Putting The Power Back in Power Point

What do we know about the effect of emotional engagement on sales decisions?

  • Research at Harvard University shows that people must feel some sort of emotional connection to make a decision and follow through.
  • The best predictor of the winning candidate in a presidential election is the likeability index. When all is said and done, we vote for the candidate we like the best.
  • People buy on emotion and justify with facts.

You know that sales is relationship-dependent. That requires emotional connection. But are sales enablement strategies taking emotion into account? Let’s look at slide-based sales presentations to see how important design is to that emotional commitment.

A few years ago I attended a presentation on generational differences in employee needs. It soon became apparent that the speaker was eager to share every detail from his research. As slide after slide appeared with a multitude of miniscule bullets points, each of which he would discuss at great length, I briefly considered banging my head on the table in front of me to knock myself out for the duration of the program. Needless to say, the presenter did not score high points in my personal likeability index. However valuable the information was to my needs, his delivery had nixed any interest on my part in hiring him as a consultant to my company.

Sound familiar? We’ve all been there, and yet many presentations continue to default to bullets on a slide, as if we can’t stop our self-destructive behavior. A great sales presentation can be undermined by the PowerPoint that is supposed to convince the prospect. PowerPoint is one of many effective sales enablement tools, but only if you use it as a visual aid for emotional impact.

PowerPoint strengthens your message by engaging the audience with strong visual images that tell a story.

When you put up words on a slide, you’re helping the visual learners—right? Nope, all you’re doing is creating cognitive dissonance for everyone in the room, disconnecting the customers from you, and inhibiting retention. When we read text and listen to someone speak at the same time, we are processing both sets of information in the same part of our brain, and we’re not grasping either type of information very well.

Dr. Richard Mayer at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has done extensive research in multimedia learning theory. He has discovered that the best use of multimedia is a strong visual image accompanied by narration, with no words on the slide. One of my clients converted his sales presentation to use pictures and graphs exclusively, with his explanation as the narration. He used a powerful visual to discuss the cascade of events related to the inflammatory process in the body: a picture of a large group of matchsticks standing up in rows, with the center 4 or 5 matches bursting into flame. It was clear what was inevitably going to happen next. The image told a story, it was memorable, and it anchored an important point. I’ve remembered it for years; I’ve never remembered a slide full of bullet points. Likewise, at a conference two years ago the speaker used a picture of an enormous tree fallen across a road. I still remember the points he made about overcoming obstacles to mobile app adoption for sales reps. I felt tense when I looked at that tree blocking my path, and that tension heightened my engagement in his problem/solution.

The best images tell a story and evoke an emotional response. Without some sort of emotional investment from the client, you’ll never close the sale. Well-designed visuals evoke emotion, whether you’re selling a medical device, computer systems, advertising space, or a new idea.

PowerPoint and other forms of presentation software are Visual Aids.

If you want your prospect to read information, use a handout or brochure. But use PowerPoint strategically to reinforce your message with a powerful image or simple graph that nails your point. When you don’t need a visual, go to a blank screen and bring the connection back to yourself until it’s time for another strong visual. If it takes more than a few seconds for the clients to read your slide, your voice and the words on the slide are competing for their attention. In this competition, nobody wins.

A few years ago I was in the audience when a speaker was asking for funds for his project to provide clean water to villages in underdeveloped countries. He told us some compelling stories of the changes he witnessed when the people had access to clean water; then he turned on the projector. I was disappointed that he had been so engaging, but now we would have to sit through bullets points of statistics on waterborne disease rates, loss of productivity, and so forth. Instead, he showed us a picture of a swampy, foul, hoof-trampled watering hole—the source of water for an entire village. The audience gasped and reached for their checkbooks to support his project. He sold us on the need! The image told a story, and it was a powerful one. That’s how you put the power into PowerPoint.

Remember these three tips next time you design a presentation:

  1. To engage emotion, use pictures that tell a story
  2. Use slides only when you need that visual impact
  3. Get rid of most of the words

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