How to improve sales presentations: Murder your darlings and win new business

murder-my-darlingsIn the past week, I found myself having to ‘murder my darlings’ and suggest to somebody else that they do likewise.

And it was all in the name of improving presentations, so I thought I’d share the ideas with you to help you polish any presentations you need to give.

The term, murder your darlings, comes from the book, Resonate, by Nancy Duarte, which takes you through the process of creating presentations that transform audiences.

When I worked through this book in 2010, I was struck by the power of the command to murder my darlings.

This dramatic directive comes midway through the book, just after we are taken through the process of capturing all the ideas we can for our presentation; big ones, small ones, fragments, emotions, images, etc.

Duarte states, coldly:

It’s time to narrow it down. Many of the ideas are unique and were possibly fascinating to uncover. But you can’t say it all – and no one wants to hear it all.

In other words, to murder your darlings simply means that if you want your presentation to stay on message and run as efficiently as possible, you have to be strong enough to leave some good material OUT.

In short, the only ideas that should make it into your presentation are the ones that are 100% locked in to the big ideas you are trying to convey.

Murder number one

In my case, the challenge was reviewing a presentation I was to make at what turned out to be a packed, Yankalilla business breakfast at the Peninsula Restaurant at Links Lady Bay Resort last week.

As a side note, it was a brilliant event with 120 people up bright and early thanks to the Yankalilla District Council and the Yankalilla Area School. I note the irony that such a side note should not have made the cut, given today’s topic!

Anyway. my need to murder darlings came about because I had to trim my Two Commandments of Social Media Marketing presentation down from a keynote length address to a breakfast session.

It was hard because it meant some of my favourite anecdotes and screen images had to be dropped, purely because:

  • Some just had to go
  • Others were more ‘on target’

However, as it turned out, I just squeezed my shortened presentation into the time and people seemed to enjoy it.

The darlings were not missed!

I would argue that discipline is crucial not only for public speaking but also for sales presentations and webinars.

In fact, whenever you have been given somebody’s attention to convey a message; staying on target is a sign of respect for your audience and increases your chances of informing and persuading them.

But as it turns out, there is one more area that can benefit from this callous task.

Murder number two

The second case of murder related to a web design.

A new client asked me for some advice about his website because it was not performing as he had hoped and it was the older, Dreamweaver style setup which made it hard for him to edit.

After a thorough audit, I came to the conclusion that his online marketing efforts would benefit enormously if he were to transform his site into a WordPress framework and rejig his approach to content creation so that he funnelled his efforts into his website first and then drew from that for his newsletter.

He agreed but made one stipulation; his elaborate front page and menu set up had to remain unchanged.

These were his darlings.

The unfortunate thing about these darlings is that they do appear to be dated and are arguably less user friendly than more standard approaches to navigation.

His defiance was based on the fact that he had put so many hours into the current set up.

However, as Nancy Duarte would have it, that is not a rationale at all. She would argue that some simplification or ‘filtering’ of ideas would yield better outcomes (I will modify her words):

If you don’t filter your [website navigation options], the audience will respond negatively – because you’re making them work too hard to discern the most important [places to click]

So, my challenge this week is for you to ask yourself, what layers of sub-optimal thoughts, design, wording, anecdotes, information, can I remove from my website, brochures, sales presentations, speeches, etc?

Murdering your darlings is clearly a violent act but one that is necessary for better communication.



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