It’s All in How You Say It: The Top 9 Sales Presentation Mistakes – and What To Do Instead

Excellent presentation skills are critical to every sales person’s
success. At its most basic level, selling is about communicating your
message with clarity and persuasion. Whether your audience is one
person in a meeting, ten people in a boardroom or 100 in an auditorium,
sales presentations are your chance to solidify your relationship
with your clients, by communicating to them that you understand their
issues, challenges and objectives – and how to solve them.

So why do so many good sales people, give so many bad presentations?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the chance to help several of my
clients with their sales planning for the next year. In almost every case,
this has meant sitting through presentations from vendors or partners
who are trying to sell something to me, or to my customers.

The results have been enlightening, to say the least. The most common
mistake I saw was sales people who had spent 90% of their time working
on what they were going to say, and only about 10% – or less!
– on how they were going to say it.

93% of the way communication is interpreted is through how you communicate,
not what you say. It may not be fair, but the fact of the matter is
that whenever you make a presentation, you are being judged at least
as much on your presentation skills as on your content. That’s how
communication works, whether we like it or not.

With that fact in mind, here, in no particular order, are the Top
9 Sales Presentation Mistakes even good sales people make – as well
as a few tips on what you can do instead!

Mistake #1: Apologizing up front.
Whether you arrived late, left the laptop with your presentation on
it in the cab, or simply forgot all those handouts you so painstakingly
put together in the hotel room, never start your presentation by apologizing.
It sets a negative tone for the entire meeting, and it also makes
you look like you’re shirking your responsibilities.

Customers like to work with agents – not victims. So 99 times out
of 100, you’re better off saying nothing rather than apologizing.
If you’re late, don’t ask for extra time; just adjust your presentation
to compensate. If your handouts aren’t ready, do the presentation
like you never meant to offer handouts in the first place, then offer
to send them the materials after you finish.

The only thing that starts a meeting off on a worse note than an
apology, is an apology with strings attached: "Sorry I’m late,
BUT I’ll still need the full hour…"
or "I apologize
in advance that this presentation is so long, BUT I need to cover
a lot of information."
Nothing good ever comes after the
word "but."

Don’t believe it? Then just think about the last time someone told
you: "I really like you, BUT I just want to be friends…"

Mistake #2: Running the guilt trip.
"I have 15 minutes left, and I’m only through 20 of my 58
PowerPoint slides, so I’m going to be going through this last bit
a little fast."
Sound familiar?

Guilting your audience into paying attention not only doesn’t work;
it’s insulting. Don’t try to force your customers through your agenda.
Your presentation needs to focus on their needs – period. If that
need is wrapped up in the first slide and you only discuss this one
point for an hour, then you’ve done your job.

The best product demonstration (and fastest sale) I ever made was
to a company who spent two hours discussing how my opening screen
could save them time and money.

Mistake #3: Excuses, excuses!
Making excuses – "I’m so tired," "I got in late
last night" or "I’m feeling a little under the weather"

– is a sure-fire way to be certain that the next excuse you make is
to your manager or supervisor, explaining why you didn’t make the

Talking about yourself instead of your customer’s needs will only
waste their time. Who cares where you were last night, how long your
flight was or how late you were up? Get over yourself, quit whining
and start focusing on your customer. And no matter how tired, sick
or frazzled you’re feeling – at least act like you’re excited to be

Mistake #4: Reading between the slides.
If you could put everything you needed to close the deal on your presentation
slides, why would we need you?

Forget about never letting ’em see you sweat; don’t ever let your
customers see you reading from your slides! Your slides should contain
key points, not elaborate prose, and they shouldn’t mimic exactly
what you’re saying. Stick to the following four rules for all your
slides, and you won’t go wrong:

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

While we’re on the subject of slides, please, please, please put
all your customers’ issues, problems and objectives up front, and
save your corporate marketing material for last. Believe me, your
customer isn’t even slightly interested in hearing about how great
you are, unless they first hear about how you understand their problems,
and how you can solve them.

Also, try to add some graphics or pictures to your slides, to illustrate
what you’re talking about. In a sales presentation, a picture can
be worth a thousand bullet points, plus you can use them as a guide
to help prompt you on what to say next.

Mistake #5: Forgetting to smile!
In sales, our job is to ensure that our prospects or clients leave
the room feeling better than they did before they interacted with
us. How likely is it that they’ll be feeling happy if we’ve spent
the last hour staring at them with a stern or frozen demeanor?

Smile! Show the passion you feel for your product and company. And
don’t be afraid to let your positive attitude shine through.

Mistake #6: Turning your back on your audience.
Talking with your back to people – often seen hand-in-hand with looking
back to read directly from your PowerPoint slides – is unprofessional
at best, and outright rude at worst. Don’t do it. Ever.

If you’re working in a room with a U-shaped table, don’t stay inside
the U for long periods of time, talking to one side or the other.
This puts your back to at least half of the people you’re supposedly
trying to communicate with.

Instead, try to stay as close as you can to the top of the U, use
the front of the room as much as possible, and move deliberately from
side to side, turning slightly to face each side as you speak. And
when delivering your most important points, make sure you’re dead
centre of the table.

Mistake #7: Fast talkers.
Most sales people will agree that they talk too fast. It’s good that
we can admit that, but not so good if we don’t do anything to correct

Since most of us speed up even more when we’re nervous or anxious,
reduce your nervousness – and your speed – by practicing your presentation
in advance. You can also slow down your pace by asking your audience
questions, then being quiet while they answer.

Varying the pace of your voice will also help keep the audience listening
and engaged. For best results, practice your presentation into a tape
recorder, then play it back to listen to yourself.

Mistake #8: Get over yourself!
Sales isn’t about you – it’s about your customers.

I’m constantly reminding sales people to get over themselves. Just
last week, I witnessed a vendor staring at her fingers and playing
with her wedding ring throughout her entire 30-minute presentation.
As you might imagine, the response from her audience was less than

Don’t be afraid to open yourself up to your audience. Remember, they
want you to have the answer to their problems! So move towards them,
gesture and smile. Look at each audience member, don’t just glance
distractedly around the table. And when you make an important point,
give one person a few seconds of deliberate eye contact – share the
moment with them – and then move on to someone else.

Mistake #9: Stretching the truth.
Lastly, whatever else you do, don’t tell stories you heard somewhere
else, or saw on the Internet. Chances are, if you’ve heard them, at
least one of your customers probably has, too.

Also, don’t make up references or examples of how your products are
being "used" in the field. Last month, I witnessed a sales
presentation where the rep told a story that was supposed to be an
example of how well his product works. The only problem was, his story
was so outlandish, and so obviously fake, that everyone lost interest
as he kept going on and on. An informal poll after the session showed
that not one of the 12 buyers who were at the table believed the story.
As a result, that rep’s credibility was irreversibly damaged in their

Do use real life examples, quotes, stories and testimonials.
They’re critical to making your story come alive, and persuading people
to buy your products or services. Just make sure that these stories
are as specific – and as relevant to your customer’s situation – as

After all, no matter how much you love that favorite anecdote about
what happened at last year’s BBQ at your Uncle Fred’s house, unless
it involves your customers’ problems, challenges or your solution
for them, a business presentation probably isn’t the best place to
tell it!