I have no proof of this. But I’m relatively certain primitive salespeople used chisel and rock to create visual presentations while cold calling in caves. We’ve taken giant leaps forward. It started with pen-on-paper, then went from transparencies to overhead projectors to the current state-of-the-art computer presentations. However, our ability to effectively use visual presentation media has remained in the Stone Age. I would further submit that these technological leaps, in some cases, do more harm than good. Yes, my friends. The current technology is more efficient than rock and chisel. But it’s not effective in front of your customers. One of the most popular presentation platforms is Powerpoint. But what is PowerPoint? And should sellers use it?
Furthermore, what’s the intention of visual presentation media? Retention is the objective. That’s right. The primary objective of using visual presentation media is to ensure customers retain the information from your presentation long after you’re gone.
I’m not certain how scientific these numbers are. But supposedly, people retain 10% of what they hear, 20% of what they see, and 40% of what they see and hear. So if these numbers are even close to being true, we double the potential for information retention. Point in fact, customers gain a lot from visual presentations.
The Objective of Retention
As obvious as the idea may seem, it is a failure to recognize the objective of retention and its significance that causes so many PowerPoint presentations to fail.
I read a fascinating study recently. A major university conducted a study. They invited a group of students to witness three presentations. Each presentation was conducted via PowerPoint and LED projection. The students judged the presentations.
#1) – The first presenter used all the capabilities PowerPoint had to offer.
Each slide used spectacular transitions, color, graphics, animations, and sounds. It was loaded with information. Moreover, it was compelling and state-of-the-art. This presenter was hard to beat. A few students even gave a standing ovation!
#2) – However, the second presenter pared their presentation down.
It included a few transitions, less color/graphics, and no animations or sound. They used all of the available real estates on the slide but chose to fill it with text. You could clearly see the disappointment in the audience. This presentation certainly didn’t meet the standards set by the first presenter. There was significantly less applause and no standing ovation as evidence. It possessed lots of info but had no sizzle.
#3) – It was a bare-bones presentation.
The third presenter used no transitions, color, graphics, animations, or sounds. He simply used a white background with black block letters. Besides an occasional snicker, all you heard from the audience was an uncomfortable silence. Obviously, this presenter either hadn’t explored all the features available through PowerPoint or was simply too lazy to use them. At the end of his presentation? Polite applause was accompanied by a smattering of “boos”.
What is PowerPoint 101: The Kicker
The first presentation was voted superior by the audience when tested for retention of the actual content. However, the audience remembered twice as much from the final presentation conducted with nothing but block letters on a white background as they did from the first presentation with graphics, colors, and animation. That’s right. When tested for the objective of retention, the presentation voted “superior” failed miserably.
Remember, visual presentation media is meant to ensure that your audience remembers what you say. Vision is a powerful sense. It uses a significant amount of brain processing power. Slides filled with graphics, animations, and words compete with the speaker. This overrides hearing, our second most powerful sense.
And unfortunately, as fast as I can talk, you can read faster. So if you have multiple bullet points on a slide or graphics on a slide, nothing can stop a reader from reading the third bullet point while you are commenting on the first. Or nothing can stop a reader from going back and reading the first bullet point when you are commenting on the third. The power of vision is simply too strong. The result in either scenario is diminished potential of retention.
Take a look at your PowerPoint presentations. You may find that they are overloaded with so much information it would be impossible for anyone to retain it. Believe it or not, I would far rather see a few block letters on a white background than what I see in most presentations.
So if you want to focus on retention, here are a few rules:
- Keep your words and graphics to a minimum. The only thing appearing on a slide should be in support of the specific point you are speaking to at that moment.
- One single graphic is fine, but no more. You dramatically increase the potential of retention when NOTHING competes with what is being said.
- Consistency. Backgrounds, fonts, and colors should remain the same from slide to slide. If those things change, the brain must process that change. This is problematic. The brain’s processing power should be dedicated to retention.
- Consider blanking your screen. If there are questions, or if the conversation goes off-topic, blank out the screen. Nothing appearing should compete with what is being spoken.
- Remember, your movement in the room can help control where your audience looks. When you want them focused on what you are saying, move away from your screen while maintaining eye contact so their attention is drawn to you and NOT your media. When you want them back to your presentation media, move back to the screen.