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Sales presentation

Logarithmic scales

Logarithmic scales

In the 1980s, I remember plotting the results of science experiments in high school on millimeter paper. Logarithmic scales came in handy: they allow you to plot data series with big variabilities accurately, and/or they can show mathematical relationships beautifully (a completely straight line on a logarithmic scale for example).

Scientific charts are for pondering at your desktop, a different setting from a 20 minute all or nothing investment pitch. When you show a boring growth line and have to alert the audience that the tiny labels on your y axis are in fact on a logarithmic scale, you have lost some of your fire power. It looks less spectacular, and more importantly, it requires additional thought steps in the brains of your audience. The hockey stick simply works better.

If you are dealing with serious science, consider 2 charts right after each other, the first (populist) one showing the raw growth, then followed by a logarithmic one that takes the responsible scientific approach.

Cover image by Sawyer Bengtson on Unsplash

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Apple's iPhone XS / Watch 4 event

Apple's iPhone XS / Watch 4 event

I watched the live stream of Apple’s iPhone and Watch product update presentation last night. Here are my quick observations (from a presentation perspective, not the products :-) ).

  • The slide presentation quality was incredible, a combination of great layout, great photography (editing), and importantly this massive, massive projection screen

  • The transitions between slides, videos, build ups, animations was very well done

  • Guest speakers were a refreshing break, small company entrepreneurs who get the chance to tell their story to an audience of millions

Watching the whole event, I felt that the overall presentation was a bit too long, a feeling that crept in towards the end of the iPhone part of the session. The Watch presentation had lots of new features (all the heart sensors), but the iPhone story was similar to previous iPhone presentations: bigger screen, more power, better camera. I think Apple could have delivered the same message in a shorter time frame.

The videos with Jony’s voice over were duplicating messages that were said before. In previous events I could remember, these videos would go into the details of things that were not addressed by the presenter (for example how to machine drill phone casings). It looked like the video and the slide deck were done by separate teams and their content were merged relatively late into the process.

From a content perspective, the difference between the XS and XR phones was left less clear to the audience. The presentation of the XR phone felt and looked a top of the range phone, so there was a constant voice in the back of my head, “hey this is the cheaper one, what is different?” In the end, I got the answer from reading press reviews rather than the presentation itself.

While the audience for the Apple Watch are people who do not own an Apple Watch yet and consider buying one for themselves, or their parents who are prone to falls or heart problems, the audience for the iPhone XS/R are iPhone 6, 7, and 8 owners. The comparison of screen sizes between the old phones and the new ones were powerful, and could have been emphasized more in the presentation, maybe.

The Apple presentations have become so professional, well-rehearsed, and in a sense “serious” that I am starting to think whether there is space for a bit of humor, human improvisation, a sentence that is not planned.

Anyway, overall this was obviously an extremely well-prepared event as we have come to expect with incredible visuals.

You can watch a recording of yesterday’s event here.

P.S. The product shots of the iPhone XS with the “planet” on it give the impression of a bulging shape from a distance, reminding me of the original shape of the iPhone 3, and going against the flat characteristics of the current product.

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Recycling the presentation

Recycling the presentation

Cities are recycling their presentations to lure Amazon to put a new HQ there to pitches other candidates. 

I see this many times, a company that needs to pull out all the stops to present at a major conference or pitch competition. Ideas and energy of that pitch are re-used numerous times in other presentations. It is often that wake up call to get your act together, take more creative risk to present your idea with "nothing to lose".

There is a cost element to it as well. How can you get more return on that expensive video work? You need to try to find the balance between a personal and relevant pitch (rule #1 of sales presentations), and re-usable content. For videos, I usually request to have a clean version of the file without specific text banners or voice overs that cannot be separated. In that way you can re-use the assets for other projects.

Btw, these city pitches are very interesting. Here are 3 very different pitches. I think Detroit is the most inspiring. What do you think?

Cover image by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

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A list of presentation mistakes

A list of presentation mistakes

A list of presentation mistakes. Looking back at recent client work, the V1.0 briefing decks I saw, here are some of the mistakes I encountered. Not a complete list, not in the right order, just some examples that came across my desk the past few weeks.

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Writing good emails

Writing good emails

"Cover letters" that introduce a pitch are often poorly written. Think about the latest spam email that you received from a head hunter offering to help you with recruiting staff for your startup. You open it (maybe the subject line was decent), and as soon as you started reading 3 words you knew what was going to come and deleted the message.

A cold email is a shot at someone who is looking for the earliest opportunity to shorten the email inbox with that satisfying "delete", "archive", "done". The skill is to postpone that moment.

