Back in the day – the day being when presentations were a matter of overhead projectors or Carousel slide trays – my colleagues and I were given to understand that you couldn’t succeed in business unless you were a great presenter.

A great presenter, everyone knew, was polished — gleaming from the tips of his wingtips to the sheen of his perfectly coiffed hair. (It was almost always a “him” at the time.) A great presenter never stumbled, never said “uh,” never failed to dazzle. He had star power.

Some years later, I ran across a piece of research that forever changed how I thought about presentations.

It was a study conducted back in 1997 by David Reid of the University of Toledo and Richard Plank of Western Michigan University. They surveyed 481 buyers, asking them to think of a recent sales presentation they’d seen.

The buyers were asked to rate the skill of the presenter. And then they were asked, “Did you buy?”

Slick doesn’t sell
Turns out, the more polished the presentation, the less likely it was to result in a sale.

How could this be? It appears that buyers enjoyed the show, but considered it just that: a show. And even worse, they weren’t the star of the show; the presenter was. So they weren’t as engaged as they could have been.

More down-to-earth salespeople, by contrast, did a better job of putting the seller in the spotlight. When they did, buyers weren’t put off by a few bumps and stumbles. It made the presenter seem like a real person, who was there not to perform but to help the buyer make a good decision.

Of course, no buyer wants to sit through a poor presentation. But what makes a presentation good isn’t smoke, mirrors, dogs, ponies, bells or whistles. It’s relevance. Buyers want to the presentation to be all about them – not about you.


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