sales presentations and Graphs

Sales presentations and graphsWe are often called upon to provide numbers in our sales presentations, either in table or graph form. We include the numbers because we believe they provide convincing factual evidence to back up our arguments. The question is: are we presenting the numbers in a truly convincing way? This is the first in a series of articles devoted to graphs in sales presentations, and the five rules that guaranty high impact for our live presentation of the numbers.

I’m not talking here about the numbers we put in printed written proposals, I am referring to the figures that are part of presentations projected onto a screen.

As an illustration, let’s take the example of the number of visitors per month on SlideShare (Source: )

1. Putting graphs in your sales presentations

Sales presentations and tablesTables of data work well in written documents, but are inappropriate for visual communication in a sales presentation projected onto an LCD screen or a projector. Most sales reps who put this type of table into their sales presentations don’t know this, and think that the client will grasp the numbers and the trends. This is pure fantasy. There is no way a client can extrapolate a trend or grasp the basic message, even from a table as simple as this one (2 columns, 5 lines)… especially since most tables are much denser and often unreadable, with sometimes 10 or more lines and columns!
Excel graph in sales presentations

The initial reflex would therefore be to show the data in the form of a graph rather than a table. And this is indeed what most sales reps do, using Excel and its formidable computing power. It’s better than the table of figures, and the client starts to get some idea of what the data signifies, but in my opinion, it’s still not good enough.







2: Eliminate Excel “noise”

Noise in an audio message is all the sounds that accompany the message but interfere with it and make it more difficult to understand. There is also noise in visual communication: all the visual data that accompanies the diagram, but that distracts from it and makes it more difficult to understand:

  • Visual noise: 3D displays, vertical and horizontal lines
  • Numbers noise: Figures expressed to the nearest unit, when the significant value is the millions; clients can retain that there are 60 million visitors, but not 60,077,045 visitors, yet the message is the same. Just like when we show smaller number, and include the two digits after the point, which we could certainly do without.
  • Sales presentations and graph without noiseThe noise of duplicated or unnecessary information:
    – The title that shows up twice on the screen: once in PowerPoint and again on the Excel graph
    – The client logo, as though they didn’t know who they were; our logo, as though if we didn’t put it on every slide the client would forgot who we were (if you’re not sure whether to put the logo on every slide, click here for more information on the subject); the date and place as though they didn’t know what day it was or where they were.
    – The “source” written so small that no-one can read it: it is important in the written document, but here you can just mention it verbally. And why put it anyway if no-one can read it?
    – The vertical scale that is unnecessary because the values are indicated above the bars anyway, which means

3. Clarify the key message in the title

Graph title in sales presentations
We put graphs to support a key message. So instead of having the title describe the data illustrated by the graph, use it to spell out your key message.







4. Adjust the contrasts

Use color contrasts to highlight the information that you want to convey to the client.

  • Visual graphs in sales presentations

    The background: you will achieve better results with a dark background (click here for more on why dark backgrounds are better). I often use a very basic black background for graphs, because is cuts the noise.

  • The key data: use a special color for the data that you want to highlight.
  • You should also adjust the font sizes to create contrast. I prefer to do this by redrawing the graph in PowerPoint, which allows more freedom than Excel; once the graph has been reduced to its simplest expression, it just takes a few seconds to redraw the five bar

You have probably noticed that we barely use Excel’s functions to make graphs for sales presentations. Excel was designed by engineers, not communicators, and they included lots of gadgets that are pretty cool, but in the end, aren’t great for communication.

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