Why a Sales Presentation is Not a Ted Talk


I’m a big fan of Ted Talks. A good Ted Talk can entertain, inspire, or expose you to new ideas and perspectives.  And as a presenter, there are lots of great lessons to take away from Ted Talks.  But make no mistake, a sales presentation is not a Ted Talk.  And it’s dangerous for sellers to model their presentation after one.  Here’s why:

You must have a call-to-action.

Unlike a Ted Talk, it’s vital that your prospect to do more than feel “inspired” or “informed” after your sales presentation.  You want them to take action.  While the best Ted Talks do a good job of ending in a memorable way, don’t be tricked into thinking that being memorable can substitute for a clearly defined call-to-action.  Get tips on calls-to-action that work here.

It’s not a monologue.

Ted Talks are monologues. There’s nothing wrong with a monologue, but research shows that successful sales presentations are those in which the prospect talks MORE than the sales person.  The more your prospect interacts with you, the higher their attention will be and the more ownership they will feel.  Besides, it is no simple task to deliver an engaging 18 minute monologue.  Unless you have the theater credits leave the monologues to the professionals and find ways to engage with your audience every few minutes.

It’s not about you.

Many Ted Talks are based on the speaker’s personal journey.  These can be highly insightful and engaging to an audience expected to be entertained.  But a prospect who is waiting to hear how you’re going to solve their problem may be less enamored with your story.  Personal stories can be powerful in sales, but they need to be used judiciously.  Are they appropriate for your audience?  Are you confident delivering a personal story?  And, can you tie the story quickly back to your prospect’s situation or goal?  Here are some tips on using a personal story in your sales presentation.

Bullet points are not the enemy.

Ted Talks have done a good job of showcasing the power of strong visuals in a presentation.  But a photo-gallery of slides can feel a bit “fluffy” for a prospect expecting to see how you’re going to solve their problem.  Mix in great visuals with occasional text (and yes, even bullet points!) to reinforce key ideas, facts or metrics as needed.

There is nothing magical about 18 minutes.

I will often have a salesperson tell me they’re trying to keep their presentation to 18 minutes, like a Ted Talk.  That’s a great goal – if it makes sense for your topic, your objective, and your audience.

I generally agree shorter is better, but there is nothing magical about 18 minutes.  That length was based on a single neuroscience study and the Ted Talk curator’s opinion that 18-minutes is “short enough to hold people’s attention…and precise enough to be taken seriously.”  Even presentation guru Carmine Gallo (who once suggested all business pitches should follow the 18-minute rule) has done an about face on this rule.

Ted Talks typically focus on a single idea and attempt merely to entertain or build awareness with an audience.  A doable goal for 18 minutes.  But if you’re a salesperson presenting a complex solution to multiple stakeholders and your goal is to change behavior,  you likely require more time.

Enjoy Ted Talks, learn from them, draw inspiration, and take away some speaking tips. But remember, a sales presentation is not a Ted Talk and being aware of the differences can mean the difference between action…and inaction on the part of your prospect.

Photo courtesy of Clark Murray [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

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