18 Sales Presentation Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs

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Emma Brudner
Emma Brudner



After the difficultly of connecting with a prospect and getting their attention, a salesperson might breathe a sigh of relief when they finally secure a slot on the buyer's calendar. It's all downhill from here, right?

Wishful thinking. You've succeeded in capturing the buyer's interest -- now you not only need to hold it, you must also convey your product or service's value in a way that compels them to buy. And most people aren't exactly rushing to part with their money.

With this in mind, the presentation -- whether it's conducted in person or virtually -- is crucial. For every way the meeting can go right, there are multiple ways it can go awry. And it doesn't take a whopping error to put the buyer off -- even a small one might derail the deal. 

Don't let your prospecting and connecting efforts go to waste. Avoid these 18 presentation mistakes at all costs. 

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1) Too Much Information on the Slides

If you have a ton of text on your slides, buyers will do one of two things: Start reading them, or tune out completely. In either case, they're not listening to you, which isn't good.

How much information should your deck contain? Colleen Francis, owner of Engage Selling Solutions, offers the following formula:

No more than 3 bullets per slide.
Maximum one line per bullet.
Font at least 28 or larger.
Maximum of 5 slides per 20 minutes.

Striking the right balance between your speech and visual aid will help buyers connect with your message faster.

2) Reading The Slides

Keep in mind that your visual aid is there as just that -- an aid. A slide deck shouldn't be used as a crutch. Not only is watching someone read from their slides boring, it can also annoy prospects. After all, if your slides and your speech are portraying the exact same information, why didn't you just give the buyer a copy of your deck and skip the physical meeting? 

3) Talking Too Fast

Just like visual overload isn't good, neither is auditory overload. If you're like most salespeople, you pump yourself up before a meeting. With adrenaline rushing through your system, the cardinal rule from speech class can fly out the window. So even if you feel like you're speaking at a normal pace, overcompensate for your audience and slow it down even more. 

4) Not Including Stories 

The human brain is hard-wired to latch onto stories better than scattered fragments of information. If your sales presentation doesn't tell a tale, it's likely that the disorganized facts will dissipate even before you've left the buyer's office. As Speech Coach Patricia Fripp notes, "People rarely remember your exact words. Instead, they remember the mental images your words inspire."

Storytelling isn't child's play -- it's essential. "Help [listeners] 'make the movie' in their minds by using memorable characters, exciting situations, intriguing dialogue, suspense, and humor," Fripp adds. 

5) Not Including the Prospect

Incorporating stories will help your buyer retain your message better. But to take it a step farther, make your prospect the protagonist of the tale. Help them to envision themselves living a compelling future with your offering. After all, if they don't imagine themselves using the product or service, they're not going to buy it.

6) Technical Difficulties

Sometimes technical problems happen, and that's okay. What's not okay is when the problems could've been easily prevented with the right preparation. Don't waste your prospect's time fiddling with a cable or screen sharing tool. Run through all the technical aspects of your presentation well before the appointed time.

7) Using Filler Words

"With our product, you can expect to see ... um ... a 50% ... ah ... increase in leads." 

Wow! A 50% increase? That's huge! Too bad you just buried the punch line with "ums" and "ahs."

Don't let filler words steal your thunder. To ensure the emphasis falls where you'd like it to, eradicate those pesky tics from your speech. 

8) Apologizing 

"Customers like to work with agents -- not victims," according to Francis. So barring a glaring mistake, she recommends skipping the "sorry" if you start the meeting a few minutes late or forget a handout. Apologizing right off the bat can cast a negative light on your entire presentation, so just delve right in and make the prospect happy that you met, even if there were a few small hitches beforehand.

9) Not Using Visuals

There's nothing like a sea of text to make buyers' eyes cross. If you're using data as part of your presentation, make it pop with a punchy visualization. If your deck is data-free, be sure to include a number of eye-catching graphics to break up text-heavy slides and regrab your audience's attention.

10) Handing Out Slides in Advance 

According to Tom Kennedy, giving attendees a copy of your presentation in advance encourages them to flip through it themselves and tune you out. To ensure they're hanging on your every word, resist the temptation to give prospects a sneak peek -- even if they ask for it. Instead, reassure them that they'll be able to get a copy after your meeting.

11) Overly Broad Focus

If you give a buyer the 10,000 foot view when they really want the 10 foot view, they're probably not going to become a customer. Before your meeting, make sure you understand your buyer's specific areas of interest, and tailor your presentation based on what they care about most. Any point that's not relevant or interesting to them gives them a chance to mentally check out -- and they might not come back.

12) All Features, No Benefits

Buyers aren't concerned with learning about all the bells and whistles of your product, but they are interested in discovering how those bells and whistles translate into business results. Strive to keep the focus on value instead of features as much as possible.

13) Sticking to the Script No Matter What

A live presentation is a dynamic event. So if you find out mid-way through that your attendee would like to concentrate on another area or probe into a different subject, adapt. After all, this meeting is ultimately for the buyer, so if they'd like to steer the conversation in a new direction, allow them to do so and meet them where their interest lies.

14) Cramming Too Much into Too Little Time

After you've conducted a few presentations, you'll have a sense of how long they take, so cut back or add content accordingly. Encouraging your attendee to participate and then rushing through your slides will make your buyer feel bad for piping up. Aim to fill the slot comfortably with ample time left over for questions. If you find yourself running through points or slides, find areas to trim.

15) Using Jargon

A acronym or phrase might be common parlance around your office. But just because it's familiar to you doesn't mean your prospect knows what it means. Try to avoid jargon if you can help it -- unfamiliar words can put space between you and the buyer.

16) Winging It

No matter the sales interaction, you should always have a set agenda and a goal. Going into a presentation without an order of events in mind will make you seem disorganized and incompetent.

Here's a sample half hour call agenda from sales leader Phil Harrell. Although it's meant for a discovery call and not a presentation, the structure is still informative:

  • Quick introductions (2 minutes)
  • Qualification/discovery questions (15 minutes)
  • Brief product overview/demo (10 minutes)
  • Agree on next steps (3 minutes)

Break out the time allotment down to the minute, and assign an activity for each chunk. Although you should deviate if your customer's interest warrants a detour, having an agenda in your head can help you keep the ball rolling and ensure you don't miss any critical points.

17) Thanking the Prospect In Advance

What could be more harmless than thanking a prospect for their time up front? While this seems like nothing more than a common courtesy to most reps, Kelley Robertson thinks otherwise. "This behavior diminishes your credibility and puts you in a submissive position," he writes. "Plus, it doesn’t any add value to the presentation." 

18) Not Defining Next Steps  

It doesn't matter how well the meeting went if you don't agree on next steps before parting ways. Should the prospect tell you if they're interested in moving forward? Are you going to reach out with more information? Don't let the deal die due to confusion. Make sure your call to action is crystal clear.

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