We’ve had it drilled into us that the audience is the most important factor in a presentation. They should influence every decision: everything that is said, and everything that is shown. We’ve also fully absorbed the importance of brand consistency – presentations throughout a company should portray the same image – and know full-well that the boss requires approval of content before it is sent out to the field.

See a problem?

Flexibility in front of an audience and conformity within a company are two age-old adversaries that seemingly cannot co-exist. Here, we discuss the reasons for, and limitations of, flexibility and control in company presentations, and offer some advice on what works.

Management Control: The battle for consistency

Managerial staff in every department have different reasons for enforcing complete consistency in their company presentation:

  • CEO: “I want control over what my staff deliver.”
  • Marketing director: “I want to make sure my staff are exhibiting consistency of brand and message.”
  • Compliance officer: “Certain slides need to be included as a legal requirement. If they are deleted, the company is at risk.”
  • Sales manager: “I know more about sales than many of my staff – so I want them to use the slides I suggest.”

Having one single company presentation is about making sure that everything is done according to company guidelines – and to the best possible standard. Building a company presentation from the top down ensures that quality and consistency are positively managed.

Brand consistency is important: strong brands create emotional bonds with customers, adding significant value for companies. A standard company presentation can ensure that all presenters use the same slides and deliver the same message.

The Challenges

A generic company presentation, unless it is specifically designed to do so, may not adapt well to all situations. Every audience is different, and an audience that is not interested in what the presenter has to say will not be fully engaged with the presentation.

An audience may not do what you expect it to, and it can be useful to use tools that allow changes to be made instantly in reaction to an audience’s response.

Presenter’s Discretion: Different audience, different presentation

Although presenters in the field may well accept and understand the reasons for consistency and control of their company presentation, they most likely have questions and doubts about an approach that limits their discretion:

  • “I’m the one presenting – shouldn’t I be able to pick what goes in to the presentation?”
  • “I never know exactly what an audience wants to hear until I’m there. What happens if they decide they only want to see three slides?”
  • “There’s lots of boring information in this presentation – surely the audience would prefer me to deliver only what is interesting?”

Every audience and every situation is different. Often, it is impossible to know what an audience will want until the presentation has already begun. Sales presentations need to be kept fluid, with presenters adjusting and adapting to each situation that arises. By trusting presenters to pick their own material, the chances of presenting material that is relevant to each audience might well increase.

The Challenges

  • It is not always useful for every presenter to produce and adapt his or her own presentations. A company does need consistency, and this will not occur if every presenter acts individually.
  • Not all presenters will be great at preparing elegant, well-structured PowerPoint decks. Leaving those in the field to mix-and-match slides can have awful consequences.
  • Management has no control over what is being conveyed. This means that incorrect information could be given out, while the points that should be made (such as legal requirements) aren’t delivered.
  • Presenters may end up presenting only the material they are most comfortable with – but not necessarily the material they ought to present.

Is there a Solution?

There is no perfect solution, but there are steps that can be taken that should greatly improve the situation. A balance should be found between company control and presenter freedom. The appropriate balance depends greatly on the company culture, the level of training that presenters have had, the market in which a company operates, and the strength and approach of the company’s brand. Here are some tips that we suggest:

Ensure your sales team want to use your slides. If slides consist of mainly text, it is too easy (and tempting!) for presenters to adapt existing slides or insert new ones. If you have slides that are good enough that no one in your team would be able to replicate them to the same standard, you reduce the likelihood of such an attempt.

Produce branded Presentation templates. It is easy to convince presenters to use the same template to ensure brand consistency. If anything, it is more convenient for them.

Involve your sales team in the decisions. Ensuring everyone delivers the same message can be difficult, but having staff contribute to writing presentations that they will have to deliver is a positive step. Involvement and engagement leads to buy-in.

Share best practice. Get salespeople to send in their best slides, enhance and edit as necessary, and then allow everyone to benefit by including these slides in your company presentation. Make everyone’s best ideas visible – and share them around!

Use interactive presentations that presenters will be able to adapt as they go, according to what the audience wants to hear. Use hyperlinks, live graphs and audience response tools to make each presentation unique – while built from a core deck of PowerPoint slides.

Train your sales team. Ensure that sales people know the best way to present each slide in your company presentation – and, more importantly, why this is the best way. People are much more likely to follow rules if they understand the reasoning behind them.

Consider using software to deliver the right slides to presenters. Slide library software can also force compliance where this is essential – so that legal disclaimers must be used, for example.

Company presentations involve a certain tension between consistency and control, and flexibility. By involving presenters in the process of identifying and choosing the strongest messages, designing attractive and effective slides, allowing a certain amount of interactivity, and providing training to presenters, companies can resolve this tension in the most successful way.