As a former buyer and executive, I’ve been on the receiving end of sales presentations hundreds if not thousands of times. Some were good, some are bad, and some were funny or awkward.

But the best sales presentations were those that never even happened. Let me explain.

When I was a sales rookie, in my very first sales meeting, I walked in with 80-something slides and a compelling, inspiring (or so I thought) and highly engaging story of what my company did, why it mattered, and how it would benefit the client. And I got shot down. Even though I was too inexperienced to notice it, my buyer was turned off by my approach in a matter of minutes. As I went to slide after slide after slide, I became painfully aware that not only was my buyer not paying any attention to what I was saying, but he was in fact becoming actively and openly disengaged.

It was only years later that I realised that I made a classic beginner’s mistake.

I pitched. And I failed.

How to make a sales presentation

Fast forward a couple years. I walked into another meeting room with a couple of experienced, senior business developers. When they entered the room, something struck me. There was not a slide in sight. Just notepads, and a couple of questions scribbled down.Which is how I ended up learning my first lesson on how to make a sales presentation: don’t.

As soon as the client executives walked into the room, a lively and engaging conversation began to emerge. Both sides asked and answered questions, and as time passed the conversation on both sides became increasingly animated. The meeting went way past the initial 60 minute mark, and lasted just under two hours.

The next thing that happened was even more crazy: we actually ended up winning that deal. Without a single slide ever being presented.

I’m often asked how to make a sales presentation. And, unsurprisingly, my answer today is very different from what I would’ve said even a decade ago. Don’t.

Unless you are explicitly asked by the client, for example when you’re presenting to a committee at a fairly late stage in the sales process, I would recommend you simply walk into the room with some well-thought-out questions and a genuine desire to learn more about your buyer, their situation and their business.

Sure, that requires some courage. You will not be able to hide behind a fancy, great-looking deck. You will not be able to talk about how great your company is, or how many of the Fortune 500 are your clients. And you will not be able to showcase your razzle-dazzle animations.

But what you will get a return will be much, much more valuable. A great first conversation with a potentially interested buyer, and a real chance at forging a strong relationship with a fellow human being.