When Howard Getson isn't selling his company's sales-automation software, he can be found pitching to private investors - widely acknowledged as some of the toughest customers on the planet. By the end of the first quarter of 1998, Getson had hauled in more than $10 million for IntellAgent Control, in Dallas. One of his favorite selling tools is a slide show because it gives prospects confidence in his abilities. "I do so much preparation that it looks effortless," he says. "People remember things with a lot more depth and clarity if you combine visuals and text."

Anyone with an appropriate slide show, Getson also contends, will be perceived as better prepared. In addition, the slides enable him to control the order and timing of the presentation - and step around questions that could trip him. "Hey, you know, I've got something about that a couple of slides ahead," he'll respond to an unwelcome inquiry. "But I want to make a couple of other points first."

Of course, it only works if prospects agree to watch the slide show, which they do because Getson gives them a choice - or seems to. If he senses resistance, he simply waits until the right moment to mention that he's prepared a few slides. Once the curtain rises, the graphics flow naturally with his explanations. When Getson talks about what most salespeople want from automation software, a proposal slides out of a computer, followed by a price list. The visuals and handouts, he says, "make me seem smart, practical, and grounded."