guide a presenter who hasn’t bothered to write or rehearse a script. The moment you – as a presenter – reveal an unanimated, static, bullet point list, you have lost your audience. And here’s why: When audience members see a bullet point list, they read it instinctively. They choose to ignore what they can hear (you) in favour of what they can see (your slides). They can scan-read the list a lot quicker than you can plough through the oration of each elaborated point, so you become the bottleneck of your own show, lagging behind your audience.
Presenting too much information is the classic audience turn-off. And yet so many people continue to present bullet-point cluttered slides. Why? In reality, working memory is relatively small and therefore easy to overload. If you want your presentation sales message to be remembered, you must craft your content with this in mind. Focus on your key material and forget everything that you don’t want the audience to remember.
Make sure your key sales message - the whole point of your presentation - is not packed away somewhere once… in the middle. While you can’t avoid the fact that your audience’s attention will begin to wander, you can make a dedicated effort to win back their interest when you want to deliver a key message.
How? Create points of impact by telling a story. People love stories. Stories are engaging and often require some sort of investment, emotional or otherwise. A well told story will be remembered by your audience, long after other details of your presentation have faded. If the stories are directly linked to your presentation sales message, there’s a good chance that will be remembered too.
PowerPoint presentations work best in small, segmented sections. Better still if you summarize after each section; repeating your presentation sales message again and again can only help your chance of being remembered by the audience for the right reasons.
In the next post, we’ll cover how to deal with audience questions before closing your sales presentation with a winning call to action.