Powerful PowerPoint Presentations (Part II)

Powerful PowerPoint Presentations (Part II)

Last month my California Broker column  (and blog post) offered advice on how to make better PowerPoint slides. That column focused on what to say; in the March issue I addressed design issues. This version of the article has been changed slightly from what was published in the magazine. Please let me know if you find these articles helpful.

Like last month’s article, this is for those of you who use slides when giving presentations. Good slides can enhance your talk. Bad ones can undermine it. For the sake of your audience, strive to have good ones. Enough said? Nope…

February’s article focused on the content of your slides. This month is about design. Because you can have slides with the perfect message, but if your audience can’t easily read that message, then little will be communicated.

As confessed last month. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this subject. I simply have a lot of experience using and viewing slides and I’ve done some studying about them.

One of the most reassuring things I’ve learned is that you don’t need to be a professional designer to create good looking slides. There are simple rules to making effective slides. A very thorough and useful resource on basic slide design is The Non-Designer’s Presentation Book by Robin Williams (no, not that Robin Williams).

Here’s some simple ways to make your slides look good that I’ve gleaned from Dr. Williams and others.

  • Fonts. Your audience should be able to read your slides without squinting. Even from the back of the room. Sounds obvious, but this rule is the most frequently broken. By using fewer words per slide (see last month’s article) you’ll have the space to use a larger-sized font. I’ve found fonts of between 28 and 32 to be the most effective. Larger is good, too; smaller, not so much.

Which font you use also matters. Use something basic and easy to read at a distance. I recommend sans serif fonts. These are the ones without the doohickeys on each letter. Arial and Calibri are examples of sans serif fonts. Times Roman is a serif font. Not all fonts are created equal, however. Comic Sans is an example of a sans serif font that is tough to read and looks a bit silly. Avoid cursive and stick to something straightforward.

  • Contrast.  Your audience is there to learn something. Or be entertained or motivated. They’re not there to play Where’s Waldo. Using text that blends into the background is unkind. Make sure your message stands out. Literally.

Using contrast is much easier if you avoid busy backgrounds. Pretty flowers or abstract art has their places, just not on your slides. Stick to solid backgrounds. If you need to get fancy, add a subtle gradient.

  • Dark or Light? Contrast is important because it reduces the strain your audience has when reading your slides.  Whether you use a dark or light background can make a big difference.

If you’re printing out your slides, a light background is best. When your slides are projected on a screen, however, studies show a dark background with a light font is easier on the eyes. You can test this yourself. Create two identical slides. One with black letters on a white background; the other with white letters on a black background. Switch back and forth. You’ll probably find it is easier to read the slide with the dark background.

Don’t feel locked into black-and-white, however. Using color can add personality to your slides. Just remember to use a background dark enough to make the font color you choose pop. It’s all about the contrast.

  • Avoid Clutter. Your audience should be able to glance at your slide and immediately see your message. Don’t make them hunt for it. As noted below, this may mean using more slides. It also means eliminating unnecessary elements. Like your logo.

Your audience heard your introduction. They know who you work for. They don’t need to see your logo on every slide. If they do, they’ll begin to ignore it when they’re not irritated by it.

Instead, limit your logo to the title and the end slide. Your audience sees the title slide while you’re being introduced. They’ll see the end slide (as discussed last month) while you’re answering questions and leaving the stage.

Another way to avoid clutter: eliminate slide titles. Your audience is listening to you. They can hear what you’re talking about. Like a ubiquitous logo, the title on a slide can get in the way.

I confess I rarely follow this rule. I recognize it’s worth, though. Slides without titles look “cleaner.” But habits, including bad ones, die hard. I do deemphasize the slide title, however, by using a smaller font with less contrast than the font I use for the body of the slide text.

