How to screw up your sales presentation

12 ways you can screw up your sales presentation

You can’t have a consulting business without making some sales. But so many consultants get the sales presentation wrong!

I've been in many consulting sales presentations as part of a big team, as well as in my own one-person firm. 

Running large procurement exercises for clients, I've also had the privilege of sitting on the other side of the table too!

So, here are 12 sales presentation crimes that I've either committed myself at some point, or I've been part of a pre-sales team where someone else has:

Let's dive in for more detail...

01 Take the whole team to the presentation

If you’re going to present your offering to a prospect, even if it’s for a very large project, you don’t need to bring the whole team!

The more people you bring, the greater the chance that someone will screw up, and the greater the chance that you look overstaffed or unconfident.

This can be interpreted as you putting more people on the job than is needed, which to the prospect, will seem both expensive and inefficient.

The worst situation you can be in, is to have more people at the meeting than the prospect does. I’ve been in this situation a number of times. It’s overwhelming for the prospect and it’s embarrassing for the consultancy.

The very least you can do is to find out in advance who, from the prospect, will be attending the meeting. That way you can also do some research beforehand on Linkedin.

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02 Start with small talk

Starting conversations with relative strangers is challenging at the best of times. Yet small talk is often cringe-worthy. 

Instead, be prepared. Do your research.

Find out about your prospect and their company by looking on LinkedIn and the prospect’s website. That way you can start with more meaningful conversation.

For example, you might read their Annual Report on their website, as well as do some research on the industry in Google to identify relevant trends and non-controversial topics.

For example, maybe a competitor of theirs is undergoing a merger. Maybe the prospect used to work for that competitor.

Or use your eyes. What can you see in the room? I once spotted a copy of the Harvard Business Review in a CEO’s office, and as an avid reader of it, I was able to use it:

“I see you read HBR. Did you read the article last month about bad sales presentations? I thought there were some real revelations in it.”

If all else fails, (and you should do this anyway) read the news before the meeting.

Try and avoid topics that might get you into hot water, like Brexit, Donald Trump, or football. But there will be something that you can use.

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03 Talk about yourself

Now this one might be a little hard for you to take, but the reality is, no-one cares about you or your company.

No really, they don’t.

They don’t care when your company first started.

They don’t care when you opened each office.

They don’t care about the acquisitions you’ve made.

Don’t care, don’t care, don’t care!

You have to assume that your prospect has done their due diligence on you.

If they hadn’t at least checked out your website and read some testimonials, chances are you wouldn’t be there in the first place.

Now, by all means, have in your back pocket some information to share. But if you really must share it, provide them with a link to a page on your website, or a simple one-page handout.

Don’t waste your and their valuable time talking about you and your company history (unless it’s in response to a direct question or request).

The opportunity you have when meeting a prospect is to let them talk. To get them to talk. To find out what their real challenges are. And to be certain that you and your firm can help.

As the Greek sage and stoic philosopher, Epictetus said,

“You were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason.”

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04 Don't Talk

The opposite of number 3, and often a result of number 1, is the person in your team who says….

…wait for it…


Not a word.

They sit through the entire sales presentation for 30 minutes, an hour, maybe even 2, and they say a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y nothing!

Every person going to the sales presentation has to have a role. A person that doesn’t speak will look like a spare part. 

This can often happen with more junior people, or even senior people that don’t have huge amounts of experience being in a sales environment (trust me, I've seen it!).

The prospect will talk amongst themselves afterwards and be likely to say:

“Who was that guy that didn’t speak? What was he here for? I hope they’re not considering putting him on our project.”

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05 Present a long, wordy PowerPoint

There’s no getting away from it, PowerPoint is a fantastic tool for presenting complex stuff.

But, you’ll have most likely watched a TED talk by now. How many of them use PowerPoint? I’m not sure if any of them do.


Because it’s the speaker that's must be engaging - not the PowerPoint crutch.

Powerpoint can be a crutch. Just like a lectern.

(The first time I did a companywide presentation to about 100 people, there was a lectern. I was so nervous I nearly snapped that damn thing in two I was gripping on to it so hard!).

The worst thing to do is to have a PowerPoint presentation that provides nothing more than your script.

This often results in the prospect getting to see the side of your head if they’re lucky, or worse still, just the back of your head as you face away from them reading your slides.

Granted, if you’re follicly challenged like me, there’s little difference between the front and back of your head! But, you still need to see the prospect. 

To be able to read their body language. To make sure that they’re engaged rather than nodding off!

Chances are that if your slides are just full of words, the prospect has read the slide before you finish presenting it anyway.

Slides should support what you say with graphics – charts, graphs, and pictures - and key points.

They should not take attention away from you, so timing is everything.

And if they do have charts and graphs, make sure they’re readable!

I've been to so many presentations where the graphics aren't legible from 6 foot away! If you have to explain what it says because it can’t be read from a distance, it’s not exactly aiding your presentation!

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06 Don't rehearse it

In some ways, I’m slightly torn here as I used to work in a consultancy where we rarely rehearsed any sales presentation. 

In fact, we got so good at doing things off the cuff, that after a while we never even thought about rehearsing. And with the confidence of a consultant I, of course, thought I was brilliant at it!

