Making Business Presentations Work

Along with computer literacy, professional presentation skills are becoming a new survival skill in the workplace. People enjoy presenters who are inviting, engaging and informative.

Are you nervous about your public speaking skills? Developing and delivering business presentations, just like most functions in business, are formulaic and are a learned skill. Learn the formula, practice the skill and you will gain competency as a presenter. 

Here are some of the fundamentals of presentations to help you build your skill.

Planning Your Presentation 
In creating your presentation, think like a reporter and answer the “who, what, why, how, and where” questions.

Who will attend–and how many? Aim the content of presentation to your audience, and the choice of visuals to meet the needs of your group. Visuals need to be visible to everyone.

What is the purpose of the presentation? Is it to explain a plan or project; to tell people what to do–and how; report on what’s been done; get support for an idea; define or solve a problem; gain consensus for a decision; provide training; or encourage motivation.

Why are they there? Is attendance mandatory? Any time anyone attends a meeting, they will always be asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?” Be sure you answer that question for them.

What information is needed to support your purpose? How will you present it? Keep your points short, concise and understandable to your audience. Use visuals to clarify and reinforce your message.

Where is it going to take place? The room that the presentation is in will have an impact on how you present. Will you need a projector or can you use flip charts? Will you need a microphone? Do you need a riser (podium)? 

Presentation Format
From Toastmasters International, Inc.’s Communication and Leadership Program comes a typical presentation format. It will have an OPENING which will capture audience attention and lead into the presentation topic. Then, a BODY which has a series of points with each point beginning with a statement of fact followed by supporting material. The presentation then ends with a CLOSING which contains a review (or summary), and a call to action (or a memorable statement).

In timing your presentation, an ideal breakdown would be:

Opening – 10 to 20 percent 
Body – 65 to 75 percent 
Closing – 10 to 20 percent 

Toastmasters encourages that each point you make be clearly stated, illustrated and supported. Act as though your audience is not at all familiar with your topic; don’t assume they know anything. Avoid jargon. Devote a similar amount of time to each main point, otherwise the audience may consider it less important. Arrange your points in logical order.

Tips for Successful Presentations

Plan your timing
Make your points clear
Speak clearly
Use visuals that can be seen by all
End on time 

Building Your Confidence
Nervousness is healthy–it shows that the presentation is important to you and that you care about doing well. Knowing as much as you can ahead of time will give you confidence. Rehearse until you are comfortable with your material.

Here are some additional tips on how to control nervous jitters:

Realize that people want you to succeed.

Relax. Take a deep breath. When we get nervous, we breathe shallowly. If you concentrate on breathing deeply, you’ll get enough air to speak and ease your panic.

Use good posture. We have more power and energy when we stand erect with weight balanced equally on our feet.

Concentrate on the message, not on how you are coming across.

Use eye contact. This will help your audience know that you are speaking to them, not at them. Find a few supportive faces and hold their eyes as you make a point.

Turn nervousness into positive energy.

Do not apologize.

Forget perfection.

Learn to laugh at yourself. The problems that occur during presentations are funny (equipment doesn’t work, you trip, you discover a gob of toothpaste on your clothing).

Build in appropriate humor (not jokes), those funny things that happened on the way to the meeting room.

Use anecdotes to bring the statistics, facts, and figures that you need to deliver to drive them home.

Going From Good to Great
The next time you deliver an presentation, ask a trusted colleague in the audience give you feedback afterward. If the feedback shows that you need help, hire a private presentation skills coach.

Once you are comfortable, consider joining Toastmasters International to continually enhance your new skill.

Use your presentation skills to make an impact and to elevate your stature. Be willing to break your current corporate model and dare to be different. Get your audience to say, “Wow, not only did I learn something, but she was a dynamic presenter!”

About the Author
Ethel Cook, Bedford, MA runs Corporate Improvement Group, a consulting firm which works with companies to create dynamic and productive work environments. She is past president of the New England Speakers Association. Ethel can be reached via telephone at 781-275-2326 or Email at

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