  • Slides are Free. It’s better to use too many slides than too few. If you have a long list, break them out across multiple slides. I once saw a slide with 27 bullet points. No one could read them (few wanted to). I’ve found three-to-five points per slide is about right. This enables you to keep the font at the right size so it’s legible in the back of the room. And it’s easier for the audience to grasp a list of three than of, say, 27. And did I mention slides are free?
  • Alignment: If you have multiple images or text boxes on one slide, align them. All this means is that visual elements (including boxes of text) line-up in some way. For example, if you have a picture and alongside it some text, don’t center the text alongside the picture. Instead, pretend there’s a line extending from the bottom of the picture and have the text rest there. Or if you have two pictures, hang them along a shared imaginary line. (Dr. Williams’ book does an especially good job of showing how to align slide elements).

Alignment gives your slide a clean, strong look. This makes them easier to quickly read or understand. It also subtly demonstrates that you’ve paid attention to how your slides look. That’s because you have. And if you care about how your slides look, your audience will, too.

  • It’s About You

Remember, no one attends a meeting or webinar to read or to applaud your design skills. They come to hear you and your message. Make sure the focus stays on you. That means using slides that support your message and avoiding those that get in its way.

I’ve offered some guidelines for doing that. None are hard and fast rules (except for not reading your slides verbatim as you present). Use the tips as you like.

I hope I conveyed that it’s just as easy to create good slides as bad ones. It’s just kinder to your audience – and more effective for you – to make good ones.

Alan Katz is a co-founder of NextAgency, an agency management system with CRM, marketing and commission tools for life and health agencies.  Alan is a past president of NAHU and CAHU. He is a nationally known speaker on sales, marketing, business planning, and health care reform. Alan is the author of Trailblazed: Proven Paths to Sales Success, available through Amazon. Follow Alan on Twitter (@AlanSKatz), connect on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/alankatz44) and contact him at AlanKatz@NextAgency.com.

Easily Launch Email Campaigns with NextAgency

Easily Launch Email Campaigns with NextAgency

This email was sent on February 9, 2020:

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Learn more about email campaigns and what else is new with NextAgency 3.0 at one of our weekly webinars. This week’s webinar is Tuesday, February 11th. Space is limited, however, so please RSVP now. During the demonstration you’ll see all the ways NextAgency saves you time, money and clients. And you’ll learn about our no-risk 14-day free trial and receive a code to save 25%.*

*25% savings promotion in effect at time email was sent. It is a limited time offer, subject to change.

Powerful PowerPoint Presentations (Part I)

Powerful PowerPoint Presentations (Part I)

One benefit of writing a monthly column for California Broker magazine is that I get to address pet peeves. In the February issue, my column, offered advice on how to create better PowerPoint slides. Clearly, I’ve attended — and given — way too many speeches. Part 2 will be published in March . This version is slightly altered from the magazine version.

Powerful Presentations for Your Audience’s Sake. Part I

Do you give speeches? Maybe at carrier or GA product seminar? Or at association events? Do you use seminar marketing? If so, you probably use PowerPoint (or its Mac cousin, Keynote) and this article is addressed to you.

It’s written for your audience, however. Because sitting through presentations with lousy slides can be painful.

PowerPoint can turn an interesting speech into nap time. This isn’t the software’s fault. Like splitting the atom, presentation software can be used for good or evil. Slides can generate tremendous energy or radioactive tedium. If you use slides, for your audience’s sake, please use them wisely.

It’s About You

I’ve sat through hundreds of presentations. And I’ve given hundreds, too. This doesn’t make me an expert on public speaking, but it does make me experienced. Plus, I’ve spent time researching what makes good slides. In this article (about content) and next month’s (on design), I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned. Full disclosure: I may not always follow these rules myself, but I know I should.

In reading this advice, please remember that you are the presentation. The audience wants to hear you talk about your products and services. Otherwise they could stay home and read brochures.

Slides can help you deliver your message, but they are not the focus of your presentation. They can provide context and underscore key points. They should never distract. Slides should be something your audience glances at, quickly comprehends, and then returns their rapt attention to you.

