How to Nail Your Next Business Presentation


Business PresentationPresentations—love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are an inevitable part of working in an office. Public

speaking is one of those skills that high schools continually forget to teach, even though it’s an everyday reality for many business people today. For some people, presentations come naturally, but for the rest of us mere mortals, we have to work and practice acquiring the skills needed to deliver a home run presentation.

After years of giving informal presentations (and a couple speech classes later), I’ve finally stumbled upon a couple tricks that help me when the big day arrives.

Tricks to Giving an Awesome Presentation

1. Know Your Audience

What does your boss expect? Does he want a PowerPoint? Poster? A rap? Fireworks? What? Before you ever start writing, ask around and see what the expectations are for presentations. If you don’t feel comfortable asking your supervisor, use your fellow co-workers as resources to help you get a feel for what’s been done before and what should be done for the future.

Beyond simply knowing your boss’ expectations, you should also know the personality and background of your audience. Knowing your audience will help guide you on not just what jokes to use, but also how to explain things and what jargon to use or not to use. You don’t want to start blabbering about the intricate workings of a computer programming system to a room of creative team executives. Tailor your message to suit what your audience can quickly understand and process.

2. Structure Your Presentation in a Natural Way

Remember when your high school teachers taught you the structure of a 5 paragraph essay? You start with the introduction, then 3 body paragraphs, and finish with a conclusion. Okay, maybe you don’t remember that, but it’s still a great way to think of organizing information.

There should be a progression throughout your presentation. Start with a few opening lines relating to your topic, then move into an outline of your presentation. Feel free to preview what’s to come. That way your audience won’t be surprised and you’ll be kept on track with your presentation goals. And, finally, of course, it’s always good to wrap up with a few concluding remarks.

3. Prepare a Cheat Sheet

This tip may be a little controversial. A lot of people will tell you that you should memorize your presentation. I really won’t argue with that; a presentation is definitely most engaging when the speaker can commit all his/her attention to the audience. But I’m realistic. We don’t all have days to prepare for a presentation, and, if we do, we can’t spend the entire time just memorizing when there are slides to prepare and models to build.

So let’s be honest with ourselves: sometimes we need a little cheat. Some people prefer flashcards; I prefer having my typed speech double-spaced in 16 point font with sections bolded for emphasis. Figure out what helps you best. The last thing you want is to have to stare at the slide behind you because you can’t remember what you’re talking about.

4. Practice…Of Course

Now for the most obvious piece of advice I’ll be giving: practice your presentation over and over and over. Tie your roommates or family members to their chairs and do the whole thing for them. Practice your opening, your tone of voice, your smile, your hand gestures. Even practice when to hit next slide and when to pause to take a breath.

By the time you’re done practicing, that cheat sheet you made should act more like a safety blanket—just there to give you comfort.

5. Do Recon

Check out the space for your presentation ahead of time. Try to get acquainted with the layout of the room and take special note of the technology you’ll be using. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve prepared an awesome slideshow on my Mac computer then get to the place and find out I need a Dongle adapter to hook it up to the port.

If you’re making your presentation somewhere off-site from where you work, don’t be afraid to call and ask about the technology available to you. The person on the other end may or may not be helpful and/or thrilled to hear from you, but it’s better to take up 5 minutes of their day to ask the questions than to show up and waste 20 minutes trying to find a power outlet. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, but be willing to adapt to the circumstances.

Stay Calm and Carry On

When the day of your presentation finally arrives, remember to relax. National safety is not on the line. Just take a few deep breaths and then walk up the podium smiling. You’ll be fine.

Anna Albi is a graduate from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, where she received a B.A. in Creative Writing with an additional major on Professional Writing. She is currently pursuing her Masters of Arts in Professional Writing, also at CMU. Feel free to reach out to her through Google+.

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