Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Stroll Down Preso Memory Lane

In olden times – say, fifteen or twenty years ago - when a sales or marketing person was going to give a presentation, they had a couple of options: 35 mm. slides, flip-charts, or overheads.

Slides looked great. Someone actually designed them for you. They even used color and graphics. Unfortunately, they were expensive to create – you actually needed budget and a designer. And they took forever to produce. You rarely made changes, and changes were never made on the fly. Other than cost, time, and complete non-customizability, the biggest problem with slides was that outside of those who have a degree in optical engineering – and that pretty much precluded everyone in sales and marketing – no one could ever remember which direction to face the slides when you placed them in the projector.

Flip-charts were cheap obviously fully customizable. All you needed was a pad and felt-tip marker. You could also create them in the moment, although, of course, you ran the risk of having your writing slant down, slant up, or cram into the end of the line. Each time you finished a page, you could either flip it over or tape it up on the wall (a grand technique for audience involvement). The flip-chart approach worked pretty well when the presentation was given at home, but it was a bit cumbersome to lug around the oversized pad and easel. So on the road, most of us used overheads.

Overheads were clear, glassine sheets used with overhead projectors. (They were also, for some arcane reason, called “foils”.) Like flip-charts, overheads could be customized for a specific presentation. Foils were pretty simple: words, bullets, maybe some type of chart. You could draw on them to illustrate or emphasize a point. Anyone could use them, other than one sales rep I worked with who insisted on drawing on the projector screen itself.

Once we got PC’s, well, our options increased, and when the first presentation software came into our lives…to say that our world opened up… Even if all you could do was bold, italic, font size, and indentation, it was easy. There were actually templates you could use.

And then there’s PowerPoint, which now lets just about anyone create a multi-media extravaganza. Everyone in sales and marketing is an artist, an artiste, even. Customer’s logo on the front page? Sure, why not? Cartoons of worried looking people, transformed to happy campers once they used your product. Screen Beans on one slide, nice color photo of a router on the next, screen shot of any-app USA – let’s face it: they all look the same. Cut to a live video of one of your customers singing your praises, then to a picture of Ben Franklin to illustrate your ROI… And the effects: box in, box out, wheelspokes, random bars vertical, cut through black. There’s a whole presentation square dance going on out there. (Allemande left and do-si-do…)

Sales and marketing folks now devote hours on presentations – building their own deck from scratch, borrowing slides from the grab bag full of every-other-presentation-that-anyone’s-ever-given, staying up all night, last minute in flight changes (talk about changes on the fly). And you know what? A lot of these custom presentations are one big, confusing, incoherent mess. And, worst of all, many presenters use them as a crutch, a substitute for true interaction with their audience. Frankly, they’d be better off playing TaiPei or Freecell while they thought about how they were going to engage a customer, rather than just sit there heaving stuff into a PowerPoint preso.

Worried about the sales and marketing productivity? Think about taking away their PowerPoint for a while. The withdrawal might be painful, but they’ll come out better for it. And a grateful nation full of prospects and customers will heave a mighty sigh of relief.

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