Making Successful Business Presentations

Presentation skills are key. People who work for you represent your brand. You want them to present themselves – and represent you – in a certain way”.Marc Benioff

Even the most seasoned professionals can get ‘cold feet’ and break out into perspiration when asked to prepare and make a presentation. Even if it is conceded that this is one of those tedious, cumbersome and highly time-consuming activities, the truth is that making successful business presentations can translate to enhanced business, reputation and respect for the individual and the company the person represents. The top rule for business presentations (like other public interactions) is that they are engaging, interesting and motivating. The audience must be able to connect rather than having the burning desire to dash out the door because business presentations are boring and mind-numbing. Business presentations by their supposed nature are expected to be serious and devoid of aspects that make them interesting. However, a good presenter would be able to get across the key points and ideas of the presentation and also hold the attention of the audience.

Business presentations must, given their inclination to be tedious, take into consideration the non-verbal aspect of communication too. A study revealed (in a test setting) that the words used have only about 7% value while the presenter’s facial expression contributes to 55% value and the tone of voice is 38% value.  Irrespective of the setting of the study, the truth is that unless presenters take time, make genuine effort and actually focus on making their manner interesting, business presentations will fail to have the impact they should and will not deliver the message that they were intended for.

However, just like any other aspect of business that requires a connection and knowledge of the target audience, business presentations can be more effective only when the presenter is aware of the cross-section of the audience. The content of the presentation will appear more personalized when the presenter has taken into consideration the needs and expectations of the target audience. The presentation would come across as being designed specifically for them. This forms a connection with the audience, enabling engagement and agreement even before the start of the presentation. This kind of positive attention will ensure that business presentations are enabled to be efficacious and make a strong lasting impact. For example – when presenting to a group that is not inclined towards hard core numbers, ensure that facts and figures are presented in visual representations – makes the understanding of ‘numbers’ easier and more relatable.

Human nature is inclined towards making judgements and decisions based on what the eyes see. However, a presenter can change the initial ‘judgements’ by interacting with the audience even before the actual presentation. Coming across as likeable, knowledgeable and trustworthy is extremely crucial while making business presentations or any kind of public addressal. The emotional connect that a presenter forms with the audience will ensure that they pay attention and accept the message being conveyed. Smiling at the audience, will draw out smiles and ensuring that you look around the hall will also enable the audience to focus on you. You would know from experience that in day to day life too, if a person is frowning you tend to mirror the expression and likewise when there is a smile and warm approach.

The success of business presentations is a lot about keeping the audience focused. As with all other good business and social interactions, a pleasant and steady eye contact is essential. This is so because not making eye contact is generally associated with shifty and lying behaviour. Eye contact allows the audience to see commitment and sincerity and it would much easier for them to believe whatever is being conveyed through the presentation and the expressions of the presenter. To ensure that a steady eye contact is maintained, the person making the presentation should be well-versed and knowledgeable on the subject. Reading from the presentation makes the person appear unsure and lacking in passion. After a while of missing eye contact, the audience becomes distracted and uninterested, defeating the very purpose of the presentation.

Very often companies call upon industry leaders and experts on various subjects to deliver business presentations. While this may be beneficial, the danger also is that the audience could very easily be overwhelmed by the persona of the presenter. This too can be a deterrent – such influential people must keep in mind that in order to appear as ‘one of the audience’ they must at the outset reflect this to the audience. A story about the difficulties faced or some other kind of weakness that they may have overcome forms a bond with the audience. The ‘human side’ is essential for people who are seen as larger than life! Don’t defeat the purpose of business presentations by appearing more important and greater than the context and content. The advantage however, of such industry experts is that they wouldn’t need any kind of script – the business presentations would merely be the graphical representation of what these experts know, have experienced and are able to endorse. Maintaining this balance will enable the success of business presentations.

Just like all meetings and addressal, business presentations must be divided in to parts and must have a fixed agenda. The agenda must take into consideration that the more intense or fact related portions of the business presentations are completed in the first couple of sessions. The audience is fresh and alert at the outset and if the presenter is able to capture their interest at the start, the interest would more easy to sustain. The agenda must definitely include at least 2 tea / coffee breaks and a lunch break. Business presentations that seem free flowing and smooth and allow time for unwinding will be easier to sustain and hold the interest of the audience. A friend told me how she and a couple more people begged their bosses to let them out of one such presentation – it was long and tedious and the audience had to ask for a break. The remaining people too came back from the entire presentation with no key points except as to how boring and lack-lustre it was.

Some business presentations seem to go ‘over the top’ when using graphics and pictures to make a point. Also they tend to overcrowd each page / slide with too much information. If a presentation is barely readable or the graphics can hardly be discerned, the audience will lose interest. The ‘hard copy’ of the presentation must therefore be used judiciously and also only as a point of reference and support. The main idea of making business presentations is that the audience is able to grasp and understand the content and also be able to easily view the presentation on the screen. Overcrowding of the pages can crush the interest and engagement of the audience, making your presentation a wasted effort.

Before making business presentations, just like with any crucial business strategy, it is important to practice and get a hold of the subject before trying to appear convincing to others. From experience, you would know that if the presenter is stuttering and ‘stumbling’ over their words and expressions, the audience will in a few minutes disassociate themselves from the presenter and the context. Practice of the presentation and knowledge of the subject will ensure a natural flow of words and expressions and will convey heartfelt enthusiasm and interest in the subject – this, like boredom, is highly contagious. Presenters must keep in mind the cardinal rule that between 60-90 percentage is all about non-verbal communication and therefore extremely crucial for success.

Delivering engaging and effective business presentations, like all aspects of business, takes time, consistent effort and genuine interest. There would be mistakes down the road but it is crucial to learn from them and endeavour to get better each time. Even post years of making presentations, people tend to make errors – this is a given since each set of audience is different and it is imperative to adapt one’s style to them. Overall however, business presentations must remain relevant, precise, interesting and make a positive lasting impression.

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