Don’t Read Them. Your slides are not a script. That’s what notes are for. Reading your slides is a crime against humanity, at least the slice of humanity sitting in front of you. There’s a place in hell reserved for slide readers, right next to those who talk during movies and recline their seats on airplanes.

Your audience can read silently faster than you can read out loud. Once an audience sees you reading slides, you’ve lost them. They’ll read the slides for themselves. And then they’ll check their email.

There is an exception to this “no reading” rule. If you’re not reading every slide, when you do read one it can capture the audience’s attention in a very powerful way. I make use of this exception during talks based on my book, Trailblazed: Proven Paths to Sales Success. During that presentation I define sales professionalism. An agent surveyed for the book did a great job of describing the term. My slide shows his entire quote and I read it. As a result, the definition stands out. Because it stands out, the definition is more memorable. Use restraint when applying this exception, however. Read more than a few slides, and it’s back to the emails.

Slides Aren’t Handouts. As noted, slides can provide context and emphasis. However, what if you want to use the slides as something your audience can take with them to keep your message fresh?

Don’t. That’s not what slides are for. Flyers and brochures are for handing out. Links to articles and blog posts are for sharing. Slides are for supporting your presentation. Use the right tool for the right job. This requires a bit more effort on your part, but you’ll be much more effective as a result.

Sentences Are Unnecessary. You should talk in complete sentences. Your slides don’t have to. The audience should be able to glance at the slide, glean its meaning and return their attention to you (the star of the show).

This makes complete sentences counterproductive, with a few exceptions. For example, if you’re quoting someone, you want may need to provide the entire quote. Although there’s a reason they invented ellipses.

At first you may find it uncomfortable to not use complete sentences on your slides. Sentences can be reassuring. They tell you what to say. But you’ll also be tempted to read them. And that, as we’ve discussed, is unacceptable.

Phrases are friend. They too can remind you what to say. And they’re easier for your audience to read. Sometimes just a word or two can be powerful. In my health care reform presentation, I explain why brokers should not worry too much about proposals like Medicare for All. I could write out the reasons in cogent sentences. But that would transfer attention from me to the slides.

Instead, I explain the reasons and borrow a couple of reassuring words from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “Don’t Panic”. That’s all the slide contains, two words: “Don’t Panic.” This not only underscores my message, it’s somewhat comforting.

Watch Your Words

Words Can Be Unnecessary. Sometimes you don’t need any words. Instead of telling your audience something, you can show them. Discussing what’s happening in Washington, D.C.? A picture of the Capitol or the White House provides context. Talking about impending danger from bad policy making? Use a picture of a tidal wave or an avalanche to underscore your message.

Pictures can also add a bit of humor to your message without distracting from what you’re saying. For example, when talking about what’s happening in Washington, D.C., use the avalanche picture. Your audience will get the point. They may even chuckle.

Finding the right picture is easy. Free images can be found on the web and stock photos are available for very little cost. It’s worth taking some time to search for the right “thousand words” picture.

Graphs can be effective, too. Just make sure you attribute them and that they can be read in the back of the room. If you have to apologize for how small the graph is, don’t use it.

Title and Closing Slides. You’re most likely being introduced before you approach the podium. A title slide with your topic and your name is good to have on the screen during this time. If it also includes your company’s name and logo, even better (more on logos next month).

And there’s no need for a slide at the end that reads “Questions?” You’ll tell your audience when it’s time for questions. Instead, your last slide should be a near duplicate of the title slide. This end slide, however, should include your contact information. After all, they came to hear you. Use this slide to help them follow-up with you.

Your slides need to have the right context. They also need to be legible. That’s where good design can help. And that’s next month’s topic.

