Business presentations come in many different forms. From pitching a potential client to persuading your CEO to ramp up the marketing budget, each presentation has subtle differences which determine whether or not they are effective in achieving your desired outcome.
There are some non-negotiables when it comes to delivering an impactful business presentation which universally apply to all scenarios. This guide will break down an overview of the different types of business presentations and delve deeper into the elements which work in combination to deliver effective presentations.
Types of Business Presentations
When we talk about business presentations, it encompasses a fairly broad spectrum of pitches, speeches, or even meetings which a business professional executes in their day-to-day work-life.
A business presentation is the delivery of a message to a group or an individual, with the purpose of influencing their perception of a topic so that it aligns with the desired set of outcomes determined by the presenter(s). While these presentations can take several forms, we can group them into three primary categories:
Sales Presentations - A sales presentation, or sales pitch, refers to a structured message which attempts to persuade someone to buy a product or service.
Marketing Presentations - A marketing presentation, unlike a sales pitch, is typically delivered to other representatives within a business. The purpose of this kind of presentation is to educate and influence internal decision-makers or budget holders to buy-in to a plan for promoting a product or service.
Other Professional Presentations - On top of marketing and sales presentations, there are any number of other professional presentations that could be categorized as a “business presentation”. These include information sessions, training initiatives, reporting on results, innovation brainstorms, problem-solving collectives, and much more.
No matter which type of business presentation you are tasked with delivering, there are best practices, skills, and design factors you need to consider to ensure it is successful.
Business Presentation Skills
Have you ever watched a presentation and been blown away by the presence or charisma of the speaker?
In these instances, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and underestimate just how much work and dedication have gone into that person executing a speech the way they do. We say things like “she’s a natural” or “he has a great stage presence” as if the art of presenting is a naturally born talent which only a select few people have the privilege of beholding.
The truth is, the upper echelon of performers in any field, public speaking included, are using a set of specific skills which they have learned and developed over time. It’s not a fluke that they have taken you on a journey, made you feel like the only person in the room, and inspired you to want to take action on what they say. They are following a process and using a set of tactics that elicit this reaction.
Sure, there are people who are naturally more comfortable when giving a presentation and pick up the required skills with more ease, but every component of their presentations is still very deliberate and learned. Even the very best comedians, who appear to display the epitome of “off-the-cuff” commentary, meticulously plan and practice every aspect of their shows so that they come across as natural and witty.
Jerry Seinfield is renowned for being one of the most well-prepared performers in the world. He says, “Every comedian, like every athlete, has a little routine… I never vary it. It just feels comfortable.”
Here are some of the most important business presentation skills you should learn and improve over time:
Before you present:
Practice and preparation - If you’re wearing a number of hats in your profession, presenting could end up being an afterthought. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking “I know this stuff” and “winging it” when it’s time to present. The best presenters prepare meticulously for any presentation so that it goes off without a hitch and they improve their ability to engage with the audience in the moment.
Design - While preparing for a presentation is more of a discipline than a skill, presentation design requires a unique understanding of colors, fonts, cohesion, psychology, and branding. If you’re not a design expert, hiring someone with the right skills to help create your presentations can significantly aid your impact.
Succinct Structure and Messaging - Helping others understand a complex topic in simple language is perhaps the greatest skill of an effective presenter. If you overload a presentation with information, the people watching are more likely to leave being confused or simply disengage during the presentation. Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule, discussed below, is a good structure to follow.
During the presentation:
Presence - When presenting, it’s easy to get lost in your slides, caught reading notes or worried about what you will say next. If you prepare appropriately, you can truly be present during the presentation. An active presence is the most effective way of engaging an audience and maintaining their attention.
Storytelling - Studies suggest that stories are up to 22 times more memorable than facts. This is likely because stories have been the foundation of human society and passing on knowledge for generations. They connect with us on a personal level and tap into emotion. Storytelling, however, isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s a skill and a formula that the best presenters use to capture an audience. This TED Talk by Nancy Duarte is not only a great example of an impactful presentation, but it discusses the power of storytelling in conveying a message.
Time Management - Inexperienced presenters have a tendency to overload their slide deck with information and run out of time right before they get to the juicy part of their message. Using the 10-20-30 rule above is a good way to condense a presentation and reduce the chance of running out of time.
