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The Science of Sales Presentations

Want a sales presentation that actually help you sell? I recently had a conversation with Harvard psychology professor Stephen M. Kosslyn, who's taken latest scientific research on perception, memory ...and cognition and applied it making sales presentations more effective. Here are eight tips, based on the latest mind-science, to turn your presentation from a mere powerpoint into a real powerhouse:

  • Key #1:Don't just tell... show and tell. The latest neuroscience research reveals that human beings process words and pictures in different physical areas of the brain. Present information both with words and with pictures to have twice the impact. Combine both text and graphics in your slides when you want to make an important point.
  • Key #2: Plan how you'll direct your customer's attention. Make important elements of your presentation larger and brighter (or louder). Provide an outline structure to help them understand where they are in the overall message. For complex items - like a multi-tiered supply chain diagram -- build the slide one part at a time, showing only one part at a time.
  • Key #3: Tell a story to send a message. Human beings are drawn to stories that make sense of a chaotic world. Think of your sales presentation as a story, with a beginning, middle and ending, so that customer can see how the story all fits into their own business experiences. Cut out all irrelevant details, but without losing the crucial aspects of what you need to say.
  • Key #4: Adapt your story to each customer. Address what's important to the individual customer and must provide that information at the appropriate level of detail. Use proof points and illustrations that resonate with that customer's business experience. Don't aim for the lowest common denominator or you'll bore the bulk of the audience.
  • Key #5: Talk TO the audience, not AT them. A successful sales presentation should be like a conversation between friends not like a soapbox speech. Relax. Breathe. Let your eyes meet the eyes of the various members of the group. Tell your story the way you would at a dinner party. Don't let your notes become the focus of your attention.
  • Key #6: Use a full range of communications options. A personal anecdote or telling example is more effective than anything on a screen. Think of your slides not as "the presentation" but as a visual aid to "the presentation," which consists of YOU. At the end of the presentation, you want the customers to feel that they understand YOU, not the presentation.
  • Key #7: Build in breaks to increase retention. Nobody likes being force-fed. Build in frequent "breaks" that give the customers time to digest what's been already said. A break might consist of a relevant cartoon or joke or a video clip illustrating an important point. Better yet, break up a long presentation with a demonstration that requires audience participation.
  • Key #8: Prepare for interaction. An active Q&A period leads naturally to next steps in the sales process. Anticipate questions that might come up - and leave those bits out of your presentation. Reserve some slides to help you answer those questions effectively. And if the customers don't ask... don't be shy. Ask them yourself, and then answer them.
    If you like those points, check out Kosslyn's book: Clear and to the Point: 8 Psychological Principles for Compelling PowerPoint Presentations. And for more ideas about sales presentations check out:
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