Alan Katz is one of Cal Broker’s 2020 editorial advisors. He’ll be writing monthly about marketing and sales growth as well as health care reform. Katz is a co-founder of Take 44, Inc., the company behind NextAgency, an agency management system for life and health agencies. He is a past president of NAHU, was a senior vice president at WellPoint and general manager of the general agency Centerstone. Katz also served as chief of staff to California’s Lieutenant Governor and on the Santa Monica City Council. You can follow him on Twitter (@AlanSKatz) and contact him at Alan@Take44.com.

Putting Healthcare Reform In Perspective

Putting Healthcare Reform In Perspective

I am honored that California Broker magazine has asked me to write a monthly column for their publication. The magazine has been an important resource for insurance agencies in the Golden State for decades. I’ve written numerous articles for them over the year, but this is the first time I’m doing a regular column.

Since the topics I’m writing on are not geographically limited, I thought I’d share them here as well. This first article, Putting Politics Into Perspective, published in the January issue, explains why there is almost no chance of Medicare for All becoming law in the next administration. While the COVID-19 epidemic changes the calculus slightly, I stand by the conclusion made here. Unless something remarkable happens in the Fall, there simply won’t be the votes needed to enact legislation this sweeping. The article has been slightly edited since its publication.


Putting Health Care Reform in Perspective

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day events that comprise America’s politics. Like an easily distracted dog, every day brings another squirrel. Or three.

By the time you read this, for instance, cable news is no doubt obsessing over the twists and turns of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. (As I write, the Judiciary Committee is getting ready for its first hearing, but where this road leads is pretty easy to map). Once the trial is over, the news channels will resume fixating on the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. That means we’ll be hearing a lot more about Medicare For All, Medicare For All Who Want It and all the other permutations that are healthcare reform in 2020.

A winning issue

In the 2018 mid-term elections healthcare reform played a critical role in helping Democrats capture a majority in the House of Representatives. That’s in part because Republicans badly botched their “repeal and replace” approach to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), misplacing the “replace” part of the formula. For Democrats, healthcare reform is a winning issue. They’ll keep it front and center in 2020.

Listening to politicians debate an issue that could devastate your profession and livelihood can be … upsetting. Especially when the issues involve something as complex as healthcare reform and the politicians, by choice and necessity, talk in generalities and principles that often only glancingly connect with reality.

For example, the Democratic Presidential Debates over the past few months have spent considerable time on the need to fix America’s healthcare system. They often fail to separate health insurance practices from, say, pharmaceutical company pricing decisions. There should be a warning on the screen: Politicians conflating insurance policies covering the cost of care and providers setting the cost of care may lead to indigestion and high blood pressure.

Or consider the appropriation of Medicare to sell a single-payer system. Any and every health insurance professional knows that when candidates talk about Medicare For All they are not referring to Medicare As It Is Today. Medicare As It Is Today includes premiums, co-pays, deductibles, coverage limits and more. It limits costs by setting reimbursement levels for doctors, hospitals and other providers. Medicare For All includes no cost-sharing. And it sets prices providers can charge–a fact no politician will emphasize.

However, Medicare As It Is Today is popular. Co-opting the term “Medicare” for a government-run single payer plan is simply good marketing. And good marketing is good politics. Which means this conflation will continue.

Governing isn’t campaigning

There’s a simple way to get through the coming stress-inducing political maelstrom. Relax. Pay attention. But don’t panic. What you’re hearing is the sound and fury to which William Shakespeare referred. He noted such noise signified nothing. In the case of healthcare reform, it signifies something, but much less than might be apparent.

That’s because campaigning and governing are two different things. Campaigns are about hope (or fear). Campaigns are aspirational. Governing is about counting votes. Administrations are pragmatic. That’s because the calculus each use is different.

Campaigns are about aggregating voting blocks to create a majority (or at least a plurality). In presidential campaigns this is complicated by the Electoral College, but let’s not go there. That’s why politicians talk about “big tents” and “coalitions.”

