The PowerPointless Presentation

I recently had the opportunity to speak in front of a small group of IT leadership from a mid-market company. As the Vice President of Sales for TAC (The Advisory Council – I was there to “pitch” my company’s services and value to my audience, in response to an RFP. I came prepared, as I always do, with my PowerPoint presentation on my laptop, a copy of the presentation on my tablet (for smaller audiences or for one-on-one’s) and a third copy on a USB memory stick, in case I needed to use their equipment, and to leave behind so that they would have a copy of it to refer to.

As I walked into the room to “set up”, I saw that there were no projectors, screens, or any other A/V hookups in the conference room. It appeared that I would not be showing any slides that day… and I found myself strangely relieved.

If you’ve never given a “PowerPointless” presentation to an audience, try it some time; it’s truly liberating. Instead of standing in front of an audience in a darkened room, I sat at the table with them in a group. Instead of the usual “chalk talk” type of presentation, with the slides holding me “in line”, I got to really focus on the audience, and use their body language and visual cues to move the presentation to where they needed it to go. Instead of speaking to them I was speaking with them. Instead of asking if there were questions at the end of the “presentation”, I was able to look at a person in the audience after I said something, and state, “You have a question about what I just said, don’t you.” That allowed a single question to lead the discussion (it was no longer a presentation) in a direction that my slide deck would not have let me go.

In the end, the prospective client found out what they really needed to know… not about how wonderful our company is (it is wonderful) and how great our services are (they are great by-the-way), but exactly how their company could benefit from using our services and exactly how they would use us. My PowerPointless “presentation” became a series of “what if’s” using the company’s own issues and problems as examples.

At a “presentation” for another company later that day, I was ushered into a room with a larger group. The room was arranged with chairs in rows, people facing the front of the room. This time all the A/V equipment was there; the projector, laser pointer, etc. When everyone was settled, the group leader sat there, arms folded across his chest, and told me that they were ready for me to “WOW” them, that they were ready for my “dog and pony show” (his words). I knew what their expectations were, because they had just, sarcastically, been given to me. They expected me to show a slide presentation, talk at them for 20-30 minutes, and ask for questions at the end, a “typical” sales pitch.

I didn’t show a single slide.

I stood in front of them and spoke with them, again asking them what their issues were, what they needed from me, and how they needed it delivered. We played the “what if” game with their real-world problems, and I told them how my company could help, if we could, and what we couldn’t help them with, if we couldn’t. Again, a presentation became a conversation.

TAC prides itself on the ability to provide highly personalized service to its clients. Now when I go into a company to talk about what we do, I offer a highly personalized discussion on their issues, their problems, and how we help clients. We talk to each other using their “real-world what if’s” instead of me talking at them about how great my company is (and we really are great – call and find out). The prospective client gets the information they need to have, which cannot necessarily be engineered into any PowerPoint presentation in advance.

So now, if they want a PowerPoint presentation (and does anybody really?), I’ll leave them with one to look at after I leave.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, we got the business.