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The 3 Worst Sales Kick-Off Blunders (Plus What To Do Differently)

Cian McLoughlin
15 Oct 2019

The lights go down, a hush descends on the auditorium and U2’s “It’s A Beautiful Day” starts blasting through the speakers. All eyes in the room turn to the front, as a lone figure takes the stage and walks towards the spotlight. The anticipation in the room is palpable, the energy is high, the sense of potential is contagious.

Over the next few months, hundreds of Sales and Company Kick-Off events will be meticulously planned and executed throughout Australia, New Zealand and the Asia Pacific Region. These events will vary enormously in terms of their themes, budgets and locations, but one consistent thread will tie them all together, the desire to motivate, engage and inspire a group of people and get them ready to deliver on their potential in the year ahead.

Having sat through more than my fair share of Sales Kick-Offs over my career, plus MC’ed and presented at many of these events, I wanted to share a few quick tips I’ve picked up along the way. What makes one Sales Kick-off soar, while others fail to get off the ground? How do some events light a fire under an audience, while others seem to extinguish all the energy and creativity in the room? Here’s what I’ve discovered…

Blunder #1 – Death by PowerPoint

Since it’s release way back in 1987, PowerPoint has become the default standard for delivering Presentations, just as Excel has become the default for creating financial models. So, ask yourself the question, in a 30-year business career, factoring in internal meetings, customer presentations, companywide catch-ups and the odd Annual Kick-off conference, how many PowerPoint presentations would the average individual have had to endure? I’ve crunched the numbers and the answer is… way too many to count!

Typical PowerPoint presentation mistakes include:

  • Way too many words on slides
  • Reading out loud the words that are written on the slides
  • Poor slide design, including Clipart, stock photos and PowerPoint animations
  • Slides that are too busy, making it impossible to work out the central idea
  • Clunky slide transitions (using every single slide transition option available)
  • Poor grammar, poor spelling, poor sentence structure, you get the gist.
  • Formatting which works on your PC but hasn’t been tested on a projector


Instead Consider – Break the mould.

If you can’t screw up the courage to ditch the PowerPoint completely, then ensure your presentation is:

  • Visually engaging
  • Full of strong, high quality imagery
  • Includes minimal text (used only to reinforce a point, not to make it for you)
  • Clean and simple formatting
  • Avoid clever slide transitions
  • Consider using video or GIF’s to create a point of difference

For the more seasoned or adventurous presenters out there, presentation tools like Keynote and Prezi can make a welcome change to the standard presentation format. If you want to make your presentation even more memorable, consider ditching the tools completely and speak from the heart, without any technology to break the connection between you and your audience.

Photo by Marcos Luiz Photograph on Unsplash

Blunder #2 – Show-Up & Throw-Up

I’m not talking about literally throwing up on stage, although I’ve seen more than a few presenters who were the worse for wear, after a hard night of partying on the company tab!

What I’m referring to here is the sort of canned presentation, where everything you say is scripted and it feels like you’re regurgitating words, rather than connecting with the meaning and intent of what you’re saying.

In his thought-provoking book “What’s Your Message” author Cam Barber explains that Powerful Presentations make great leaders, get your ideas heard, build your personal brand and grow your business. By that rationale, weak presentations make poor leaders, drown out your ideas, destroy your personal brand and shrink your business.


Instead Consider – Break the mould.

It can be easy to get consumed by the quality of your slides, the choice of music, lighting or pyrotechnics which accompany your presentation, but no poor presentation was ever rescued by the addition of bells and whistles. As Cam Barber concludes “the holy grail of communication is a transferable message. One that can be easily recalled and passed from one person to the next.”

So how do you create a message that can transfer?

  • Firstly, get very clear on who is in your audience
  • Workout what you want them to think, do or feel when they walk away from your presentation.
  • Ask yourself why would they think, act or feel that way?

Once you’ve got clarity on these 3 questions, you have the key ingredients to craft a message that will resonate, stick and most importantly be easy to recall and transfer to others.

Blunder #3 – “Look at me, look at me!

Sales and Company kick-offs are by their nature internally focused events. A chance to review the performance of the past 12 months and chart a course for the year ahead. That’s all well and good, but after 2 or 3 days of internal discussion and navel gazing it can be easy to lose track of why you’re in business in the first place. Remember the goal isn’t simply to reflect on what happened last year, but to harness the energy and enthusiasm of your team for the year ahead. It’s hard to do that whilst looking in the rear-view mirror.


Instead Consider – An Outside-In Perspective

It’s been said that in every meeting he attends, Jeff Bezos Founder and CEO of Amazon, asks for a chair to be left empty. That empty chair is supposed to represent Amazon’s customer who he wants to be at the heart of every decision that Amazon takes as a business.

To significantly increase the impact of a Sales or Annual Kick-Off event, consider asking a few of your customers to play an active role in the process. Bring them inside the tent, seek out their feedback, ask them to share their stories and experiences, turn your event from exclusive to inclusive with one simple change of approach. Every single time I have MC’ed an event that’s had a customer participating in a candid and conversational way, this section of the agenda has been the highlight for the audience.

So, as you start planning for your big 2020 Company Kick-off event, don’t just ask “What do you want people to think, but also how do you want people to feel, when they leave the room?”

Cian McLoughlin is a bestselling author, award winning blogger, keynote speaker and sales and business expert. With a business career spanning 20 years, including senior management roles in a number of the world’s largest software companies, Cian provides a unique perspective on what motivates (and demotivates) people when making a buying decision or influence attempt.

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