In Presentations, Less is More

By Heather Baldwin

It’s a truth of wine, gambling and public speaking: know when to quit. Many great presentations have been soured by the speaker going on for too long, oblivious to audience cues of boredom, anxiousness to leave or readiness to close or reject a sale.

Joey Asher, president of Atlanta-based Speechworks, says salespeople can avoid falling into the talk-a-holic trap by doing one simple thing: prepare a presentation that takes up only one-third to one-half of the time they’ve been allotted to speak. “People have this sense that if they have an hour to speak, they need to stand there for a whole hour, and that’s totally wrong,” says Asher. “If you’ve prepared to go for far less than the full hour and you’ve set aside time for questions, you’ll be responding to the immediate needs of the prospect.”

Asher recently was allotted 25 minutes to give a presentation to a publishing company considering him for a contract. He prepared a 10-minute presentation. “After 10 minutes, I asked for questions even though I was already asking questions and getting the interaction going during the presentation,” Asher explains. “By the end of the 25 minutes, I had heard and addressed all their concerns.” He got the job.

Paring down your presentation isn’t about sacrificing substance, it’s about making sure only the substance your audience is interested in is included. If you’ve got 60 slides, you’re handcuffed to a monolithic presentation with little flexibility. If you’ve prepared just five or six slides detailing the key benefits of doing business with you, your presentation becomes much more agile, enabling you to spend time expanding on points the audience is interested in.

It’s a no-fail tactic. Either people will have lots of questions and you’ll have lots of time to address them and win their confidence, or they’ll have no questions, which means they’re not interested and you can pack it up and move on to the next prospect.