10 Simple Steps to Rock Your Next Business Presentation

10 Simple Steps to Knock Out Your Next Business Presentation

First, if you're nervous about a big presentation, welcome to the club. I get nervous too. What separates a good presenter from a nervously fumbling presenter? 

  • Understanding your nerves
  • Finding personal techniques to harness those nerves
  • Turning nerves into positive energy

This will come with practice, experimentation, and experience. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s jump into 10 steps you can take to rock your next presentation.

1. Confidence. If you're confident, then you will exude that confidence. It will come out in your presentation. Your speech and body language show the audience you're confident in yourself and the work you are presenting. Watch Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk. She’s awesome!

2. Practice. I cannot emphasize this enough. Great presenters didn’t become great by reading 100 articles on public speaking. They gathered a few techniques and then practiced, practiced, and practiced. A simple way to do this… film yourself. Nothing fancy, an iPhone works just fine. Just record yourself and review. You can also consider joining your local Toastmasters.

3. Outcome. Build your presentation with the end in mind. What’s the outcome you wish to accomplish? Now, work backwards from that outcome. I like to say, plan right-to-left and execute left-to-right. The right-to-left planning can be difficult for some people to understand. If this is difficult for you, try starting with a mind map. Then logically organize you mind map to flow towards your ultimate outcome.

4. Rule of 3. Consider and use the rule of three. Adapt it to your audience and the subject matter. Presentations, Music, Plays, Movies, etc ... they all follow the rule of 3. The human mind loves ideas or concepts presented this way. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness ... 3 Blind Mice ... 3 Act Plays and so on ... Example: What does the audience need to know? Why is it important to them? What action / decision needs to be taken / made?

5. Know your audience. It is extremely important to know your audience. Yet, sometimes knowing your audience is hard if you’ve never presented in front of them before. When I’m presenting to an unknown audience, I reach out to colleagues that have been there / done that. I ask them how that person or group likes to be presented to? What types of questions they ask? Plus, I gather any general advice. Last, but certainly not least, if they have an Executive Assistant (EA) … their EA should have some tips and tricks for you. Be nice to the EA and it will return to you 100 fold!

6. Simplicity. Do everyone a favor … don’t overload the pages or put in weird page transitions. Don't insert confusing and hard to read graphics either. My father taught me a great rule as a kid: Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS). The worst is when someone throws up an complicated chart with all sorts of analysis. They have 100s of take-aways and a page that’s overloaded with content. I always ask … what the hell should I looking at? What do you want me to know on this page? We call this an “eye chart.” You have to get your eyes checked just to read it. If your presentation is heavy quantitative analysis, find a way to present the key stats / data in a clear and concise format. Pull out the most relevant info into a simple chart. Put the full excel charts and calculations in the appendix where you can refer to it if needed. Better yet and if possible, email the excel file before the meeting! Provide an explanation of the numbers you’ll be reviewing in the presentation. Let them know this is the backup file containing the full analysis …

7. Connection. Stiff, lethargic, and apathetic presenters suck. Your audience has a limited attention span. Use techniques to connect with them. Make eye contact with one person for a few seconds, move to the next person. Share a personal, but relevant story. If / when you get data heavy, find a way to make the conversation informative, but on the lighter side.

8. Balance. Your presentation will likely contain heavy and light material - Qualitative and quantitative analysis. Work to find an appropriate balance. This technique is closely related to connection. Use connection techniques to help balance the flow of your presentation.

9. Bullets. Do not under any circumstances memorize your business presentation. What happens if you do? Your boss will ask a question or some ‘know it all’ colleague will interject right in the middle of your presentation. When that happens … you're screwed. It will throw you off track. Your heart will race and a thousand thoughts will go through your head. You’ll lose track of where you were and you’ll have a hard time recovering. You know your stuff! You’ve worked on it for days, weeks, or months. Have a few bullets that keep you on track, but don’t refer to them all the time. If you’ve practiced, this shouldn't be a problem.

10. Take your time. Slow down and pause. Too many people puke out their presentation in a rapid succession of nonsense. If you think you are speaking at a normal pace, think again. More than likely you are talking faster than usual. Dial it back a wee little bit. Also, pause. Pausing is awesome! It allows you to gather your thoughts. Or, you can pause as a perfect opportunity to balance or connect. Make a huge point, pause, throw in a personal, but relevant story. Pausing also allows for something that’s scary to a lot of people, but is vital. Interaction and interjection. Don’t be afraid. Believe me, if you present to an officer of a Fortune 500 company, puke out your presentation, and don't allow them to dig deeper, ask questions, or say “YES,” … you are going downhill really fast. One quick note. If you're asked a question, answer the question first, and then provide any background or backup. It will go a long way with your audience. 

I hope this helps. Please provide any feedback, let me know if you’d like me to go deeper on anything, and / or if you have other techniques to include. If this has helped, spread the love! Share it with your friends and network.

- Stewart Swayze