Power pointless

Oct 23, 2017

You might think about ditching the fancy slideshow in favor of something much more engaging and authentic – the story of your firm and its people!

We’ve all been there; the highly anticipated meeting with an exciting new client. You’re armed with an exhaustively prepared presentation, complete with myriad PowerPoint slides that are guaranteed to impress everyone in the room. The presentation starts, and the nightmare begins.

The audience is different than you prepared for. Your slides aren’t geared to their interests or needs. Why’s it so hot in this room? You’re losing their attention and the energy is draining from the room. People are checking emails. Crap! Despite the sinking feeling in your gut, you feel chained to the slides. The only option is to speed through them as quickly as possible, ultimately devaluing and discrediting all the information along the way. That was awful! The effort spent to perfectly craft each bullet point, crop pictures, and position graphics is now just a steaming pile you want to forget. Can I get an early flight home?

Whether you’ve lived this scenario, witnessed a colleague struggle through it, or been audience to an epic crash and burn, the lesson to be learned is the same: People enjoy and respond to conversations and stories, not lectures. When it comes to interactions with clients, the most value we can get from that engagement, especially early in the relationship, is to collect information from the client. It’s nearly impossible to collect information if the mission of that first meeting is to get through an hour of your company’s “commercial.”

For information gathering to occur there needs to be a conversation; a two-way exchange of information. That’s when you get to be a great story teller! Share the company’s relevant history in a way that illustrates growth and innovation and expertise, leading to the relationship and project at hand. Talk about the members of your team, their hard-won technical victories, their innovative ideas, and their passion for their work. It’s an opportunity to be authentic and personable while building credibility and trust – all without advancing a single slide!

The book Beautiful Evidence by Edward Tufte contains a chapter detailing the significant weakness of PowerPoint for communicating technical information. It’s an insightful read. I agree with the premise and assert that today’s over reliance on PowerPoint slides, specifically those riddled with text, is a significant weakness in communicating authentically and fostering trust, which are cornerstones of building a relationship. Breaking the PowerPoint habit and relying on one’s own knowledge and ability to relate to others requires a different approach. It means having your stories on deck and ready to take the plate when needed, but knowing that you might not get to them all. And that’s OK, because again the goal is to gather information, not ensure that you say all the stuff you worked hard to prepare.

Stepping away from PowerPoint may feel like stepping out from behind a podium – it’s risky. But it’s worth it. Take the opportunity to make your story great, be authentic, and begin building better client relationships!

Aaron Tippie is vice president, Power Generation Division, at Westwood Professional Services. He can be reached at aaron.tippie@westwoodps.com.

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.