  • If your email is a huuuuge amount of text, people don't read but eyeball and hit "delete" after spotting the usual "that's why you should invest" at the bottom after pagedowning the text. A lot of text in one block is scary.
  • How did you get to the person? "[x] gave me your name", is OK, but "[x] told me that you should be really interested in this" is better if that is what she did.
  • Line break, then a super short and to the point sentence what you are: "Startup raising series A, with x in sales, in the drone market, with [famous investor] as a Seed investor"
  • Line break, this is a critical moment where you can feel the finger going to the delete button. You need to present the hook. "Yes, everyone know that drones will be big, but there is something that is blocking progress and we fix that [name of thing you fix]" Or "our team consists of [famous person, famous person, famous person]
  • Then point to a short slide deck that you attached that explains your company. The objective of that slide deck is not to land the investment, but to create enough intrigue to initiate a phone call. (Confidential) product details and financials, long market backgrounds, detailed implementation plans, are all for a later stage of the dialogue.

In short, avoid delete button triggers: long paragraphs of text, buzzwords, lack of clarity of what it is you do, what you want, lack of clarity of how you got to the person, generic pitch deck that is not tailored to the email stage of the due diligence process.


Image by freezelight on Flickr

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Refreshing language?

Refreshing language?

It is tempting to describe your product in a completely new vocabulary to illustrate that you do things differently.

Still, the first thing that a potential customer or investor will do, is to translate that back to the old vocabulary in order to figure out what is different, and what is not.

Often it is better to do part of the work for them. This is especially true for impatient investors who are not always convinced that something that sounds completely different, is in fact, completely different.


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Elephants in the room

Elephants in the room

Client "I don't want to talk about this, because it reminds people of [X] which failed. Let's call that differently because there was that research project 10 years ago that did not work. Hmmm, let's not put that on page 3".

Me "But your technology solves all these problems from the past right?"

Client "Yes"

Me "And in meetings, where do you end up talking about all the time"

Client "People confusing me with technologies from the past"

Sometimes it is just better to take things head on and stop avoiding the big elephant that is sitting in the room but nobody wants to bring up in a conversation.


Image via WikiPedia

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Company pitch versus product pitch

Company pitch versus product pitch

Product marketers can get bogged down in identifying endless lists of product benefits, each slightly different for different customer segments.

There is a problem with this for potential buyers of a product. The long list of benefits waters down what is truly unique about your product. All benefits sound exactly the same as the benefits that are being claimed by about every company in the world.

There is also a problem with potential investors in your company. Investors are interested in buying your company, not your product, so the scope is broader than product benefits. Also, they are buying into someone who is hopefully able to sell. "If I were a potential client, would I buy this product pitch?" 

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Executive Summary?

Executive Summary?

Back in the 1990s, "Executive Summary" pages were summaries that you put in front of a strategy consulting document. They were meant for senior management / decision makers. There was almost something offensive about them, reminding you of your junior position in the hierarchy. Senior managers can skip the detail that you have been sweating on for months and get straight to the point.

The good thing about these summaries was that you actually had to think what it is you wanted the senior management to do, and you had to frame your argument in the best possible way. Writing these summaries often caused major shifts in the recommendations of the project.

Clients ask me frequently about an Executive Summary of a presentation. This time, it is about a summary document that they can email to someone ahead of a presentation, or in most cases, a document that should convince the recipient to agree to a presentation.

I think the classic Executive Summary memo is not the most engaging way to get people excited about your project. There are a number of differences between your need for a summary, and the Executive Summary of the strategy review that is addressed to the CEO of your company.

The CEO is probably very interested in the recommendations (what price should I pay for the acquisition target), and is fully aware of the broad context of the project. She just needs the underlying logic to complete her own understanding of the situation. And, she probably knows you, and can pick up the phone quickly to clarify something that is not clear.

The investor or potential customer might not be very keen to double click a Microsoft Word file and start reading about your investment or sales pitch. Worse even, she he has probably no clear understanding of what it is you are actually doing, and finally, she has no idea who you are, and when she does not understand things, will delete the email instead of calling you.

My advice: forget about the Executive Summary memo, and instead create a short visual presentation that will have many more pages, but will take the exact same time to go through as reading a boring text memo. The object of the summary is not to be complete, it is to get the recipient to want to hear more. Therefore, leave out details that are not yet essential for this stage of the process, you only want to create interest. Most importantly, make sure that it is actually very clear what you are doing / what you want, surprisingly that is not always the case in these summary presentations.


Image via WikiPedia

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We need to get everything ready

We need to get everything ready

When I meet with a startup for an investor presentation, I am usually the first external "marketing person" they meet with. (Understandable, no investors, no money, no marketing budget). Some CEOs are nervous about the daunting task (and cash expense) of getting all those marketing materials ready as the company expands beyond product development. Sales presentation, investor presentation, one pager, leaflets, website, introduction video, etc. etc. ("Do you do those as well?")

