The Presentation Dilemma

In my career, I have had the privilege to participate and sit in on countless presentation sessions conducted by many presales professionals. It is interesting how some presentations have been more memorable than others, and it's amazing how often, I have little recollection of the content that was presented.

I used to run a small, dynamic and time strapped presales team in Singapore. I think it is fair to say that most presales consultants in Asia seem to have the same issue of not having enough time (some say we Asians have 25 hours). In Asia, where often MNC's do not necessarily have large teams as their US and European counterparts, presales consultants often work twice as hard, most of the time. Job scope often include writing and drafting RFP submissions (for customers as well as for their own), customer meetings, learning new technologies, checking bill-of-materials, crafting statement of works, checking on hardware deliveries, following up post sales activities, dealing with post sales issues (yes, you heard right, post sales) and the list goes on.

Of course not forgetting the preparing the bread-n-butter PPT slide.

I have worked with many presales consultants that absolutely dread presentations. Not so much because they do not know what they wanted to get across, but more around the fact that they needed to prepare the slides (on top of all the day-to-day activities I mentioned above). So most of them resort to "cutting & pasting"!

Cutting and pasting if done correctly can be extremely time efficient and powerful. However, more often than not (based on experience), it is done extremely badly. Early in my career, when all I ever did was cut and paste, looking back, I cringe at the points that I have included as I presented it and have had plenty of "what the ..." moments.

So whats the secret sauce to better presales (cut & paste) presentations? I hope the following points will help.

Know your audience

  • It is extremely critical that we know our target audience. Is it gonna be the field tech, system administrator or an architect? Or is it going to be the CIO or manager that has no interest at all at the technicalities (or he/she that often say's "I'm actually technical")?
  • Tailor the content accordingly. Techies often just want to know how it works and how they can be more effective in getting their job done. While managers wants to know how they can convince their upper management that these solutions have strong business (in other words $$$ impact) values.

Slide deck consistency

  • When we cut and paste, its often from multiple sources with differing formats. Easy improvement step. Make all headers and text uniformed.
  • That's as simple as headers and text having the same font and size (and colour if required). Nothing looks worst that a slide deck that is not properly formatted. It just shows how much effort (which in this case, none) that was put into building the slides.

Agenda slide

  • Funny how this is often missed out. This has relevant importance to set the expectation to the rest of the presentation. It lets the customer know whats coming up, and if the presentation would interest him or her. It will also give more senior ranked personnel in the room an expectation if they should stay for the entire presentation (in case they have to leave first).

Words words words

  • We techies folks love getting into the nitty gritty details and showing off what we know. Sometimes we go too far, literally dumping the entire manual on to the slides.
  • Hate to break it to you, NOBODY reads any of those details on the slides. On certain rare occasions, there will be a need for those lengthy wordy slides, but experience tells me, it is far and few between.
  • Just remember, slides are presentation aids, NOT a textbook / technical manual. The audience came to see you present and not read your slides.

Excessive animations

  • "Less is more". I cannot stress this enough. Period.
  • Animate data flow if required.
  • Animate to highlight certain key points.
  • Animate process transitioning flows (Phase 1 to Phase 2 and etc)
  • DO NOT animate because of the need to animate.

Additional media (video, screenshots and etc)

  • We live in a world of 4K televisions and HD. Do yourself a favour and find images whenever possible that is of higher resolution. Video that is clear enough to showcase what needs to be shown. Pixelation! Bad!
  • Depending on the context of presentation, videos, like animations often abide by the rule "less is more". Any video demo (unless very interactive and compelling) often have an attention hold between 2-3 minutes. Anything more than that, the audience would probably not remember much. Make it sharp and concise.

This is in no way a conclusive list of things that will make you a better technical presenter, but these are simple fixes that every presales consultant can apply without too much hassle and with immediate effect. 

Do yourself justice...