Posted by Robert Half on 04 November 2014
Do your business presentations always go with a real bang? Or do they tend to fizzle out before they've really got going? There's little doubt that the ability to present information and talk to people - whether in small groups or as part of a large audience - can take you a long way in business. As such, it's vital to hone your communication skills and develop strategies for performing at your best the next time you are set to present your ideas.
There are various scenarios where you could be required to do a business presentation. It might be an important sales pitch for new business, a project summary in the boardroom, a training session for junior employees, or even a negotiating a pay rise with your manager. Some job interviews may also comprise a business presentation element, where candidates are required to prepare a short display to show the prospective employer what they can do.
Many professionals thrive in this scenario, always delivering fireworks when they take the stand. Others are less confident when put in front of a crowd and treat these sorts of tasks with a degree of trepidation. OK, not everyone can be a natural public speaker, but even so, this doesn't preclude you from delivering effective business presentations. With the right level of care and attention during the planning, design and delivery stages, there's no reason you can't dazzle your audience every time. Here are a few presentation tips to keep in mind:
Make a plan
Even if you've got gallons of confidence and enthusiasm, and are a natural performer, you're not going to get very far without putting in the necessary groundwork for your presentations. As the saying goes, 'by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail'. Natural speaking ability gives you an advantage over some professionals, but if there's no substance and structure to your business presentation, you might as well remain sat in your seat.
Whatever type of presentation you are delivering, you need to be well-informed. This means being armed with facts and knowledge, whether these are included or available to hand upon request. You should have done sufficient wider reading to establish how different elements interact and coincide - essentially gaining a wider understanding of the topic. If your strategy is to get up and 'wing it', this will be obvious to everyone after the first two minutes. They are expecting a structured format with a clear introduction, middle and end - one that tells a story and delivers a valuable message.
Whether your presentation lasts five minutes or an hour, you need to have solid material - so forget the vague waffle and stick to focused points. You may need to spend a number of hours reading up and researching the topic, and then another significant chunk of time organising the facts and developing your narrative. Then you need to spend time practising - working through each stage until talking about it becomes second nature. If there are any points you would query as a listener, such as those you struggle to explain in sufficient detail, you have two options. The first is to go back and conduct further research, the second is to edit this section out.
Consider your design
The next thing to consider is how to bring your presentation to life, whether it be with PowerPoint, Prezi or KeyNote. The very best public speakers may be able to grab listeners' attention, and hold it for long periods of time, using their voice alone. But this is a real talent - relatively few professionals can grip an audience and keep it 100 per cent engaged using just their voice.
Most commonly, presentations work best with visual aids to illustrate and reinforce the message. Slideshows can play an important role in supporting your narrative, giving the audience something to focus on and capture their attention. Slides need to be simple, yet informative and eye-catching, if they are going to add value. Remember that less can sometimes be more - you're likely to have more success with a few slides containing the most salient points, than a lengthy deck that reads like a novel. If there are too many slides and too much information, your audience will gradually lose concentration - and interest.
Images, graphics and animations can add value, but they need to be relevant to the subject - especially if you're giving a business presentation as a PowerPoint can give context to statistics you are discussing. They also need to have high-quality visuals, as opposed to something you've created yourself in two minutes on the day of the presentation. If you use cheap effects and low-quality graphics, this could end up being the main talking point among members of your audience and be a distraction, meaning the message gets lost.
Delivering your message effectively
If you've done your research and planned effectively, and then spent time creating visual aids which complement your script, you should be well in-credit by the time you get up to speak. The knowledge that you're informed about your topic, and have high-quality resources to support your topic, should help breed confidence. Similarly, if you've rehearsed - and are aware of where the potential 'pain points' lie - you should feel very much in control. Then it's just a case of taking a few deep breaths, taking the stand and getting things underway.
If you can start strong with some form of hook - for example, an intriguing thought, quote, or fact - this may capture the attention of your listeners. It's important to keep things lively, but you have to be wary of speaking too quickly - otherwise people won't have time to digest the points you are making. Having a good sense of tempo, and knowing when to slow down or speed up, can help optimise your delivery.
The best presenters speak with passion, whatever the topic, and always manage to address everyone in the room. You need to think about ways of engaging directly with audience members, and making them feel involved with the presentation. Always look to make eye contact with people, and don't be afraid to ask questions to encourage dialogue. This helps keep everyone on their toes, including the speaker.
Develop your business skills
Some professionals design and deliver business presentations on a regular basis, while others rarely find themselves in this scenario. But whether this is a normal, everyday task or a one-off event, it's important to know what you're doing. Even if you're unlikely to be addressing an audience anytime soon, it's important to develop your presentation skills. Without them, you may find it difficult to progress your career.
As you move up the jobs ladder, there will be times when you need to speak in front of people - potentially for managerial tasks or as part of leadership responsibilities. Senior professionals need to be comfortable addressing employees - this helps breed confidence among employees. To improve your presentation skills, try asking for feedback. While it may not always be what you want to hear, it gives you the opportunity to improve for next time.
There's also a clear crossover between conducting business presentations and being interviewed for new roles. The more comfortable you are as a speaker and the more you're used to the limelight; the less likely you'll be hit by nerves when you meet a prospective employer. You're looking to impress the interview panel, and speaking clearly, with conviction, is one of the ways to achieve this.