My advice: take things one step at a time. An investor presentation is a good place to start, since any investor presentation needs to include some sort of customer sales presentation as well. (Investors need to be sold of the product).

The company/product story is often not completely set in early stage startups. So, freezing the spec and commission a lot of money to all kinds of designers might cause problems down the road. A presentation is actually a useful format to play around with visual concepts. Graphical execution might not be the best, but things can look decent enough and are easy to change.

After you feel that the presentation starts to work, you can consider upping the investment in the design of other marketing material. But here, I would do things gradually as well.

When working with video and video producers/designers, make sure you have a version of the footage that does not include text (in a specific font, containing a positioning that could go out of date) and logos (that could be changed later on). Video footage can be useful for a long time.

In short, it is better to do things step by step, rather than all at once.


Image via WikiPedia

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Deep dive

Deep dive

Three ways to show understanding of an industry in 10 minutes:

  1. Construct a 90 minute lecture trying to cover everything, and squeeze it into 10 minutes
  2. A very detailed deep dive in one aspect of the industry, showing an insight that nobody has ever heard anywhere else
  3. Do this deep dive on a random subject that is brought up by your potential investor or client.

1 won't work, 2 is better, 3 is best

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The presentation is not always the bottleneck

The presentation is not always the bottleneck

The presentation needs to "transplant" your idea in the head of your investors or customers. They need to understand what the idea, and then be excited enough about it to buy or invest.

Paying a professional presentation designer to do your slide deck is not a guarantee to succeed. I see many presentations that might not be top notch, but which look professional enough and are clear enough to convey the idea. In those cases I am honest and say that the startup's funds might be better spent elsewhere.

Remember: investors might not like you, investors might not like the idea, investors might not like the market segment, investments might not believe that it will work, there are thousands of potential reasons for "no", and misunderstanding the story and/or the visual quality of the slides is just one of them.

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Investor versus client positioning

Investor versus client positioning

In most big B2B enterprise sales dialogues the client understands the market, knows the key players out there, knows the issues she is trying to solve. They don't care about margins, market sizes.

In most investor pitches, the potential investor knows the broad market segments that sound similar to the one you are operating in, knows how big they are roughly, knows major competitors. They are less interested in specific feature comparisons.

Presenting your differentiation, what makes you special, is different to each of these audiences.


Image from WikiPedia

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Problems, problems, problems, solutions, solutions, solutions

Problems, problems, problems, solutions, solutions, solutions

Most product pitches go something like this:

  • Existing solutions have this problem
  • Existing solutions have this problem
  • Existing solutions have this problem
  • Existing solutions have this problem
  • Existing solutions have this problem
  • Our solution does not have this problem
  • Our solution does not have this problem
  • Our solution does not have this problem
  • Our solution does not have this problem
  • Our solution does not have this problem

The story gets repeated, which makes the whole things boring. A better option is to elaborate on the problems, but then keep the solution section relatively short. You can even show a grid of small screen shots of all your "problem" slides, with tick marks over each one of them.

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Overcompensating

Overcompensating

Each pitch has a weak spot to overcome. How to deal with it in your presentation?

  • You can ignore it, sweep it under the carpet. You will have had a very pleasant meeting, but you are unlikely to land the deal
  • You can mention it, and support a very shallow case why it is not an issue. (Vague analyst quote)
  • Overcompensating, give 15 different possible analysis that triangulate to the most likely market size number. This just might scare your audience. If 50% of you time/charts are about this issue, this must really be a big deal.

Better: admit the issue is there (you scored some realism points in the process). Give an honest defence, but don't burry the audience in analysis (yet). Wait with that for the 2nd meeting which might have that issue as its sole agenda point.

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The country update

The country update

I get many clients who are some kind of local distributor or agent in a country and are asked to present an update on their business to the global headquarters of the company. Most of these clients have some sort of standard presentation that they use in the local market:

  • First up: the history of the company
  • Then missions statements, organisation charts
  • Then examples of advertising and campaigns for the product

But think about the corporate headquarters, they are likely to see 150+ country presentations that look more or less the same. They hear 150+ company histories that are similar. They have seen many ads for their product. They probably have a computer system in which they can call p the sales results by country and compare them against last and year, and, more importantly, against other countries.

Here is another approach:

  • Keep the obvious stuff very short, here are our brands, here are the results.
  • Think in what way your country might be different than other markets (population concentration, market preference, local competitors) and discuss how you solved these specific challenges.
  • Use lots of photos that give a good visual impression of how your product is positioned in the local market.

