Death by PowerPoint


I felt like I was in a war zone. The slides were bombs and the presenters were firing in every direction, but nobody was getting hit. It was just a bunch of loud bangs.”
  – A business development manager at the eastern region of a large networking firm

Have you been to one of these sessions? It’s a typical product training session. All the salespeople are in a room for a full day. Eight hours later, they walk out, bleary-eyed and shell-shocked after a long line of presenters has bombarded them with slide presentation after presentation on the latest and greatest products and features. Somewhere in the barrage of slides, there should be something that connects those features and functions to value for the customer but, sad to say, this is not the standard.

Slides have negative impacts that reach far beyond the sales meetings with buyers. Unfortunately, slides are also the cornerstone of how marketing and sales enablement teams equip salespeople with critical knowledge. Salespeople learn the skills they need to do their jobs through slides. And slides are the way the organization communicates to salespeople about the latest and greatest products and solutions. The key phrase here is “communicates to them” instead of “communicates with them.”

Slip-sliding away

Studies show that people retain less than 20 percent of what is presented to them. The “first three slides and last three slides” retention rule — which is scientifically proven — is in full effect.

Another reason slide presentations are badly suited for sales training, as well as selling, is that they are limitless. By this, we mean there are no generally accepted hard and fast rules on how many slides are consumable by an audience within a specific amount of time, or how much content is permissible on each slide. If there were, whiteboard selling probably wouldn’t be such an attractive alternative.

One of the most frustrating things about slide-based training is that the information is transferred to sales reps in such a way that it can’t actually be used to facilitate customer conversations. Most of the time, slide-based training becomes a pure transfer of knowledge process rather than equipping sales reps with the critical skills and knowledge they need to hold effective, value-driven conversations with both their company and their customers. It’s no wonder salespeople need a stiff drink after a day like the slide agenda from hell. It’s hard enough to retain information from just one of these presentations, let alone five or six or more.

Because these types of training sessions are, for the most part, noninteractive (with the exception of a five-minute Q&A session at the end), attendees are easily distracted by instant messages and emails that arrive on their personal devices. If there are no repercussions from management for dozing off or replying to email (after all, it’s too dark in the room to see who’s not paying attention), it’s just too tempting to get distracted.

Not only is this type of training noninteractive, it is nonactionable. What are the expectations? What is a salesperson supposed to do with the information he has acquired after training like this?  

Excerpted with permission from “Whiteboard Selling: Empowering Sales Through Visuals” by Corey Sommers and David Jenkins.