Business Basics: How to deliver an amazing business presentation

19 January 2017


In this edition of Business Basics, we chat to Daniel Masters about how to deliver an amazing business presentation. Daniel is a learning and development consultant who specialises in management development, sales and technical qualifications, helping some of the UK’s most recognisable brands implement an effective learning strategy. 

We spoke to Daniel about what he believes constitutes a persuasive business presentation, before drilling down into some of the more practical steps business executives can take when planning presentations of their own.

Daniel Masters

Find out what tips and guidance Daniel had to share by reading the full interview below.

Presenting is a key feature in most business scenarios – whether it be sales, training or even reporting. What are the key features that comprise a compelling and persuasive business presentation?

It's about balancing style and substance. We’ve probably all seen great content delivered badly and dull content delivered brilliantly. Your audience will want a clear message delivered by someone who is credible, confident and engaging. 

Before you present anything, it’s good discipline to ask yourself ‘what do I want them to think, feel, do or know?If your focus is mainly do or know, your content may feel like more of a ‘download’ of detail or instructions, and therefore lack impact. Challenge yourself to focus on the think and feel elements. Maybe you want people to feel inspired, proud, excited or brave. Or, perhaps even a negative emotion, but with a positive intention. It’s metaphorically taking the audience outside of the room, and tapping into their emotions that makes a presentation compelling and memorable.

Are there any specific speaking techniques that business presenters can take advantage of to help their message resonate with more impact?

Definitely. This is important because we each have our natural preference for language and style of delivery - if you like, our own default settings. The key principle is ‘be yourself, but not too much’. What I mean by that is, we all like people who are like us, but assuming our audience are all like us is a high-risk strategy. Resonance doesn’t come in one flavour! 

The good news is, you can improve the odds of getting what you want by covering a few simple bases. For maximum impact, ensure you cover the four Ps, so that everyone in the room can buy in. These are: 

  • Purpose – what you are doing and why.
  • Plan — how we’re going to get there and the milestones along the way.
  • People – how it helps others or what support you're looking for.
  • Paint a Picture – take your audience on a journey so they can ‘see what it is you’re offering and the benefits. Make that picture as vivid and exciting as you can. 

Typically, we have a preference for either the traditionally-cited left brain (logic and results) or right brain (feelings and intuition). Different people will ‘buy’ your product, concept or belief for their reasons, not yours, so open your mind to both hemispheres to increase your chances of success. 

For example, you may buy an iPhone because it’s the best product. I may buy it because it’s a logical financial decision that just makes good sense. Your children might buy it because it’s their portal to their social network, and your friend may buy it because it’s the latest cutting-edge gadget and it makes them look or feel good. So, if you sold mobile phones for a living, adopting a flexible approach and giving your customer what they want is more likely to pay your mortgage than using your own, unshakeable rationale for buying the same thing.

business presentation

How important is storytelling and structure – should presenters organise their information in a particular way?  

Both of these aspects are vitally important if you want your message to land. As humans, we love stories, and that’s why people who present well capture the essence of a start, a middle and an end, and really take us on a journey. More than that, a solid structure keeps you on track and helps combat nerves. On that note, a deck of slides is not a structure!

Use a creative opening to get your audience’s attention and interest. Whether it’s a statistic, an image, a relevant anecdote, some appropriate humour, or even a question to the floor. This will set the tone for your presentation and help them, and you, relax quickly.

After that, you're into your introduction and then the key points. I recommend a maximum of four key points. More than that, and you’ve really got to question how much your audience will retain. So, you may need to think laterally about how you tell your story if it’s a meaty topic.

Finally, ensure you finish with a call to action. In a nutshell; this is why you and they are in the room. More about this later.

Audience comprehension and retention are priorities for most speakers, especially when presenting to key decision-makers. What steps can be taken to break down complex, technical information and make it more memorable?