Image from WikiPedia

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"Let me explain it to you again"

"Let me explain it to you again"

A good pitch of an idea provokes feedback of the audience. If people are just sitting there, watching politely, smiling, and walking out of the room, you are unlikely to land an investment.

When you get feedback (praise, criticism, difficult questions), it is important to realise who it is coming from. Do people care about you, want to help you? Do you they have the right background?

  1. Your mother: she totally admires everything you do, but in most cases might not have deep knowledge of what it is you are actually doing
  2. An industry incumbent who cannot see any change happening having worked in the field for 30 years
  3. A (potential) competitor who is jealous
  4. A friendly investor who does not understand the field
  5. A friendly investor who does understand the field
  6. An interested investor who is negotiating with you
  7. A friend of a friend of a friend who is an expert in the field but who was arm twisted in listening to you to return a favour but does not really have time for this and/or you
  8. Etc.

Pay special attention to people who know what they are talking about, or people that are an example of a type of audience you are going to pitch to a lot (confident, successful investors, that might not fully understand the ins and outs of your market). Group one helps you bullet proof the content, group 2 helps you bullet proof the presentation.

What sort of feedback do you get:

  • Generic praise
  • Generic suggestions to change your presentation (summarise everything early on, re-order these 2 slides, cut the amount of charts to max 10, the 10/20/30 rule)
  • An easy question with 3 buzzwords in them
  • A difficult question that you know is a difficult question but you don't have the answer to
  • A difficult question that you thought you explained well in the presentation
  • A difficult question that you heard for the first time

Some feedback can be ignored (the audience is not qualified, the feedback is generic, polite small talk). Some feedback is an "attack" aimed at hurting you (a competitor who feels threatened, an investor who wants to push the valuation down). But most feedback probably is from people who try to be helpful or really don't understand something.

Faced with criticism, humans tend to go in defence mode. We hardly let the questioner finish her question. We don't read body language. We fire away our ammunition. Repeat the same answer, the same slide one more time, forgetting that it failed to convince the audience the first time. Point at a huge Excel model (cell C27) that has 5000 lines of code that proves that you are right. Do what politicians do: divert the attention to another issue.

The most useful feedback might a small unexpected question, from someone who has no reason to help you, is not negotiating with you, has no time for this meeting, and is a huge expert in the field. Read the body language. Ask the person to elaborate on the question. Ask why she thinks it is an issue, what experience does she base it on.

Other good candidates for feedback are potential customers or users. Hold your fire, and listen carefully.

Sometimes it is useful to ask a lot of questions to the people who ask you questions.

 

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Dressing down the story

Dressing down the story

In many pitch presentations, I work hard to lift a story to its true potential. Show the bigger picture, put things in a historical context of where humanity is going, visualise the - dreaded word - vision.

In some presentations the opposite is required. The audience will get the dream, but will wonder whether any of this stuff is actually real, or happening within the next 2 years or so, because it all sounds too good to be true, or too expensive, or too science fiction.

Thinking about your audience before you start designing is a cliche from communication trainings. Maybe make it a bit more practical and try to imagine what stereotype people would assign to you after they see/hear you speak for 1 minute.


Image from WikiPedia

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"Ooff, but we answered you already"

"Ooff, but we answered you already"

Often, when I start a presentation design project, I find that the real message of a pitch is buried.

  1. Buried under buzzwords and jargon that make the pitch sound the same as any other presentation out there
  2. Buried under "short cuts": this is a bigger problem. Over time, the company has developed an internal proprietary language where certain key terms summarise the entire concept behind the company. The insiders understand it perfectly, to an outsider it sounds meaningless.

As a result, I tend to get back to the same questions in a briefing meeting. "Why are you different again? What is the difference between your product and the one that company is offering?" My first version of a slide deck often contains deliberately blunt charts that force the client to react and correct a positioning that I think I understood (sort of).

Some people in the room fear that they hired the wrong presentation designer, who keeps on asking the same ignorant questions. Most of the time, I manage to convince them by the time my final product is delivered.


Image on Flickr by Nic McPhee

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Beyond the presentation

Beyond the presentation

The investor or sales presentation is not the only thing your audience will check out:

  • Do you have a proper email address or are you still using your gmail?
  • Is your LinkedIn profile consistent with the claims in the presentation?
  • Does your web site have the latest company logo and is free from cheesy stock photos?

If you do not have much to share with the public yet on your web site (you don't have any customers yet, your product is not finished, etc.) it is often better to keep things brief (Coming soon, we are working on [...]) in a really crips and professional look, than padding the page with marketing buzzwords and claiming that your are a Fortune500-like company with 20 offices, delivering flexible and scalable ROI to 100s of clients around the world.


Image from WikiPedia

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