12 Tips for Great Sales Presentations

Sellers need great sales presentations. However, the majority don’t have them.  As a sales consultant I’ve seen too many of their atrocities. Great slideshows are rare as oxygen on the moon. Minimally acceptable ones are probably less than 5% of all slideshows produced. “The horror, the horror” say customers.

There’s been a lot written about bad PowerPoint presentations. The best is Seth Godin’s “Really Bad PowerPoint” . Four years ago I added my observations to his. Since then things haven’t gotten any better. So I’m posting my original 10 up again, now with a couple of new tips.

Use these 12 tips along with “Mea Culpa – Presentation Mistakes to Avoid” and you’re far ahead of your competitors. Ignore them and you’re at risk of Death by PowerPoint.

Heads up about the differences when using web meetings; Read 23 Tips for Delivering Great Sales Presentations via Web Meetings.

And yes, there are presentations that don’t need a speaker. For those exceptions not all of these tips are applicable. However, for in-person presentations and most live web meetings these are absolute requirements.

#1 It’s a Presentation – Not a Report

Documents are for presenting dense information. Presentations are for getting a group to take the action you want.

Don’t confuse the two.

If you’re going to dump tons of data on your audience, save their time. Put it in a report and email it. Don’t make them sit in resentful silence through mountains of minutiae.

Getting people to do what you want requires communication. Communication takes an emotional connection. You have to be there to connect. Use a presentation for that.

#2 Leave Behind the Details

Put your audience at rest at the start. Tell them they don’t need to take notes. You’ll provide a detailed report of the presentation. Word is a good tool for this, not PowerPoint.

The leave behind is not a printout of the presentation.

As you’ll see in tips #4 and #5, the presentation doesn’t make sense without you there to explain it.

Heads up! There’s more work to produce a presentation plus a printed report. But the results are worth it.

#3 Leave the Leave Behind When You Leave

Don’t hand out your leave behind report until you…leave.

If you hand it out first, you’ll break the flow and lose your audience’s attention while they read it.

EXCEPTION: Detail content
When you have detail content to cover, stop the slideshow (in PowerPoint hit the letter B for black screen, or W for white). Handout the hard copy of the detail content (this is not the entire leave behind) and discuss it. When finished with the detail, start up your slideshow again (repeat B or W to toggle back to the screen).

#4 Use Images to Support Your Story

This is a scary one to swallow. Think image first for your audience, rather than screen text for your speaker’s notes.

It’s about attention and retention. Your audience has to pay attention before they’ll retain anything you present.

Slides with minimal text require the audience to listen. They see the image but don’t get it. This causes cognitive dissonance, a kind of cerebral uncomfortableness. The brain wants to solve the mystery of the image but doesn’t understand it. So they listen to the presenter to explain it.

Consider using an image, graphic or chart to convey the essence of your story on each slide. Select one that addresses the key thought in that particular story/slide. You’ll speak the details of the story.

And your audience is getting your report at the end, so don’t worry if they don’t remember the details now.

Heads up! Selecting the right image or chart is harder than it seems. It takes time and thought. slide:ologyAlso, you’ll have to really know you’re topics and slide-show content, but that’s what your paid for.

slide:ology by Nancy Duarte is a great book for slideshow design and graphics (she designed Al Gore’s slideshows for his global warming talks).

#5 Minimalist Text

This works with tip #4. Try keeping onscreen to text to six words or less. Why not seven? You’ve got to stop somewhere. And your title can eat up most of those six words.

So, what’s your text about? Think of it as an enigma. A written enigma that your spoken story explains and makes clear.

Heads up! This is easier than it seems, but it does take thought.

Here’s an exception. Once in about 250 slides a quotation works. Include the quote and image of the person the quotation is from. Use very rarely.

#6 Break Audience Expectations

If you’ve been a proselytizer of brand consistency, as I was, you’ll find this sacriligious. But once you’ve tried it, I’m sure you’ll come around too.

Vary your slide layout. Consider using several templates within your presentation, applying them to different sections of content.

For each template vary the position of the title, body text and background color and/or image. Repeat a layout you’ve already used, or even vary the layout slide by slide.

The presentation is about getting a group to take the action you want. And that requires their attention. So keep them slightly out of balance. They’ll need to pay attention to see what’s coming next.

If you like tip #6, consider excluding the ubiquitous header with logo. How often will your audience forget what company you’re with? Unless of course you’ve put them to sleep. It’s not about burning your logo into their retinas.

#7 Design a Conversation – Not a Monologue

83 slides of you droning on is more effective than a handful of Ambien to put your audience asleep.

Design your presentation for interaction. Schedule points where you ask their input, such as the next topic, their understanding or interpretation of what they’ve heard, or questions in general.

You’ll need to present enough of your pitch for them to know where they’re at. But give them the chance to talk. When they’re talking they’re not sleeping.

#8 Lay Off the Cheese

Skip the cheesy PowerPoint animation builds and distracting slide transitions.

Choose only a few minimal, basic builds and transitions. Use them consistently throughout your slideshow.

#9 Give ‘Em Your Best Side

Face the audience. You can’t connect with your audience unless you see their eyes. Remember tip #1.

#10 They Can Read

Your audience can read, trust me. And you no longer have a lot of text, see tip #5, but for Heaven’s sake don’t read what little you do have.

Cognitive Load Theory says that if you do read the text, you’re likely to minimize your audience’s retention. The brain stores auditory and visual information in separate places. And your brain can only hold so much. When you speak (auditory) and they read (visual) the same thing, chances are they’re not getting it all (cognitive overload).

Besides, give them some respect. After all it’s only six words.

#11 Spare Everyone from Clip art

I find it surprising that this still needs to be said but clip art is still used so here it is again:

NEVER use clip art

Icons are great to use, and other graphic images that you’ve customized to fit your slide-show’s design style.

#12 Use Legal Images Only

Slide-shows can include a lot of images. Getting the ones you want and can afford is always a challenge. Because it’s a challenge doesn’t mean one can just take images off the web and use them. Always respect the image creators’ legal ownership. Here are several ways to do that:

Custom photography

  • Greatest customization (shoot what you want)
  • Most expensive (day rates, expenses & license fees)
  • Rights can have varying limitations, set by photographer
  • Sources: professional photographers

Royalty-free stock photography

  • Style of imagery can be limited (cheesy sometimes)
  • Cost-effective
  • Once purchased, reusable over & over again
  • Sources: online vendors, i.e. Getty Images, iStockPhoto, etc.

Creative Commons (CC) licensed images

  • Often interesting imagery
  • No cost for most CC licenses
  • Rights vary by CC license
  • Always attribute CC images (which can be confusing)
  • Sources: search engines with CC attributed filters


That’s all there is to great, remarkable presentations. I’ll bet it’s different than you’re currently giving. Give it a try. You’ll love the results.

TITLE IMAGE by Steve Jurvetson

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Presentation Mistakes to Avoid