As the post-Labor Day selling season is upon us, we devote the next three editions of The Drift to practical sales tactics and strategies.

I wouldn't call it a movement just yet, but there's a growing chorus of dissenters who just don't seem to like PowerPoint anymore. In the August edition of Inc. Magazine, ad agency president Adam Hanft chides the popular program for its "obsessive-compulsive organizational structure and truncated syntax." http://pf.inc.com/magazine/20030801/ahanft.html. And the high-priest of the anti-PowerPoint movement - Edward Tufte - is even more harsh in his assessment in Wired Magazine: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/ppt2.html "...the PowerPoint style routinely disrupts, dominates, and trivializes content. Thus PowerPoint presentations too often resemble a school play - very loud, very slow, and very simple."

In my own "road to Damascus" conversion moment, I've started using PowerPoint a whole lot less these days. In seminars and training workshops, I'm telling sales people to go cold turkey: to try a month of sales meetings with no PowerPoint. For consulting clients, I'm advocating strict organizational standards about when the program will -- and won't -- be used. This might sound a bit extreme in an industry where PowerPoint sits at the center of virtually every meeting, both internal and external. But there are several insidious ways that PowerPoint is costing you money, stunting the intellectual growth of your organization and building walls between you and your customers.


A meeting with a potential customer is a dynamic event. Success depends on the sales person's ability to listen, adjust and respond. A canned PowerPoint forces both speaker and audience to follow a plodding, slide-by-slide progression. Ironically, PowerPoint's rigid progression makes it less interactive than a printed media kit or brochure: at least with those you can jump around a little.


Ever had a near-stranger tell you everything they know on a topic? The customer meeting should be about building trust and identifying issues and opportunities. PowerPoint presentations do neither. They force the seller into a recitation of facts and data points, often before any meaningful discovery has been done. At the end of the day, facts don't persuade unless they're preceded by trust and driven by ideas.


Remember the boring teacher you had in high school who would constantly resort to films to bail himself out of class? To the weak or inexperienced seller, PowerPoint is the ultimate shield... a way to avoid the messy business of real human interaction. Instead of looking the customer in the eye, you both start looking at a common screen. Kind of like your family all staring at the tube instead of talking, now isn't it?


"Grabbing a Deck" or asking the marketing team to put one together for a client meeting is just too easy. Having a bunch of PowerPoint slides in tow often gives the seller delusions of preparedness. She'd be better served spending just five minutes "visualizing" the meeting and anticipating client needs and questions.


If your marketing or sales support teams are in the business of churning out PowerPoint Presentations, you need to consider the important work they're not doing. Investigating client business needs. Developing sales strategy. Planning focused client-specific events. Generating ideas. Look at the numbers and assess the raw volume of PowerPoint slides and presentations your organization is creating. Is this the kind of creative work and problem solving that will drive your customer relationships forward?


Can't buy into a moratorium on PowerPoint right away? Then consider these simple rules to help wean your team off the PowerPointPipe:

  • The first slide of any deck must clearly state the customer need you're addressing. The second slide offers a strategy or idea for addressing that need. All slides that follow support slide two.
  • Six slides maximum, and not that many words on any given slide. You won't believe how you can economize when you have to.
  • No PowerPoints on the first call without the express permission of a manager.
  • Take three or four of the slides you would have shown and print them out instead. Watch how much the dynamic of the meeting changes when you start handing old-fashioned paper back and forth.
  • Only one graph or chart per presentation (and, yes, it does count against your total of six slides.)
  • If you have a slide in your possession that reads "who we are" or "about us" please seek it out and destroy it immediately.

As a manager, ask this question before every client meeting: "How will showing PowerPoint slides to this client build our relationship or advance our cause?" Then wait patiently until you hear a really good answer. I think we all understand - or at least sense - the value of real human connection in the sales process. So many great things can develop during a customer meeting: Ideas, trust, opportunity, discovery... unless, of course, we turn out the lights and start showing slides.

Send your comments and questions directly to Doug Weaver