One of my first trips to speak to manufacturers’ representatives after becoming MANA’s CEO in 2011 was to speak to the Manufacturers’ Agents of Cincinnati (MAC). It’s been a regular stop for me ever since, and it was a thrill on my most recent visit to find 35 manufacturers’ agents and manufacturers registered to take part in a “PowerPoint-Free Zone.”
The “PowerPoint-Free Zone” has become one of MANA’s most popular presentation formats, and its heritage goes back to my first MAC visit six years ago. It was common practice then, and remains common practice today, to pick a topic, prepare a slide deck, launch a speech, and hope that the audience that had arrived to receive it was the right audience for the message you had prepared.
It’s the public speaking equivalent of broadcasting: Crafting a message for the audience you hope to attract, and trusting the pull of that message to attract that target audience at the time and place it will be delivered.
Over the years, two things became apparent.
1. PowerPoint overload at work left audiences with little tolerance for PowerPoint outside of work.
2. Q&A after the PowerPoint was often much more dynamic and powerful than the presentation that preceded it.
With this in mind, MANA’s “PowerPoint-Free Zone” was born.
Instead of MANA picking a topic and hoping it would resonate with the audience, we launch each “PowerPoint-Free Zone” presentation with 15 minutes on a topic chosen to elicit questions and vigorous discussion, and then open the floor for Q&A.
The audience decides what they want to discuss, and we discuss it. Vigorously. Productively. No holds barred.
Instead of broadcasting, it’s narrowcasting. Instead of our chosen topics, it’s the audience’s chosen topics. And some of the best insights are shared not by the presenter, but by members of the audience.
It’s not unlike the advice we get from sales trainers, applied to audiences instead of prospective customers. Instead of telling prospective customers everything you know, according to most sales trainers, find out what they are interested in, listen more than you talk, and help them find useful solutions. Sage advice for salespeople and MANA presenters!