Governing requires cobbling together sufficient majorities in a legislature (let’s assume Congress). This process is focused on the needs and fears of 535 lawmakers, not 130 million voters.

The 60th Senator

The implications of this difference are profound. Despite all the attention paid to the presidential contest and the nearly $2 billion that will be spent to influence who sits in the oval office, the president doesn’t get to decide the final shape of health care reform. That power resides with one senator.

Interestingly, we don’t know who that is. Yet. But let any president, Democrat or Republican, try to push through healthcare reform and we’ll find out. That most powerful Senator is whoever positions themselves as the 60th vote. (There are ways to change laws in the Senate with a simple majority, but let’s consider the traditional method for now).

Getting to 59 votes is tough. Getting to 60 votes is much tougher. Senators who commit late are extremely powerful. They can often determine what the final bill contains.

In 2017 we saw an example of this phenomenon. Senate Republicans needed 50 votes to pass a “skinny” repeal of the ACA (why 50 were needed as opposed to 60 isn’t relevant now). That crucial vote turned out to belong to Senator John McCain. And neither the president nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could capture his support. In that famous “thumbs down” moment, Senator McCain doomed the Republican effort to kill the ACA.

 Medicare for All: Not happening

Come November 2020 we’ll find out which party holds the majority in the Senate. Given that every Republican and several Democrats oppose Medicare For All, that proposal will be dead on arrival.

It’s totally appropriate for Democratic candidates to use Medicare For All to define their aspirations and build their coalitions. When it comes time to govern, however, no matter who is elected, Medicare For All is not going to happen. The 60th senator–whoever that may be–won’t let it.

This doesn’t mean the healthcare reform debate this year is meaningless. This doesn’t mean, as knowledgeable health insurance professionals, we can be detached or silent. Quite the opposite. Momentum matters. Education makes a difference. And advocates for a single payer system are not going away. Engaging in the debate is necessary and useful.

Just keep things in perspective. Your blood pressure will thank you.

Alan Katz is a co-founder of Take 44, Inc., the company behind NextAgency, an agency management system for life and health agencies that saves them time, money and clients. Learn more at www.NextAgency.com. Alan is a past president of NAHU, was a senior vice president at WellPoint and general manager of the general agency Centerstone. He has served as chief of staff to California’s Lieutenant Governor and on the Santa Monica City Council. You can follow him on Twitter (@AlanSKatz), connect on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/alankatz44) and contact him at Alan@Take44.com.


CRM versus Agency Management Software

CRM versus Agency Management Software

Insurance agencies have lots of choices when it comes to technology. Take insurance agency software. These platforms come in all shapes and sizes. Well, not so much shape and sizes given that they’re basically zeros-and-ones. They do, however, come with different functions.

Two types of software available to insurance agencies are easily confused: agency management systems (AMS) and customer relationship management systems (CRM). This isn’t surprising. There’s considerable overlap in the benefits they deliver. Each can help you sell more. Each can help you be more organized. CRM and AMS software are not the same, however. Understanding the differences can help you decide which type of software you need.

This article will focus on CRM and agency management software designed for insurance agents – and, in particular, agencies focusing on benefits, senior and life products. If you’re interested in an AMS system for your realty company, there’s probably a blog out there for you. This is not it.

What is Customer Relationship Management?

There’s a slight difference of opinion concerning what a CRM platform is. Some people claim customer relationship management is a strategy, not a technology. They define CRM as making the customer the center of everything an agency does. Technology may help implement this strategy, but the software is incidental to a customer-centric strategy.

Others focus on the technology involved when discussing CRM. Salesforce defines CRM as “a technology for managing all your company’s relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers.” That Salesforce focuses on the software, rather than the philosophy, is not surprising. They are, after all, one of the world’s largest customer relationship management platforms. That doesn’t make their definition a bad one, however.

