How to avoid presentation pitfalls and make more sales

By Karen O’Donnell, Toastmasters International

As women business owners and entrepreneurs we know how important it is to make the best of any opportunity to sell our product, service or message to an audience.  Many women start as hesitant speakers, even though they are passionate about what they do.  So remember a presentation is an opportunity to engage with potential clients and a well-crafted presentation can lead to far more success for your business.  

With great presentations, the secret is to grab your audience’s attention at the beginning and keep them engaged until your final word!

Here are my suggestions to help you close more deals and get full value from the presentations you give.

  1. Set aside time for maximum preparation

Frequently clients will contact me, overjoyed that they have secured a slot on their prospective client’s calendar to deliver a sales presentation.  All too often speakers put a lot of preparation into securing the pitch and little thought into the actual presentation. Yes, this is a moment of celebration, but there is still a lot of preparation to be done.   

To do:  Your preparation is a vital step towards an effective presentation.  This may well involve hiring a speaking coach to help you create a professional presentation so you close the deal.   Once written, put some time into practising.  Practise your presentation with a colleague or coach.  Don’t use your clients as a way to practise!  With sufficient preparation you will hit your target and close more deals!

  1. Avoid ‘One-size fits all’ 

You have secured the sales pitch – so this is NOT the time to pull out the generic presentation.  It’s very easy to spot if someone rattle through  a set of slides with no audience engagement.  At best it’s boring, at worst its rude and risks damaging to their own brand.

To do: Research your customer and become familiar with their business and the industry in which they operate in.  Research their competitors and tailor your presentation to demonstrate how your product or service can help them gain a competitive advantage. Choose material that is relevant to your specific customer.

  1. Sell the benefits

If you were selling a food processor – you would not sell it on its speed and versatility alone. You’d sell it on its benefits – how it makes life easier, will save you time when cooking, and will open up a whole new range of recipe options. People want to know what’s in it for them – not what the technology is or does. 


To do:  Don’t sell the features, sell the benefits. With our food processor, you might mention ‘it can create amazing birthday cakes for that special celebration’, or ‘you will be viewed as an amazing cook for those dinner parties’.  You create a picture that the likely ‘buyer’ can imagine and also appreciate

  1. Your Slides

Frequently, clients contact me and say; ‘I have a PowerPoint presentation that I use and now I need to figure out what to say to go along with the slides.’  Unfortunately, this is a common mistake which can ruin many business presentations.  Firstly, you need to create your message, develop your presentation – and then consider whether you need the slides to help you get your message across.  Not the other way around,

Remember; if your audience can get all the info they need from the slides, then you are not required. Don’t make yourself obsolete.

To do: 

Remove the slide if:

It is just to entertain the audience or is simply a prompt for the speaker

Keep the slide when:

It helps clarify your audience’s understanding of your message

  1. Data vs Stories

It’s a common misconception that lots of supporting data will ‘impress’ the audience.  Every company has wonderful stories – so explore those how you can portray the data in a story.  When you evoke emotion, you awaken thought.  People make decisions based on emotions and then follow it up with logic.

To do:  Connect with your audience through stories.  Select stories that will resonate with that particular audience.  Once you engage with them, they can look at the data at another time, if they wish.  

  1. Where to place the sales pitch

We have all been there; sat through a presentation waiting for the inevitable sales pitch at the end.  The speaker changes energy and hits us hard with the sales.  How does that make you feel? The close of your presentation is NOT the time to start selling. 

To do:  Sales starts from your introduction.  Within your opening you can specify a ‘pain point’ that your audience is facing. You could start with a question; ‘wouldn’t you like to have more commitment not just compliance from your team?’ having identified their pain – now use your presentation to offer the solution. Pepper your talk with service or product benefits.  Tease your audience with how you can solve their pain.  If done correctly, towards the of your presentation, they will want to hear how they can get your solution, so give them their next step in order to avail themselves of your product or service.

  1. Handouts

Many speakers distribute handouts at the beginning of their presentation, however this can result in the audience flicking through the paper and focusing on the handout, instead of focusing on your well-crafted presentation. 

To do:  Instead of distributing handouts, create a unique URL page on your website for this particular group and in it put all the resources from your presentation that they require.  This again adds the personal touch and shows how you can go that extra mile – as well as encouraging people to visit your website.

  1. Q&A section

Surely this goes at the end?  People remember best what they hear first and last, and if you leave Q&A until the very end, someone could throw you an awkward question and create a negative atmosphere.  This could be your audiences’ lasting impression of you, your company and your product or service.  Your final message must be the absolute final words they hear.  Skilled presenters never finish on a Q&A.  

To do:   At the beginning of your presentation say you will be taking questions towards the end. This stimulates people to think of questions as they listen. If you do not let them know early on, you’ll be stuck with silence when you ask “who has a question?”

For example, I usually say, “We’ll have time for some questions towards the end of this presentation and then I will give you my final message on this topic.”  In this way, you are also letting your audience (and the event organises) know that the Q&A session is not the end of your presentation. 

Finish with a bang.  Tell a personal story which describes the benefits of the product or service to your audience or a solution to the pain you mentioned in your opening.  End your presentation by referring back to the opening and let this be your ‘call to action’.

As a business presenter you have the opportunity to highlight your brand.  Use these tips and your next presentation will get you more sales.  Many people are delighted to host and support new speakers – hone your skills and become the go-to speaker in your niche!


Karen O’Donnell is a certified World Class Speaking Coach and member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit

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