What makes someone an effective presenter? Why do some salespeople seem to effortlessly captivate their buyers, while others struggle just to keep them awake?
What an ocean of research has identified is that the way something is presented shapes how it will be perceived and whether it not it will be acted on. In other words, all sales presentations are not created equal.
So how can you improve your ability to deliver compelling sales presentations? To answer this question, I’ll share a brief excerpt from my book The Science of Selling.
When you think about New York, what comes to mind? A busy city street filled with taxis? The Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building? Times Square? Or something else entirely? Your answer depends on your past experiences and what you associate with New York, but if you are like those I posed this question to, what came to your mind was not words, but a picture. Your brain pictured something that represented New York.
This provides an insight into the inner workings of our brains, namely that they don’t think in words but in pictures. Neuroscientist John Medina explains: “To our cortex, unnervingly, there is no such thing as words.” When the human brain encounters a word, it links the word to its corresponding picture. This is so well established that scientists have a name for it: the picture superiority effect.
Because the brain thinks in terms of pictures, it is able to process and retain them more easily than words. As a result, learning and retention can be improved by explaining a concept with pictures. This fact has been validated in numerous scientific studies. One such study was conducted by educational psychologist Kirsten Butcher and was published in the Journal of Educational Psychology. It demonstrated that people learn complex data with less difficulty when words and visual illustrations are used, in comparison to only text. Cognitive psychologists Richard Mayer and Roxana Moreno echo this notion when they state, “It is better to present an explanation in words and pictures than solely words.” Furthermore, John Medina concurs: “Text and oral presentation are not just less efficient than pictures for retaining certain types of information; they are way less efficient. If information is presented orally, people remember about 10 percent, tested 72 hours after exposure. That figure goes up to 65 percent if you add a picture.”
How can you use the picture superiority effect to enhance your sales presentations? Make sure that your presentations are dominated by pictures. Don’t just explain a concept verbally; instead show a picture that illustrates the concept, then explain the picture. This will improve your customer’s ability to absorb and retain your ideas.
I can still recall one presentation I witnessed where the presenter used PowerPoint slides that contained nothing but text, a lot of text. He then proceeded to read the slides to the audience. Not only was he disengaged from the audience, but the presentation was boring and hard to follow. Even more alarming was the fact that he rendered himself unnecessary, since everyone in the room needed no help in reading the slides.
If you use slides in your sales presentations, I recommend having as little text as possible. Also, evaluate whether your presentations help buyers easily picture the concepts you are sharing. Do you use vivid word pictures and actual pictures to explain your ideas? How could you improve in this area? Thinking through these questions is vital, since the easier it is for the brain to picture what you are presenting, the more favorably buyers will respond to you and your message.
The picture superiority effect is just one of the many research-backed factors that influence the decision-making process. What I’ve learned from nearly a decade of research for The Science of Selling is that the more you can leverage insights grounded in hard science, the better you will be able to serve your potential customers and the more likely they are to respond favorably to you and your ideas.