These two definitions of CRM are not mutually exclusive. CRM can be a strategy for putting customers first. It can also be the technology that enables this. For purposes of this post, we’ll define CRMs as software that helps agencies manage contacts, track sales, measure productivity, and understand the history of their customer interaction and more.

What is an Agency Management System?

An agency management system is software. Someone somewhere may claim that AMS is a strategy. If so, I can’t find their posts. Agency management systems help you organize your agency. It helps with sales, but goes further. AMS helps you manage information about carriers, general agencies and your own agency. Agency management software helps you deliver better customer service, track your commissions, keep commitments and more.

Agency management systems are a subset of data management software. Techopedia defines data management well. “Data management refers to an organization’s management of information and data for secure and structured access and storage.” When data management software is built for insurance agencies it’s called an agency management system. But at the end of the day, it’s a data management system.

Comparing CRM and Agency Management Systems

Whether an agency management system or CRM software is the better choice for you depends on what you want to accomplish. CRM tools are great if your goal is to dive deep into customer interactions. Agency management systems are better if you’re looking to improve more than just sales issues.

Customer Relationship Management Systems

Strong customer relationship management systems go beyond just tracking client data. They may offer auto dialers and caller ID. They may have built-in text systems. More sophisticated customer relationship management systems can adapt your web site to the status of the visitor. Prospects will see certain content. Clients will see something different.

Because CRMs are fixated on sales, they can seem like one-trick ponies. They aren’t much help beyond selling. Sales are critical. But customer relationship management systems don’t help you run a more efficient agency. Agency management systems do.

Agency Management Systems

AMS software usually include CRM tools. Improving sales results is just a part of what an agency management system should deliver, however. For example, NextAgency helps you track prospects through your sales pipelines. NextAgency also helps you store notes and automatically associate emails related to each prospect and client. NextAgency makes renewing — and cross-selling — your clients easier. Our software makes it simple to implement a drip marketing campaign. The platform also helps you assign policies to specific employees. These are all CRM tools.

NextAgency is an agency management system, however. Which means it does more than help you sell. NextAgency helps you deliver better customer service with service pipelines and benefit portals for your clients. Our software helps you manage your carrier, general agent and vendor relationships. NextAgency helps you keep commitments made to clients and others. NextAgency includes a built-in agency library. This keeps your forms, documents and collateral handy wherever you are. NextAgency helps you manage commissions. NextAgency syncs with your existing email account. Not all agency management systems do everything NextAgency does. Most do not. However, all agency management systems deliver more than just sales tools.

Which is Best for You, an Agency Management System or CRM software?

How to choose between a CRM or an agency management system? The answer depends on what’s most important to you. Customer relationship management software has a narrow focus: sales. Do you need – and will you use – every sales tool available? We all want to improve sales. But buying tools you won’t or can’t use wastes money. If you will use all the sales tools available in a CRM, however, that may be the right choice for you.

Are you looking for software to address more than sales? A strong agency management platform will include CRM tools, just not as many as dedicated customer service software. Agency management software can help you track commissions, manage documents and carrier appointments and so on. If you want to make your agency smarter, more effective and more efficient (while increasing sales), you probably want an agency management system.

A number of agencies have come to NextAgency from CRM systems. They thought they only needed help with sales. These agencies realized that managing their client relationships was critical. However, they realized they needed something more. They found that CRM tools were a part of the solution, just not the entire solution. They needed an agency management system. You know, one like NextAgency.

There’s numerous types of software that can help insurance agencies succeed. For example, social media management tools can optimize marketing processes by having a single, centralized dashboard to manage social media activities. Still, two of the most powerful tools available to these agencies are CRM and agency management systems. Choosing the right one is critical.

Whether you sell benefits, senior or life products, NextAgency can save you time, money and clients. NextAgency is a powerful, modern agency management system (NextBroker) with CRM, marketing and commission management tools. Please visit www.NextAgency.com to learn more. And to see NextAgency in action, please sign-up for a free demonstration at one of our regular webinars.