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Missing The Point

Frontier -- What Works

Missing the Point

Too many bells and whistles can spoil the presentation. Keep it simple, stupid

If you're trying to wow potential clients with a high-tech presentation, think twice. These days, with technology such as PowerPoint, CD-ROMs, and high-quality video, it's easy to create a pitch that sizzles. It's even easier to obscure your marketing message underneath all the flash.

Tom Marino, president of Elcede America, a Springfield (Mass.) company that manufactures capital equipment for the packaging industry, learned this lesson the hard way. Marino favors a slick PowerPoint presentation designed for a big conference room to show prospects that his products outperforms rivals. But recently, when Marino sat down with a harried-looking CEO in a cluttered office on a shop floor, he realized his 75-minute presentation would be a time-waster. He scrapped the digital photos, graphs, and video clip and just explained how his seven-person sales and service company could help, using a couple of PowerPoint slides for emphasis. The no-frills approach worked just fine: He won a $500,000 sale.

"If someone is dazzled by your presentation, they're probably not dazzled by your message," says Karen Wilson, president of The Momentum Group, a marketing consultancy in East Longmeadow, Mass. "Your message is what matters." Sometimes executives use technology as a crutch. They read from PowerPoint slides--forgetting that good presenters speak directly to the audience. And they crowd so much information onto a slide that it's hard to understand, says Steve Irwin, vice-president of DFI International, a 62-person consulting firm in Washington.

To simplify his message, Irwin says, he creates a single sentence that he wants the audience to remember and puts it up on the screen. Then he breaks his PowerPoint presentation into sections to support that sentence. Technology works best when used to enhance a presentation and convey what can't be said with words. A video of your facility can bring your office to the client. Snazzy graphics depicting percentages of growth and profits are easier to remember than numbers read off a slide.

In fact, the best presentations rely on on time-tested techniques, not bells and whistles. Scott Blackwell, senior vice-president of XL Vision, a 75-employee incubator of high-tech startups in Sebastian, Fla., says that tailoring his message to his audience is what works for him. Blackwell plans to put a series of presentations customized for different target groups such as potential investors, security analysts, and journalists up on his firm's Web site. Viewers will be issued a Web address and password to make sure they see the right presentation. For now, though, Blackwell is customizing his message the old-fashioned way: He creates an outline for each audience. Then he uses a magic marker on an erasable white board. Sometimes, simple things still work best.Learn more about successful presentations. Click Online Extras at frontier.businessweek.comBy Aimee L. Stern

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