How many PowerPoint presentations have you endured?
How many presentation agendas have you vainly scanned in the hope of finding something interesting?
How often have you watched the back of a presenter's head as he doggedly repeats bullet points you could have read yourself?
And - given the agony of these amateur-night performances - how many times have you made exactly the same mistakes yourself?
Let's invent a new batch of "changing a light bulb" jokes.
You know the genre - "How many marketing people does it take to change a light bulb?"
Answer: none, marketing people never change anything.
How's this for a start: how many people does it take to produce a new brochure?
I've seen brochures that have involved input from more people than the client actually has on the payroll.
Aside from the armies of designers, consultants and copywriters, we also show draft copies to the sales department, marketing, accounts, the cleaning staff, the bloke at the golf club who knows a bit about marketing, and next door's budgie.
Meanwhile the corporate identity police have the agency's visual strapped in a chair in a basement while they positively vet the Pantone references and ha! I thought so!
The white space around the logo isn't exactly one third of the height of the third "J"!
The new website tends to develop a similarly inflated supporting cast.
Steven Spielberg made Saving Private Ryan with fewer people and in considerably shorter time.
In fact you can replay the scenario for pretty much all of your marketing exercises.
God can make a universe in six days.
Humans can make more humans in nine months.
The impossible we can do at once. Marketing takes a little longer. Or does it?
There's one aspect of our business-to-business communication that usually happens with indecent haste.
We've done the advertising, built the website, sent out the brochures and - finally - our dream client wants to talk to us. What do we do now?
Well, obviously, as it's such an important opportunity, we'll prepare properly.
Two days before the meeting, the sales director will ask his secretary to put together that greatest of all persuaders: a PowerPoint presentation.
So here's your maths homework for tonight: If it takes forty people six months to write a brochure, and twenty-five people can commission a new website in just under a year, how long will Sharon take to build a PowerPoint presentation?
When your prospect saw your advertising, your brochures, your website, you weren't there.
But when you finally got in front of them, you tried to win them over with a presentation that took an afternoon to cobble together.
If the corporate identity police saw this they'd turn up in Transit vans with wire mesh over the windscreens.
The corporate identity manual calls for Gill Sans 18 point text, but you've only got Times New Roman and Arial - but hey, who's to notice?
If you're really diligent you might have scanned your prospect's logo - or nicked it off their website - and your presentation now boasts a grainy, pixelated travesty of your customer's identity (and they might not be as forgiving as you are).
Now it begins: death by bullet point. "Mr Client, to show my gratitude to you for giving me your time, let me bore you to tears".
You proudly click the mouse, and up comes your seven-point agenda.
Point one - of course - is all about your company, its history, structure, expertise, unique product range, dedication to quality, focus on customer service . . . . sorry, I dozed off then.
While you're droning on about all this, your customer scans ahead to point six, which is what you're actually both here for.
Physicists have now proved that PowerPoint distorts reality into two distinct space-time continua.
Presenter time condenses half an hour into a subjective ten minutes.
Customer time, by contrast, extends the same thirty minutes into a geological era; the clock moves with the haste of continental drift. Blood slows. Deep vein thrombosis would at least break the monotony.
Let's not do this. Let's put something in front of our customers that looks professional. Let's be slick, entertaining (yes, entertaining) and to the point.
Let's not make our presentation look interminable by showing an agenda with every point we're going to cover.
And let's make sure that the first thing we talk about is what the customer stands to gain. Your business presentations are the element of your marketing that puts you there to take the embarrassment.
They deserve at least the thought and resource you devote to the other components of your marketing engine.
Invest in your presentations and your presenters and you'll change more than just a light bulb.
* Jem Shaw is managing director of Stafford-based Toad Marketing