Extreme Makeover: PowerPoint Edition

By Heather Baldwin

Background: Jim Wissmann is director of sales at SYSCO Baltimore, the Baltimore, MD location of one of the country’s largest full-line food service distributors. Like many businesspeople, Wissmann gives a lot of PowerPoint presentations and, like many others, feels there’s room for improvement. In an effort to learn and improve, he sent Selling Power his slides from a recent presentation. We turned them over to Ellen Kaye, president of Perfect Presentation. After making over two slides, Kaye shares her ideas here.

Presentation’s objective: To inform sales representatives of SYSCO’s new commission/bonus program and provide a document for Wissmann’s district managers and sales reps to keep for reference.

Audience: Wissmann’s food service sales team of 120 people.

Challenges: The key challenge in this presentation, says Kaye, is that it doesn’t effectively communicate the central message that SYSCO’s commission/bonus program is about to change significantly. The changes will make it tougher for reps to earn the same amount of money they’ve made in the past, which is likely to be greeted with some grumbling and fear. These issues are not tackled head on or made clear in the text of the slides. The other major challenge is that the slides’ appearance – most notably the colors that are used – does not appropriately reflect the gravity of the presentation’s main message. The pale yellow on the original slides is a weak color that lacks power; the black and red combination looks too flashy and festive for a serious message; and while blue generally is a strong, appropriate color for a business presentation, the shade Wissmann chose does not match the power blue in SYSCO’s logo.

Changes: Kaye started by changing the first slide to communicate what this presentation is about – the introduction of a new commission/bonus program. In the slide immediately following the title, she addresses the underlying fear of change with which everyone in the sales force is struggling. “By admitting right off the bat that this is a tough change,” says Kaye, “Jim can diffuse some of the anxiety in the audience.”

Next, Kaye reduced the amount of content per slide. Each slide should communicate a single idea, she says, noting Wissmann’s original slides had as many as four messages on one slide. It’s fine to use bulleted text, says Kaye, who points out that because audiences are comprised of different types of learners, some will need to read the message while others will need to hear it. Using too much text crowds a slide, though, making it a less-effective communication tool.

Finally, Kaye altered the appearance of Wissmann’s slides. She eliminated the excess and inappropriate colors and went with the SYSCO blue that is used in the company logo. She also added that logo to the slides because Wissmann intends for the slides to be retained as corporate reference documents. She also incorporated a dollar sign graphic that, she points out, is a “motivating symbol of wealth.”

Results: The new visuals are crisp, mature and powerful, says Kaye. More importantly, the slides effectively communicate Wissmann’s message because they state the message clearly; tackle fears head-on, which will make audience members more receptive to the message; and aren’t overly crowded with text and colors. “There is more uncluttered, open space for the eyes to rest,” she says, noting the contrast between the font and the white space is key to giving the slides their visual strength. Finally, the use of the dollar sign communicates that there is money to be earned, which is both an incentive to listen and an important reminder in light of the tougher commission structure.

About the Expert: A leading authority in business communications, Ellen Kaye is author of the bestselling business book Maximize Your Presentation Skills: How to Speak, Look and Act on Your Way to the Top (Prima, 2002). Her firm, Perfect Presentation, specializes in teaching persuasive presentation skills; clear, crisp communication techniques; media training; and leadership image. For more information, visit www.ellenkaye.com.

Note to readers: Need help with a PowerPoint slide or two? Just email the slides you think could use a makeover to powerpointhelp@sellingpower.com. If your slides are selected, we’ll turn them over to a presentations expert for an overhaul. You’ll receive new slides that will wow your prospects, and then you can read here about how they were overhauled.