There are many patterns one sees after working with hundreds of creative and marketing firms on their approach to business development, and one of them is an over reliance on presentation software like PowerPoint. When I spot a strategy document written for a client or the firm itself that was composed in PowerPoint I know we have a problem and I can immediately identify the co-presenting symptoms.
The second proclamation of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto is We Will Replace Presentations With Conversations.
“We will break free of our addiction to the big reveal and the adrenaline rush that comes from putting ourselves in the win-or-lose situation of the presentation. When we pitch, we are in part satisfying our craving for this adrenaline rush, and we understand that until we break ourselves of this addiction we will never be free of the pitch. Presentation, like pitch, is a word we will seek to leave behind as we seek conversation and collaboration in their place.”
Are You Present or Are You Presenting?
PowerPoint is presentation software. When you write in PowerPoint you are in presentation mode. Period, end of discussion. I’ve said many times before, you can present to someone or you can be present to them, but you can’t do both. When you’re in presentation mode you’re in convince mode, triggering all the usual responses from the client: I’m in charge, I’m the prize to be won and you are the vendor. Dance, puppet.
The co-presenting symptoms, as you might expect, are many:
- Poor positioning (PowerPoint appears to be the go-to tool of generalist trying to convince people that they are indeed specialists in whatever their problem is)
- Meetings that go on too long and conclude messily (presenters tend to eschew proper sales process and hope the show compensates for the lack of a specific ask)
- Inability to affect the buying process (and if you read last week’s article you know how important this is)
- All this leads to a poor closing ratio and a very high cost of sale
Those most likely to think in PowerPoint are those in the advertising business, account planners or strategists, and writers but others are afflicted too.
Thinking through PowerPoint is not only an unhealthy crutch, it’s an addiction and the addicts can rationalize and justify it all day long but I have yet to encounter a firm or a situation where the selling party would be better off if they did not use PowerPoint – if they just talked.
Where Have All The Drawers Gone?
Creative firms possess something that very few consulting firms or other businesses of ideas and advice do and that is the ability to communicate complex ideas visually. These days however, visually means a 50-slide PowerPoint deck with quotes from the pop marketing expert or Ted speaker du jour laid over interesting stock photos that we’re all pretty sure we’ve seen somewhere before.
You can still harness your ability to communicate visually without going into presentation mode. Some of the most effective visuals I’ve seen in new business meetings have been spontaneous (or seemingly spontaneous) drawings on white boards. Drawing is a great way to facilitate and bring extra meaning to a conversation. It’s also a sample of your creativity at work. Clients tend to love anyone who can illustrate, on the spot, the point they are trying to make.
Strategy can be expressed through oral communication or visually through drawings or ready made infographics. (A good example of the latter is to communicate your strategy model or working process.) It suffers when it’s put into presentation format. This applies to sales situations and to the delivering of recommendations to paying clients. There’s an inverse correlation between the value of your thinking and the amount of paper it takes to communicate it. Everyone knows the role of the deck is to convince. The bigger the deck the more invested you are in the sale and the less likely you are to be open to no or objections, therefore they go unsaid. No real, unguarded conversation happens in a room with one person standing in front of a screen.
I can hear the arguments now that it’s just habit – I like to think through PowerPoint and there’s nothing wrong with it, I can transfer it to another medium later – but there is everything wrong with it. It’s a safety blanket that lets you go into convince mode instead of the less comfortable but far more effective conversation mode.
“What about credential presentations?” I can hear people ask. They shouldn’t exist, is the answer. When Win Without Pitching firms start to lose their way and slip into old behaviours the credentials deck is one of the first habits to seep back in. You have a website and you have a mouth. You don’t need any credentials deck that requires you to stand up in front of a room and advance slides. Send it ahead. Any meeting you have you should make sure in advance that those in the meeting already know the important information about your firm before you show up. To launch into a presentation about you is a crime. A CRIME. A 60-180 second oral recap of your firm at the top of a meeting is appropriate. Anything longer and you’re presenting.
If you can’t imagine showing up to these pitches, presentations or meetings without a deck it’s because you’re setting up the wrong type of meeting. You are agreeing or even contributing to the shaping of that meeting as an audition rather than a conversation. You’re not pushing back (affecting the buying process) or changing the conditions of the sale therefore you are not increasing the odds of winning the business – you’re just increasing your cost of sale and feeding your own personal need to present.
Letting Go In The New Year
At this time of year I like to think about goals for the next year and I begin with things I’m going to give up. There is no room for growth without vigorous pruning. It’s good to begin the year with a purge of at least one thing that you’re using as a crutch. PowerPoint is a great one.
In 2016 I’m giving up my email inbox and my desk. I realized that these are the two things that most distract me from what I really should be doing. Both of these decisions terrified me (briefly) when I was considering them but after contemplating them for awhile the costs of these distractions were clear and therefore the decisions were obvious. Will there be a learning curve and a few disasters? I’m guessing so. Does that mean they’re the wrong decisions? No, I’ll just have to learn as I go. Where will I sit/work and how will I communicate? There are many possible answers and I have mine. If they’re wrong, I’ll find other answers.
If you’re one of these people who thinks through PowerPoint, I’d like you to consider giving it up as your New Year’s resolution. Webinars and the odd speech are really the only use for such tools. Drop the PowerPoint and something magical will happen. Without the tools to present, you will be forced to converse, to be present to the client. This in turn will force you to be more judicious in how you set up these meetings. Watch your cost of sale fall and, after the initial inevitable awkward fumbling and failures, watch your success rate rise. Then you will be free and you will look back and wonder what the hell you were doing all those years of midnight deck crafting.
Let it go.