In the world of business, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be called upon to deliver a presentation. Some people thrive in such situations, creating world-class visuals and presenting them with confidence and vigour.
Others, on the other hand, are not so suited to the task. We’ve all had to sit through a painful business presentation in which the speaker reads blocks of text straight from his slides in a monotonous voice.
When delivering a business presentation, the last thing you want is for your audience to fall asleep. Whether it is a motivational talk, an educational lecture, or a sales pitch to promote your services to an audience of potential clients, you want the room to be engaged and entertained throughout. Not only that, but you also want them to remember you long after they leave the building.
If you are nervous about speaking in public or struggle to get your message across, don’t panic. Anyone can create a compelling business presentation with the right preparation. By following these steps, you will be able to wow potential investors, motivate your staff, see your sales skyrocket and make a lasting impression on your audience.
Know your stuff
You might be the kind of person that can blag their way through a presentation with no preparation, but this is no way to go about it. Your audience will be able to tell if you are unprepared, and will lose confidence in you as a speaker. Even if your presentation is a talk without any slides, it should follow a set structure, and you should know all of your points inside out. If you’re relying on facts and supporting information to make your case, you must do your research and make sure what you are saying is credible. You don’t want to be called out by a pedantic audience member who knows your facts are incorrect.
Practice makes perfect, and you want to be as prepared as you can to minimise the risk of freezing up or getting things wrong. Once you have created your presentation and written your talk, go over it as many times as it takes to get it perfect. This will help with nerves as you will be more confident that you know what you need to say. It’s generally not a good idea to learn your speech word for word, as this will make it sound rehearsed. Instead, simply memorise the order of points you need to make throughout your talk and tick them off in your head as you go. This will make your speech flow much better. If you struggle with your memory, it’s OK to have speaker notes in front of you while you deliver your presentation to guide you, but don’t rely too heavily on these. You don’t want to look as if you are reading everything off a piece of paper.
It’s a good idea to get feedback in advance of the big day, so try practising your presentation on a colleague or family member to get some tips on your delivery and content. Constructive criticism is the best way to improve, and they might be able to spot some issues you hadn’t noticed.
One of the worst things that can happen when giving a presentation is a technical failure. You’ve spent hours and hours creating your slides, preparing your talk, and practising in front of the mirror until you have it perfect. You arrive at the venue only to find that the equipment provided doesn’t support your slides or your laptop has died. Technical problems can completely scupper a presentation, especially if you are presenting in an unfamiliar venue.
To avoid things going wrong at the last minute, arrive at the venue at least an hour early to set up. This will enable you to familiarise yourself with the layout and the technology, and give you sufficient time to deal with any technological hitches. Cover your back by storing your presentation in multiple formats. For example, it might be wise to keep copies stored on your laptop, on a USB drive, and in the cloud or your email inbox.
Another advantage of arriving early is that you will get the opportunity to meet some members of your audience before you start. This will help you to break the ice and feel a little more confident before stepping on stage.
First impressions count for everything when giving a presentation. If you have a weak opening, your audience will lose interest and shut off. Starting your talk with a powerful opening statement will set the tone for the rest of the presentation. There are so many ways you could achieve this, depending on the style and message of your speech. You could use a shocking statistic, an emotional personal story, an attention-grabbing video, or a light-hearted joke.
If you are talking to people who do not know you personally, establish your credibility upfront. Let them know who you are and why they should listen to you. This could be a brief rundown of your illustrious career or a personal anecdote that establishes you as an expert in this particular field.
Delivery is everything. If you drone on and on in a monotone voice, your audience will quickly fall asleep. Having a confident, upbeat manner will make your audience feel energised and more engaged in what you have to say. This can be difficult for people who have trouble speaking in public, but practice makes perfect. You are no doubt passionate about the topic you are talking about, so use your voice, expressions and body language to convey this passion. Preparing in advance with vocal warm-up exercises or stretching can help you get in the right mindset.
Use visual aids, but sparingly
Visual aids, such as pictures, videos or diagrams, are a fantastic way to liven up any presentation. People retain information more effectively if it is presented to them in a visual format. Your slides should consist mainly of visuals. Include pictures and videos to corroborate personal stories, and you can liven up any statistics with data visualisation techniques like graphs and charts.
Let your visual aids speak for themselves. Any explanation should come from you, not from surrounding text. Your slides should only feature text if it is absolutely necessary. The worst kind of presentation is one in which the speaker reels off paragraphs of prose read straight from the screen. Not only is this boring for the audience, but it also makes you look like a poor presenter.
If you find yourself struggling to adopt the creative mindset required to create powerful, visually compelling presentations, there are plenty of resources online to help you. Or you could even hire a presentation design agency to create your presentation for you.
Be prepared for questions
At the end of your presentation, it is customary to expect questions from the audience. Depending on how warmly your speech has made them feel towards you, these may be easy or particularly difficult. Rehearse an answer to the main questions you expect to receive but be prepared for the worst; some audience members like to catch you out. It can be awkward if no one puts their hand up to ask a question, so have one of your own prepared that you can answer. Lead into it by saying something along the lines of “One thing I’m usually asked is …” This may even break the ice for people in the audience to start asking their own questions.
Don’t end your presentation by letting the Q&A session trail off into silence, as this gives a particularly weak lasting impression. After the final question, give a quick final summary to hammer home your key points one more time.
The key to a successful business presentation is preparation and delivery. By following this advice and learning from your mistakes, over time you will be able to create and deliver award-winning presentations on any subject.