Are Your Visuals Dragging You Down?

By Heather Baldwin

Ask any sales rep to play a word association game with the term sales presentation and one of the first responses you’ll get is PowerPoint. That’s because when most people think of giving presentations, they instantly think of showing a parade of PowerPoint slides. In truth, those PowerPoint slides may be doing you a disservice.

“The belief that visual aids equal a presentation is a very common misconception,” says Mary Sandro, founder of Professional Edge, a Boston-based organization that helps clients achieve results through effective presentations. “Visual aids are aids. They are not even necessary, usually. A presentation is the information, stories, statistics, quotes and opinions that the presenter shares.”

Sandro says there are two red flags to indicate your PowerPoint slides are hindering your presentation. The first is wordiness. “When visual aids say as much or more than the presenter does, one of them is not necessary,” she says. Put yourself in the audience’s shoes. How many times have you seen a presenter walk onstage, click a button or two and show a slide of yellow text on a blue background? Chances are, you felt more dread than excitement.

The second red flag is the use of standard-issue clipart and animations. If your audience is looking at your graphics and seeing the same things they’ve seen fifty times before, or if they recognize your slide background as one of the popular software templates, says Sandro, your visual aids are undermining your presentation. “Graphics are the solution to the wordy visual aid problem; however, freshness now becomes the issue,” says Sandro. “Ideally, all visual aids should consist of simple, powerful, interesting graphics.”

Indeed, you may not need visual aids at all. Sandro once was scheduled to present to 120 salespeople at an annual conference. She was the only non-industry, soft-topic presenter. Arriving early, she attended the presentation before hers and watched two presenters standing on an elevated stage behind podiums. In the darkened room, PowerPoint slides clicked by on a giant screen centered between the presenters while the salespeople in the audience struggled to stay awake.

Shortly before her presentation began, Sandro’s host asked if she had any visual aids. She did, but made a snap decision to switch gears. No, she replied, and went on to ask the organizers to turn up all the lights and provide her with a wireless microphone. “Just turning the lights on had a huge affect on the audience,” she recalls. “I moved around freely and referred to a handout periodically so the salespeople would feel anchored and take notes. When the conference was finished, I was the highest-rated presenter.” Consider that the next time you think you can’t give a presentation without PowerPoint.

For more information, visit