But how much better could we have been if we had rehearsed!?

All those awkward moments when your colleague starts speaking over you and presenting what was supposed to be your bit.

Or that one person – you know who they are – who never knows when to stop talking.

They’re the sales presentation equivalent of a goal hanger. They steal all the best lines.

Or that guy who feels the need to fill every awkward silence, rather than recognising that the silence is because the prospect is thinking. Dealing with their own internal conflict.

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07 Don't take hard copies

The trouble with technology is not so much that we’re reliant on it, but that we’re so optimistic that it’ll work!

If your sales presentation is supported by PowerPoint, then take hard copies just in case.

If anything, getting people out of their seats to look at a hardcopy might just be the differentiator you need.

What happens when you’re too reliant on tech to support your presentation? 

Take a look at what happened to film director Michael Bay, who walked off stage after the teleprompter failed during a presentation of Samsung’s new 150-inch TV at the Consumer Electronics Show.

And here’s another example of failing tech during a presentation – only this one has a twist!

I’ve been fortunate to have avoided (thus far) a catastrophic technology meltdown. However, combined with a lack of rehearsal, I’ve spent many a time with a team frantically printing out hard copies 5 minutes after we should have been in the taxi on the way to the sales presentation!

A key part of your rehearsal is to ensure you have your hard copies ready too.

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08 Don't bother taking notes

I’m sure there are people out there that have the ability to remember everything that’s said to them. I’m not one of them, and I’m yet to meet one.

In a sales presentation, regardless of your actual job title, you’re consulting.

And a consultant takes notes. Lots of notes.


Because there’s a lot of stuff to remember.

Actions to follow up on. Changes that you might need to make to your planned proposal. Etc.

Takes notes, and ideally read through them before the presentation ends. That way you can ask the prospect questions for any elements that you’re not clear on.

You can also use the notes as an opportunity to keep in touch with the prospect by following up with an email or call for clarification.

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09 Bad mouth your competitors

Tempting as it might be, to talk ill of your competitors is simply bad form.

If you have inside knowledge of a competitor, and why they wouldn't be capable of doing the job, then you might choose to share it if you win the work (although I’d still be reluctant to).

Your job is to focus on helping the prospect to resolve their business challenge. And to help them understand that you and your firm are the best people to hlp them do so.

That won’t be done by putting your prospects attention on another firm.

Instead, have the confidence to think – and know – that you are the only firm who can help the client.

You know the topic at hand better than most; you have experience with it; and you’ve helped similar clients. What’s not to like?

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10 Dial people in on the phone

Nothing says to your prospect that they’re not important to you more than a key person not being able to make the meeting in person.

In desperation, you might be tempted to dial them in instead.

But remember, even with advances in technology, nearly all conference calls are terrible! Period.

The technology hardly ever works first time. And if you’re crossing cultural and/or geographic boundaries it will be even harder.

Sometimes, it can seem unavoidable. But you have to weigh up the risk.

If the opportunity is time-bound, then you may have no choice. In that situation, try and overcome the challenges in advance. For example, raise questions with the prospect before the presentation. And practice beforehand. Don’t just pitch up and assume that it will work.

Also, remember that there is a person on the phone! I forget this all the time when I’m in meetings that have both people in the room and on the phone.

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11 Work on other things when not talking

This one is probably more of an issue for the prospect’s team than the consultancy team.

If you’re at the meeting, be present. Be in the meeting.

That means don’t use your phone, or your laptop, or your smartwatch – unless directly related to the presentation at hand.

This is all the more challenging for the smartwatch wearer. I know one guy with a smartwatch who will continually look down at its every notification, regardless of whether he or I am mid-sentence!

If you’re not talking, you should be listening.

You can help your colleagues by focusing on body language and other hidden messages. And by keeping tuned into the conversation, you can offer advice and guidance to both your colleagues and the prospect.

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12 Don't agree the follow-up

Nobody likes a date that’s left open-ended. And a sales presentation is a date, of sorts.

It’s two firms meeting each other to decide if they should work together.

To have a relationship.

And if it works out, it could be a very long relationship indeed.

Consulting is often a high-cost purchase, although it is typically providing high value and so should be easily justified. That said, it can take a prospect some time to make the buying decision.

And that is totally fine.

But the longer you wait, the higher the risk of indecision. And it’s indecision that is your biggest competitor.

You need to be conscious of you and your team’s utilisation.

If the opportunity at hand doesn’t work out, you’ll need to fill the sales pipeline with another opportunity. Therefore, you must take responsibility for helping your prospect to make a decision. regardless of whether it’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’,  it has to be a decision.

So, at the end of your presentation, agree follow-on actions, and don’t leave it in the hands of the prospect to get back to you. You’re probably not their number one priority, and they may forget to call or be otherwise engaged.

You need to be able in control of the situation so that it doesn't just drift into indecision.

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Are you a screw-up?

If you're guilt of committing any of these 12 crimes,  then I can guarantee you’ll screw up your sales presentations.

However, if you’re smart enough to do more than just skim read, and have taken the time to read the detail of this article, then you’ll be firmly on the road to sales presentation success.

So, what’s your experience?

What are your pet peeves about sales presentations – either as a sales team, a consultant, or a client?

Share in the comment section below.

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