We've all had to sit through bad presentations - times where the data is disorganized, things drag on too long, or it's just hard to keep up. Nobody likes a lousy presentation, especially when they want to get back to the rest of their job. Fortunately, giving a great business presentation isn't as hard as many people think. Here are our top tips for success.
#1: Conquer The Fear Of Public Speaking
If necessary, take a class at your local college or corporate education facility. Some employers are even willing to pay for having a whole group of employees take these classes. Either way, some practice with speaking in front of others will go a long way towards defeating the single biggest hindrance to a great presentation.
As a bonus, trained public speakers tend to come across as more confident and possessing more leadership qualities. Even if you don't give very many presentations, these are things that can actively improve your employer's perception of you.
#2: Tell A Story
You don't have to come up with a false narrative - in fact, you shouldn't. However, as humans, we love stories. By taking people along on a journey, it will be much easier to keep them interested and engaged until your presentation is over.
There's no universal formula here because business presentations cover so many topics. However, most presentations do well if they follow a basic structure:
- Set Up: The first part of the story should identify the problem. This should be tailored to your audience, whether it's customers, managers, or even executives. Once people understand that a problem exists, most of them want to see it fixed.
- Response: This part of the story focuses on what's been done after a problem was identified. In many cases, it will include things like gathering information or discussing how to resolve the issue. The goal of this part is to convince the listeners that the subject of the presentation (often, but not always, you) is a professional who knows how to get things done.
- Attack: The third part of the story should focus on putting the plan into action. This could be anything from designing a new product to launching a marketing campaign that changes the public's perception on a particular point. It should emphasize that the people involved are more than armchair experts - they can do the work.
- Resolution: Finally, the last part of the story should explain how the problem was resolved and what benefit it provided. Happy endings are the best, of course, but even some failures can be tolerated if you explain what went wrong, what you learned, and how the company will be able to avoid the problem in the future.
The exact form these four steps take varies wildly based on the type of presentation. An accounting presentation, for example, probably won't be as exciting as a dramatic marketing campaign. It's your job to figure out how to convey these four steps.
Remember that the resolution doesn't need to be a complete resolution of the problem. If you've identified a problem but haven't resolved it yet, your presentation could focus on how you recognized it and what led you to decide that your current course of action is the most appropriate one.
#3: Keep It Simple
There's another word that usually follows simple there, and yes, the KISS principle applies here. The best business presentation options usually feature three to five main points. You don't need to be talking for hours, and in most cases, you don't need to provide people at the meeting with all of the information.
If they genuinely need the data, you can give them a full, written report some other time. Instead, keep your presentation focused entirely on the main points you're trying to make while bringing them along for the story. In most cases, the four parts of the story can be addressed in one or two sentences each.
Trust me, everyone else in the meeting will appreciate it if you keep things as to-the-point as possible. Don't skip over any genuinely important information, but it's okay to focus more on the conclusions than on how you reached them.
#4: Know The Rest
You don't need to explain everything in your presentation, but it's possible that other people in the room will have questions. Ideally, you'll have the information memorized or ready to pull out of your supplementary materials. If there's something you don't know, say the following (or something close):
"Unfortunately, I had to condense a lot of data for this presentation. I don't have that specific information on-hand, but I can send it to you when we're done. Would you like a summary or all of the data?"
Naturally, you may have to change this based on the question and context, but it's okay to admit it when you don't quite have everything that might be relevant. If it's needed right away, you can ask somebody who isn't in the meeting to compile and email it as soon as possible.
#5: Relax And Speak Naturally
At most businesses, you don't need to switch to a formal speaking style when you're giving a presentation. Instead, talk the way you usually do - this will help you seem confident and approachable. In most cases, it's better to avoid swearing (unless your audience likes it), and you should avoid any particularly large or unusual words.
Remember, your primary goal in a business presentation is to convey information to your audience. You don't want to sound like you're talking down to them - but you don't want to look like you don't know your stuff, either. By sticking with your usual method of speaking, you can hide most emotional slips.
#6: Avoid Putting Everything On Slides
You don't need to cram your slides with information - and you don't need to read straight from them, either. If your audience can just read the information, they may not pay much attention to you.
Instead, use your slides to support the points you're trying to make. Avoid distracting animations and graphics, and as with your words, you should keep it as simple as you can. The exception to this is when you genuinely need a graphic to make a point.
Good situations for graphics include an architect's drawing of what a new building might look like, a proposed logo, or a visual depiction of how a machine works. These should still be used as support for your presentation, but it's okay to gesture to the pictures if it's needed for an explanation.
#7: Create A Framework For Your Presentation Before You Give It
Writers have known for a long time that frameworks are the best way to ensure a coherent flow of ideas. Creating a brief rough draft from beginning to end can help ground your presentation and ensure that each part is only as long as it should be. If you jump straight into making it from beginning to end, you may spend far too much time on some sections and not enough on others.
#8: Avoid Stock Looks
Things like changing the logos and fonts on a presentation can go a long way towards ensuring its overall success. If it doesn't look like you spent time making it, your audience isn't going to be as impressed. Fortunately, it doesn't take very many changes to provide a custom look.
Remember that the look you settle on should match the presentation you're giving. Don't use whimsical, hard-to-read fonts unless you're demonstrating how they'd look on a product. Keep it clean and professional at all times.
#9: Balance Things For Your Audience
If you need to present to a larger group of people, expect a balance of about 50% extroverts and 50% introverts. This is why you'll need to vary between things to do (workshops, activities, and the like) and just presenting information. This isn't a big deal if your presentation is only a few minutes long, but you need to keep it in mind if you're giving a more prominent presentation.
#10: Decide How To Present Your Speech
There are three ways to present your information.
First, you can read it off a script. Most businesses don't have teleprompters, but they might be provided for exceptionally large presentations. This tends to come across as a little stifled and rehearsed, but it can keep you on track.
Second, you can use bullet points to address each topic in sequence but present it fresh and without planning each word. This is great if you know the subject well, but does run the risk of spending too much time on something you're passionate about.
Finally, you can memorize your presentation and deliver it without looking at a script. This is easily the best choice if you can do it because it helps you come across as both professional and personal.