A presentation is a talk in which a ‘product, idea, or piece of work is shown and explained to the audience’ (Oxford English Dictionary), often including a ‘verbal report presented with illustrative material such as slides, graphs, etc.’ (Collins Dictionary). So, how can we define the related term ‘sales presentation’?

There are a few popular definitions (in virtue of where they are) out there that I think we can quickly reject. Wikipedia (and so Google) defines a sales presentation as:

A line of talk that attempts to persuade someone or something, with a planned sales presentation strategy of a product or service designed to initiate and close a sale of the product or service.

I’m fairly sure the first rule of definitions is that they can’t be tautologies (circular), so the use of ‘sales presentation’ in the definition is a problem. Does a sales presentation need to be planned? Maybe not. Does it need to be designed to ‘initiate and close a sale’ – maybe not – it could sit in the middle of a sales process, and be designed simply to advance the sale to the next stage. Would a telephone call count? By this definition, it might.

The Business Dictionary gives its definition of sales presentation as:

Formal and pre-arranged meeting, usually at a customer’s place (or at a neutral premises, such as a hotel) where a salesperson or a sales team presents detailed information (often including live demonstration) about a product or product-line.

I think there’s plenty to dislike here. ‘Formal and pre-arranged’ – maybe, but not necessarily. Location is probably irrelevant for the definition – a sales presentation could happen anywhere. Even ‘about a product or product-line’ unnecessarily excludes presentations about services or service-lines.

The best definition of sales presentation I could find online was from the Cambridge Dictionary:

A talk giving information about a product or service that you are trying to sell, intended to persuade people to buy it.

There is one small issue with this definition – but I think it’s closer to the mark. As per the Collins dictionary above, a presentation contains illustrative material – otherwise it’s just a speech or a talk or simply a conversation. As a minor point, it could be that the phrase ‘giving information’ is superfluous – the definition works just as well without it.

I think the narrow focus in the Cambridge Dictionary definition on a commercial transaction – ‘trying to sell’ … ‘persuade people to buy it’ – is probably correct. Many presentations attempt to persuade people about ideas, or how to vote, or religion. These presentations are similar to sales presentations, but my sense is that they aren’t sales presentations. A TED Talk may well want to persuade the audience to change the world, change themselves – but I don’t think that makes it a sales presentation in the way that people typically understand the term, because we aren’t selling in the commercial sense.

It’s worth noting that the Cambridge Dictionary definition doesn’t specify that the people you are persuading to buy your product or service are actually those you are presenting to. This is important because often sales presentations are mediated through the press – consider gadget launches for the most obvious example. I think these launches are a type of sales presentation, although the people being persuaded to buy aren’t in the audience, but at home.

Trying to refine our definition becomes more difficult when we consider investor presentations. Are we selling something? Yes – a stake in a company or other investment vehicle. Do we typically consider an investor presentation to be a sales presentation? Your sense may be different, but I think not. It’s something else – because we aren’t selling a product or service, but an investment opportunity.

So, based on all of the above, I think our sales presentation definition should be as follows:

A talk promoting to an audience a product or service that you are trying to sell, including illustrative material such as slides, graphs, etc.

I originally had the phrase ‘intended to persuade people to buy the product or service’ in the middle of the definition, but removed it because it was superfluous, as ‘promoting’ and ‘trying to sell’ already said the same thing. What do you think?

Leave a comment
Written by

Joby Blume

Director

View Joby Blume's profile

Related articles

Jul 2017

What can being scammed by a Tuk-Tuk driver teach us about persuasion for your next sales presentation? How the loss of 45p led to five important lessons around creating a persuasive presentation.

Jul 2017

Many of us want to be up to date on what’s going on in the world, or at least appear to be up to date in what’s going on in the world when we go into work every morning. Every year one of my resolutions is “stay up to date on current events” or “read the newspaper more”. But much like a soap opera or a novel, if you don’t pick up from the beginning there are a lot of things that just don’t seem to make sense to you. Of course, these articles aren’t catered for the new comers...

Jul 2017

I’m a closet sitcom writer. I don’t mean I write sitcoms about closets, I just don’t tell many people about it. But you’d be surprised how the skills for writing for comedy and writing for presentations often overlap. Here are four of the things I’ve learned about writing sitcoms that I use when I write presentations – and trust me, it’s a serious business...

  1. Image of Fernando HelenoFernando Fernando HelenoFernando says:

    Hi, Very interesting Post. We are a translation company and we are eager to find anything new. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

We were notified on Friday that we’ve been successful in our renewal bid. They were particularly complementary about our presentation and claimed it was one of the best they’ve had.

Greg Tufnall Siemens