Tue, Jun

How to be a persuader

What is the optimum number of slides you can put in a presentation? The question occurred to me the other day when our sales director Brian gave a pitch to a potentially massive new client. He used 85 slides and ignored all my not so subtle hints that he delete a few.

There is a famous Dilbert comic strip in which he suggests that fewer slides would be more persuasive, prompting his outraged workmate to ask: “So you’re saying that having zero slides would be the most persuasive of all?” In fact, according to the 10/20/30 rule, the best PowerPoint presentations should only contain 10 slides, last for 20 minutes and never feature any type smaller than 30 points.

In the meeting, the sales director pressed on remorselessly with his exhaustive - and exhausting - presentation. Some of the client’s staff were unsure whether to listen or read. After about 30 minutes of doing their utmost to pay attention, a few of them began doodling, checking their phones, and staring at a particularly attractive colleague. (They were represented by five men and two women). Fortunately, the air conditioning was in full flow, so none of them actually nodded off.

To be fair to Brian, he didn’t commit the cardinal sins of bad presentations: reading each slide aloud word for word and talking to the slides, rather than the audience. Nor did he block off the view for anyone in the room - or use too much jargon. Even so, you could almost hear the sighs of relief when it was over. The client’s team needed to reinvigorate themselves with coffee and water before formulating their questions. 

Reading the mood of such meetings is never easy. As we came out, Brian asked me what I thought. I said it reminded me of the finale of the film Cool Hand Luke. When he looked nonplussed, I reminded him of the bit where Paul Newman says: “What we have here is a failure to communicate”. He gave me his stare for a few seconds but then shrugged it off. He gets worse from his clients on a daily basis.

Three days later, they rang to tell me we were one of three companies invited to the next round. Brian looked suitably smug. He’s probably planning a 100-slide extravaganza for the next meeting.

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