To slide or not to slide

It is the question most sales people should be asking themselves as they prepare for a sales presentation. Instead, over 90 per cent of us never ask whether we should include slides in our presentations, but only how many slides we can get away with, or how we can make those slides more exciting and engaging.

All too often, sales people tend to use slides almost by default whenever we’re given the opportunity to make a presentation. However, there are actually plenty of situations where a slide show is not only not the best option, but in fact could prove detrimental to the cause – namely, making the sale!

If you’re only going to be presenting to one or two people, for example, slides are almost certainly overkill. If you’re one of a group of vendors who will be making a presentation on a given morning, slides may not be unique or creative enough to set you apart. Or if you have numerous unanswered questions about the client’s situation, a fixed slide show might not give you the flexibility to initiate the kind of dialogue you need to have.

However, let’s assume for now that a slide show is the best accompaniment to your live presentation. What can you do to ensure it really adds value, and helps you make the right impression?

Let’s take a look at some common mistakes many people make when using slides in a presentation – and what you can do instead:

Myth #1 – The more bells and whistles, the better.

Unless you’re trying out for the Guinness Book of World Records, don’t use every sound snippet, clip art, transition shape, animation or other features the software offers, just because they’re available.

If you’ve ever seen someone go overboard before, then you know that putting everything up to and including the kitchen sink into a presentation doesn’t make you seem technologically advanced. It just makes you look unprofessional.

Myth #2 – My slides and I should say the same thing.

If you’re just going to turn your back on your audience and read from your slides, why do we need you? Your slides should help to clarify or enhance the message you’re delivering, not copy it. That way, when you leave, your prospects can refer back to your slides and remember how you can help them.

Your slides are not your presentation. You are your presentation, and your customers should have the leading role. If you need to refer to your slides to remind you where you are and what you’re saying, at least set up your computer to face you so you don’t have to look back at the screen, and away from your audience. Your eyes can help you close a deal. The back of your head can’t. So always keep eye contact with your audience to engage them in your presentation, and maximize your chances of making the sale.

Myth #3 – Leaving the slide up longer makes it more memorable.

Actually, leaving a slide on the screen too long just distracts the audience’s attention from what you’re saying, especially if the slide is no longer (or not yet) relevant to what you’re discussing.

A slide should be on the screen only as long as you’re talking about something related to it. If it’s no longer relevant, press the “B” key in the slide show mode on your computer to temporarily blank out the screen while you continue to finish the point you want to make. Better yet, get a remote slide advancer and use it to turn the screen black. When you’re ready to move on, simply repeat the process to bring the image back up.

Also, take a few moments to let a new slide sink in. Research has shown that audiences will remember your content best if they’re given a few seconds to digest a new slide before you start speaking – especially if the visuals are complex.

Myth #4 – I have to move through the slides in numerical order.

Nearly all the major presentation software lets you navigate through your presentation any way you like, usually simply by typing in the number of the slide you want to go to and hitting “Enter.”

To take full advantage of this flexibility, I recommend that you print out your slides around six to a page in advance, and take them with you to the presentation. That way, you can easily view the entire layout of your presentation, and quickly move from one slide to the next as if you had planned it that way all along!

Myth #5 – I am only as great as my last animation.

When it comes to animation, less is best. Period.

At the end of the presentation, you want the audience to remember you, not your cool animations. In fact, if you’re conducting a presentation remotely over the Web, I’d recommend not using any animation at all, as there can often be inconsistencies in the way they’re displayed on different computers.

If you don’t want your audience to see all the information on the first slide right away, simply create a series of slides that mimic an animation by including more and more information on each subsequent slide.

Myth #6 – My slides are not affected by light.

As any cinematographer will tell you, the amount, quality and direction of light can have a huge impact on the way your slides are seen, and the ability of your audience to get your message.

Try to check out the room where you’ll be presenting in advance, and make sure that any lights which are directly hitting the screen are turned off. In a dark or slightly darkened room, light text on a dark background generally looks best. In a well-lit room, use a light background with dark text. When in doubt, assume that the room will be bright as a default position, and build your presentation accordingly.

While we’re on the subject of light – never deliver a presentation that leaves your audience in the dark – and I mean that literally! Try to have the most light possible without diluting the colour impact of your slides, and unless your presentation is going to be as thrilling as the next Harry Potter movie, never give a presentation in a completely darkened room unless you want your audience to catch up on their sleep.

Myth #7 – My presentation is so captivating that my prospects don’t need a break.

Can you sit still for 60 minutes without needing to stretch? If your presentation will last more than an hour, you need to take a break. Plus, let people know about the break ahead of time, so they’ll be less likely to get up in the middle of your presentation.

To make sure everyone comes back on time, I suggest using a break countdown “timer” which is projected onto the screen – for example, there’s a good one available at

If you’re afraid that your prospects won’t come back at all after the break, then you have more serious presentation issues we need to work on…

Myth #8 – The presentation Pop-Up Menu is a helpful tool.

NO! The Pop-Up Menu is annoying to the audience, and it makes you look junior. Turn it off, leave it off, and don’t ever be tempted to use it again.

Colleen Francis, CSP is founder and president of Engage Selling Solutions- a thriving sales-training organization that delivers tailor-made, winning solutions to sales and marketing professionals internationally. Sales and Marketing Magazine has rated Engage Selling Solutions as one of the top-five most effective sales-training organizations in the market today. Distinguished by the Canadian Professional Sales Association as a Certified Sales Professional (C.S.P.), Colleen is also a regular contributor to Rogers Media, Sales Rep Radio, Selling Power Magazine, and Sales and Marketing Magazine. Colleen’s strong track record with negotiating has made her a highly sought-after trainer at leading private- and public- sector organizations across North America. These include The Royal Bank of Canada, EDS, Corel, Hard Rock Café, Adecco, and Eagle Professional Resources. Engage Selling Solutions – Everything you need to sell more, in less time and make more money!

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