Sales presentations should be conversations, not broadcasts


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How many times have you sat and suffered through a dull b2b presentation, eagerly anticipating the final slide and an end to the relentless torture?  All too often, if your experience is similar to that of most people I meet.

It seems that many presenters have got themselves into the habit of using PowerPoint as a prop for themselves, rather than as an aid to the audience.  They treat the event as a broadcast, rather than as a conversation – and as a result what they say and do just washes over the audience to no lasting effect whatsoever.

Avoiding death by PowerPoint

SleepLet’s be clear: I’m not talking about presenting to an audience of thousands at an industry conference, where it’s challenging to make it more than a one-way communication – although heaven knows, most of us could learn a lot from the best television broadcasters when it comes to engaging a mass audience.

No, I’m referring to the vast majority of business meetings, which are held in one room, often across a table, with a handful of people involved.  My preference is always to use a flipchart or whiteboard in these circumstances.  But if you feel that you must use PowerPoint* then I’d like to share a few suggestions.

The 10-20-30 rule…

Firstly, I strongly encourage you to follow Guy Kawasaki’s “10-20-30” rule.  It’s laughably simple, but highly effective:

  • Use 10 slides or less
  • Plan to speak for a maximum of 20 minutes
  • Use a minimum 30 size font

I hope that the first two points, after a little reflection, will be self-explanatory – if what you’re trying to put across can’t be conveyed in 10 slides and 20 minutes (this, by the way, excludes questions) then you’ve got to wonder whether you are making the subject too complicated.

The font size is an interesting one (by, the way, Guy offers an alternative rule of thumb – find the age of the oldest member of your audience, divide by two, and that’s your minimum font size).  The real reason for following it is that you should not need to read off your slides to make your point, and if allow your audience to read ahead, then they are unlikely to be paying attention to you at the same time.  Use graphics wherever you can.  If you must use text, use phrases rather than sentences, and words rather than phrases.

It’s about them – not about you…

Next, remember that your presentation should be about what you can do for your audience, and not about how great you are.  Cut out the all the corporate bullshit and boring statistics.  Establish empathy by illustrating the points you want to make with reference to how you have helped similar organisations do the same.  

Build rapport with your audience and get your points across by telling stories, rather than delivering “pitches”.  Start with the end in mind.  What do you want your audience to think or do as a result of the meeting?

Let’s get the conversation started…

ApplauseBut, above all, look on the presentation as an opportunity to stimulate a conversation.  Think of every slide as a chance to make your audience think, to ask questions, and to get a discussion going.  Don’t ever, unless you are in full-on “broadcasting-to-a-cast-of-thousands” mode, ask them to leave their questions to the end.  Be prepared to tune and adjust the rest of your presentation according to what you learn at each step.

Who knows?  You might even have more fun presenting as a result.  I can guarantee that your audience will.

*Other presentation tools are available

Bob Apollo
Bob Apollo is the CEO of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the B2B sales performance improvement specialists. Following a varied corporate career, Bob now works with a rapidly expanding client base of B2B-focused growth-phase technology companies, helping them to implement systematic sales processes that drive predictable revenue growth.


  1. Great post! I’m always challenged to make online software demos a 2-way conversation, especially since I can’t see the audience’s reaction. It’s great when the audience is participating and awful when all you hear are crickets. I suggest that Guy’s rule be tweaked to using just a handful of slides, then showing real-world sites, not demo decks. When presenting, sipping coffee allows time for questions and interjecting some humor can show personality and help make presentations less of a broadcast and more of an exchange. Thanks for this food for thought for my next demo!


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