Giving Effective Business Presentations

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Giving Effective Business Presentations

Remember the worst class you ever had? It probably included a teacher who talked with about as much inflection as a buzz saw, went on forever, and never gave you any information you’d remember once the bell rang.

Now imagine he was trying to sell you something.

Believe it or not, there are people in business who present just like this, and even if they’re absolute experts in their fields, aren’t very successful. Why? Because they can’t communicate what they know and, accordingly, can’t persuade anyone to do what they want. As a small business owner, it’s important to be able to give compelling presentations – whether it’s to customers, vendors, or even investors.

Even if public speaking scares you more than death (statistically it is listed higher as a biggest fear), there are ways to prepare and present that can make you effective. So read on and learn how you can give effective business presentations that will get you what you want from your audience.

Before The Presentation

Like with packing for vacation or going to the mall at Christmas, it is essential to prepare before any presentation. This doesn’t just mean putting together a PowerPoint and practicing in front of your pet toucan, it means doing a little homework on who your audience is.

You wouldn’t present the same way to a group of college students as you would to a group of executive board members, would you? Of course not.

So look at who your audience is going to be, what kind of information is going to motivate them to act how you want, and structure your information accordingly. Also, if you’re a good presenter, think about how they’ll best receive the information? Is humor appropriate? What kind of references or analogies can you make that will make the information relevant?

Then, figure out what they’re expecting to hear. If you’re an expert brought in to discuss a very specific topic at a conference, you’d better blow them away with a bunch of stuff they’ve never heard before. Similarly, if you’re trying to sell someone a solution to their problems, you’d better give them something they can use.

During The Presentation 

The Intro

You’re going to need to get your audience on board early, so it is essential you begin your presentation with some kind of hook. This can be a startling statistic like “Did you know businesses waste $4 billion a year reading bad emails?” Or take many other forms like:

    • Relevant quote from a famous person 
    • Graphics/pictures that will get their attention 
    • Challenge, like “I challenge everyone in here to be a millionaire next year!” 
    • Importance of topic 
    • Tell a story 
    • Humor, but you need to make sure you’re funny first


There’s no limit to what it can be, the key is just to get them interested.

Then, you want to give the audience a full preview as to what you’re going to be telling them. This is so they not only know what to expect, but also how long your presentation is going to run. And remember: Your presentation isn’t an episode of Game of Thrones, so go ahead and give away your conclusion up front. Nobody likes a plot twist in the boardroom.

And then … PRACTICE. Do not ever give a presentation for the first time in front of an audience, or you are setting yourself up for errors. Even if it’s just presenting to your bathroom mirror, run through your presentation a minimum of 3 times before you do it for real.

The Body

As you present, be sure to give everyone the information they’re expecting, and maintain credibility. If you’re not an expert in the field, you’ll need to establish why it is, exactly, anyone in the room should be listening to you. There’s no textbook way to do this, but incorporating relevant information from experts is a good place to start. Another way is to tell the audience things they didn’t know, shining a light on exactly how valuable your presentation is.

Your Delivery

The content itself is only part of your presentation. You need to deliver with confidence and enthusiasm or you will essentially be wasting your time. Did you know that 93% of your effectiveness in delivering a message is nonverbal? That means that if you can deliver a message well, you’ll be successful. Look no further than politics for proof of that.

The first thing you must do is dress the part. Casual is fine if it’s a casual audience, but if you’re going to present to a board or a conference, it’s usually essential you wear a suit. Unless that company has a corporate culture that values casual dress, so, as stated earlier, do your homework.

Secondly, make sure you’re speaking so that people want to listen to you. This means at a normal rate of speed, with volume appropriate for the space and varied vocal inflection. A good rule is to pretend you’re presenting on the radio. You can’t afford to be monotone when nobody can see you, so when you practice your presentation, make sure you’re practicing vocal inflection to keep the audience awake.

Your goal for your presentation should be to never use a filler like um, ah, like, or any noise you make when you can’t think of what to say. It’s nearly impossible for all but the best speakers, but if you set it as your goal you’ll at least minimize it.

Always scan the room with your eyes. Make eye contact with one person for a couple of beats, then move on to the next, and make sure you’re doing this with everyone. Of course, be as natural as possible when making eye contact with your audience. Holding eye contact on one person will make that person feel very uncomfortable after about ten seconds, and moving quickly from person to person will make you look vaguely like that guy you try and avoid on the bus.

Unless you’re in a huge room, don’t look up or off at the horizon either, it’ll make people wonder what’s so awesome that you’re spending the whole presentation looking at it.

Utilize your space as well. Standing behind a podium or hiding behind a PowerPoint makes you pretty much useless and, in effect, makes your PowerPoint your presentation. So walk around the room, get closer to people, and connect with your audience. Don’t pace, or run around the room like a crazy person, but moving closer to each side of the room will make the entire audience feel more involved, and ensure nobody drifts off.

Make sure you’re always gesturing as well, but keep them within a reasonable zone. Also, don’t cross your arms over your chest or lean on one hip while you present. Keep your body at a shoulder-width stance and exude power and confidence.

And finally, while a little decorative jewelry is OK, don’t bust out your Mr. T Starter Kit when you’re going to present. Because if you have loud jewelry on, that’s all anyone is going to see, especially if it’s something like a big string of bangle bracelets that make a bunch of noise.

After The Presentation

Even if you’ve established credibility and given the people what they want, you’ve got to leave on a strong note.

Much like you gave your audience a hook to bring them in, you need to leave a similar impression at the end to get them to remember you. So once you’ve summarized everything your audience needed to take away from your presentation, drive it home with one of those things listed above as a hook.

Then, of course, you must leave ample time for questions and answers. And you must be prepared for them. If you are an expert giving a comprehensive presentation, then a good rule of thumb is to leave about 2/3 of your allotted time for Q and A for your expert audience. The same holds true if you are delivering an in-depth business proposal. However, if you are presenting to a "general" audience, then consider allotting a few minutes to answer questions.

Why? Because people came to your presentation to get specific information, and if they haven’t gotten it yet, you want to make sure they do. Nobody in the history of business presentations has ever complained when one got over early, so the key is to "be good, be brief, and be gone".

Go ahead and repeat that as your mantra.

If you can master all of these things, you’ll be surprised how much more effective you are in business. While getting over a fear of presenting takes a lot more than just reading an article, relaxing and following these guidelines will get you in a lot better shape, and make your presentations a lot more enjoyable. Just think about how miserable you were in that horrible class many years ago, and make your goal in life to never EVER, be that guy.


Matt Meltzer

Matt Meltzer is a professor of business communication at the University of Miami. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and holds a bachelors degree in business administration from UM, as well as a Masters of Mass Communication from the University of Florida.

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