Naturally, some concepts you present will be complex. That said, a presentation or pitch may not be the place for the granular detail. Your challenge is to deliver the concept in a simple, engaging way, and signpost to further information if necessary. Accomplished presenters will use tactics such as acronyms, metaphors, mnemonics and alliteration to help audiences grasp and retain key messages. If they work for marketing professionals, they can work for you.

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We know that a picture is worth a thousand words, so be sure to use images, infographics or even video clips as more engaging ways of telling detailed stories. Equally, if your ‘product’ is tangible, is it feasible to give the audience a sample to play with? This is a great way to engage those with more of a ‘doing’ than ‘thinking’ preference when it comes to learning new things. Warning: if you do this, you’ll need to be assertive enough to keep things on track.

Finally, ask yourself if it would be appropriate to prepare handouts or other takeaways with further detail, rather than covering all of this in your presentation.

Body language seems to be a contentious topic among business presenters – should speakers stay in one spot or move around and make use of their hands?

The simple rule here is: if it’s natural, it's fine. Subtle movement around a stage is infinitely better than being rooted to one spot. However, shuffling from foot to foot suggests a lack of confidence and conviction. It’s really about balance.

I like to see presenters getting right out to the audience where they can. This shows confidence and generates a real connection with the recipients of the message.

Hands can be our friend or enemy. Use them to accentuate key points, but too much is distracting and harmful to engagement. 

With so much to think about in our non-verbal communication, I recommend you video yourself presenting – it’s the best way to understand what your audience see, and recognise your strengths and development areas. 

business presentation

Nerves are a common occurrence for both newbie presenters and veteran speakers alike. What tips do you have for speakers for combatting public speaking anxiety?

Fear of public speaking, or glossophobia, is prevalent, so don't feel alone if this applies to you. It often ranks higher than death on surveys about our biggest fears, so naturally it can affect how we perform. 

However, my top tips for combatting public speaking nerves are:

Preparation. Find time to run through your slides, before you present for real. Make your mistakes in private and learn from them. We’re all busy, but the world’s leading performers in all fields practise and rehearse repeatedly. You should do the same!

At the very least, practise and button-down your first few slides to help get past those nervy early minutes before you find your groove.

Mingle with the audience beforehand if you get the opportunity. This will break the ice for them and for you.

Read your CV. If your nerves stem from your credibility or expertise, reminding yourself of your experience, skills and career highlights should buy you some instant confidence.

Finally, remember that nobody really wants to see you fail. They want to be informed, inspired, entertained and to enjoy your presentation. Replace any negative self-talk with something more positive about your abilities.   

What are some of the most common mistakes that business presenters make, and how can they be avoided?

Failing to prepare themselves, possibly at the expense of ‘perfecting’ their slides. You’d be very lucky to deliver a perfect talk the first time you deliver it, so play with the odds, not against them. As Gary Player once said: “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” 

‘Spraying’ the room with eye contact. They say that three seconds’ eye contact is good. I’d suggest you aim for five as an insurance policy. Also, try holding someone’s eye contact for the whole of a sentence – this looks a lot more natural and engaging. In my experience, presenters who are most nervous make the least eye contact, so avoid looking like someone who lacks confidence, even if you're feeling like that!

Speaking too quickly. Again this is often linked to nerves, but if your key messages are pacey, they may not sound like key messages.

No call to action at the end. This comes back to the think/feel/do/know question. Is it clear to your audience what you now need or want them to do with your information? If not, they may just be sat there thinking ‘So what…?’.

business presentation

Finally, what steps can presenters take to incorporate feedback and continuously hone their speaking skills and delivery?

Firstly, ask for feedback often. We don't always want to know the things we don't do well, but don't expect to improve if you don’t. Also, most people will be honest and constructive with their critique, and you’ll also get some praise you otherwise may not.

Watch some TED talks and combine elements you admire into a style of your own.

Finally, remember: the good stuff happens just outside your comfort zone. Put yourself out there and do that presentation. 

Have you enjoyed reading this interview? Be sure to check out more of our Business Basics Q&As by following the links below: 

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