Selling yourself is a key part of commercial life. If you need to make a business presentation you may find these hints and tips useful.
1. Work out why you are presenting
A presentation cannot be planned until you know why you’re giving it. This is the first of several questions that you will need to ask yourself. Why are you presenting? Is there an important message to give or are you simply making up numbers? Are you looking to raise your personal profile or are you standing in for someone who has dropped out? Are you comfortable with your subject matter or have you been given the topic of the presentation?
If you have serious doubts, now is the time to start considering if you need to be speaking or if you can change the topic of the presentation. But the chances are you’ve been chosen to give the presentation because you know something about the subject matter, or are a good communicator. Before you begin to plan, you must basically decide what the purpose of the presentation is and what effect you hope it will have on the audience.
2. Block out some time in your diary
The most common mistake presentation-givers make is not to set aside enough time to plan properly. For an important business presentation, block out around 20 hours of your time. These 20 hours represent the bare minimum you should spend on researching, writing, designing and practising your presentation.
Try to fit this time in to your normal working week, but if your diary is all booked up, then evenings and weekends may have to be used for the presentation preparation.
3. Clarify your points or argument
Compelling business presentations deliver information in a structured fashion. They don’t leave everyone wondering what the speaker is going on about. Keep your presentation to the basic information and comment that you want to put across.
If you have a time limit, make sure you fit your points to that time limit whilst fleshing out each with additional information. As a general rule, it is better to concentrate on a few points in detail than to try to cover everything with only a sentence or two per point.
4. Make your visual aids distinctive…
Business presentations can be quite boring affairs. The stereotypical business presentation uses lots of bullet points. This isn’t always the most effective way to communicate. Think about different ways to present the information you would normally use bullet points for.
Pictures, animations, or a distinctive PowerPoint-based presentation with branded slides could be better options. The aim is to make your presentation stand out – especially important if you are speaking amongst peers in your industry or other companies at a trade conference.
5. …but don’t overuse them
Slide-based presentations are overused in the business world. It is very unlikely that your audience will be impressed by a PowerPoint presentation alone, as they’ll all have seen dozens of visually similar presentations in the past.
Instead, aim to create a strong but relatively simple set of slides. Keep the number of slides to roughly one per point you make. Avoid large blocks of text and don’t simply read out each slide as you give the presentation. The whole point of the visual aid is to illustrate your points, not completely duplicate them.
Practice makes a good presentation. Some people insist that ad-libbing is best, to make the presentation sound natural. But very few people can deliver a great presentation off the top of their head.
Instead, rehearse the basic points you intend to make, not necessarily word-for-word, but in a clear order and with all the key facts memorised. Practise your presentation in full at least four times, ideally in front of an audience of colleagues or trusted friends. For more on rehearsing, read our rehearsing page.
7. Be aware of the audience
It may seem distracting to think too much about the people watching as you present. In fact, knowing who may be watching could help you deliver a great presentation that achieves all your objectives – especially when it comes to the post-presentation questions and answers session.
Take time to find out a little about any potentially important industry figures who may be in the audience. If one of them asks a question, you might be able to recognise them and deliver some kind of tailored reply, directed at their firm or business practices.
8. You are not an entertainer
A business presentation serves a professional purpose, and the tone of it should reflect that fact. An occasional joke or funny story can add a human touch to an otherwise boring subject, but too much humour is not a good idea. Jokes can often fall flat or, worse, offend the audience.
Avoid jokes about sex, age, race, social class or language barriers. It is easy to see attempted humour as a simple way to make an audience like you. But the best way to win an audience over is to deliver a good, memorable presentation on the subject matter.
9. Get to know the venue
If possible, rehearse your presentation at the venue. This will help build confidence and allow you to get a feel for the size and position of the audience. On the day of the presentation, make sure you set up all necessary equipment in plenty of time. If you’ll be using microphones, a laptop, a slide projector or a big-screen TV make sure you test them before the audience arrives.
10. Offer follow-up contact details
In some situations, such as a sales presentation, it is obvious that the company’s contact details will be included on a slide towards the end of the presentation. But this is a good idea in any presentation. Allowing the audience to contact you with further questions can create opportunities. Networking is a vital skill, and making yourself accessible is the first step.