Physical Awareness, Eye Contact, and Voice Projection - Did you know that 55% of the way someone interprets your communication is attributed to body language? That leaves 38% to the tone of voice and only 7% to the actual words you say. Given these shocking statistics, the way we prepare for presentations should be far more weighted towards understanding how people interpret our body language and tone of voice, rather than obsessing over the words we say.
As with any new skills, these presentation skills won’t come easy. To truly become an excellent presenter and communicator in the workplace, you need to practice and refine your skillset habitually.
Business Presentation Design
Where do you think people are looking when you are presenting?
Most people tend to look at your slides. Of course, there will be moments when you engage one-to-one in eye contact with people, but for the most part, they are using their visual senses and looking at your slides to better understand what you are talking about.
Here are some best practices to follow when it comes to presentation design:
Company-Wide Best Practices:
Utilize Design Guidelines - Your business should have a set of design guidelines in place which all presentations abide by. Things such as primary colors, secondary colors, layout, fonts, style, and flow should all be itemized and described in this document. For example, check out the SketchDeck Brandbook.
Themed Templates - As well as a set of design guidelines, it’s helpful to create a series of themed templates for certain types of presentations. This way, whenever someone in an organization is conducting a presentation they have a best practice starting point to work from. For an example, you could download our pitch deck template here.
Design Library - It’s helpful to develop a design library for employees that is hosted in the cloud and provides quick and easy access to your guidelines, templates, and a set of pre-approved images and graphics.
Individual Presentation Best Practices:
Keep it Minimalist - As we touched on earlier, less is more when it comes to a presentation. Your design should have the least amount of information on each slide possible so that attendees aren’t lost in a sea of words and can instead, engage with your presence. As a general rule, you should aim to include no more than three pieces of information on one slide all which contribute to one idea.
Draw Attention to Key Points - Use contrasting colors, font variations, and moving graphics to draw people’s attention to the most important points in your presentation. You can see how a simple variation in fonts can have a powerful visual impact on the way someone interprets a slide below:
Business Presentation Ideas and Best Practices
So you’re working on your presentation skills and you feel like the design is on point, what else can you do to deliver a powerful presentation?
Here are some additional business presentation ideas and best practices:
Seek Feedback - As with anything, if you want to get better at presenting, the best way to do so is to seek constructive feedback and use that feedback to improve. For best results, go beyond asking a friend or colleague “how you went” and enlist a coach, mentor, or accountability partner who can provide structured and meaningful feedback.
Learn From Others - As well as analyzing your own performance, it’s a good idea to learn from others. Listening, observing, and taking notes about professional speakers and well-respected presenters is a great way to improve your own ability. For example, you could create a habit of watching TED talks and taking notes about the tactics these professional speakers use to convey their message. The Nancy Duarte presentation discussed earlier would be an excellent starting point.
Get Used To Your Surroundings - Prior to presenting, take the time to survey the room, test your equipment, and make sure you are familiar with sound or visual challenges so that there are no surprises once you get started.
Entertain - Even though you are conducting a business presentation don’t neglect the entertainment factor. People like to laugh, cry, be held in suspense, or drawn to the edge of their seat. Entertainment and emotion are what grabs their attention and will inevitably help you convey your message.
Make It Visual - Research suggests that a staggering 65% of people are visual learners and that the retention of knowledge is significantly increased when visuals are used rather than text. Keep this in mind when preparing your slide deck. This presentation from Andreas von der Heydt shows off the power of visuals in presentations with only minimal text on each slide.
And don't forget to:
Create Space and Keep It Slow - As we mentioned earlier, less is more. Try to create as much “space” in your presentation as possible by reducing information on your slides, simplifying the key messages, and slowing down your delivery. You will be perceived as calm and authoritative if you can pull this off.
Stay On Track - Do your best to stick to your core message as much as possible. It can be tempting to go where the crowd takes you, but this is misaligned with your agenda of conveying a very specific and simple message to the audience. If a question takes you off track, answer it adequately but then bring the room back to the path you have pre-planned.
Provide Simple Takeaways - Regardless of how compelling your presentation is, there is a strong chance your audience may leave and forget the things they heard very quickly. To increase retention and overcome this challenge, try to simplify the takeaways from your presentation. If there is only one thing you would want people to take away what would that be? By answering this question you can structure your presentation to reinforce and reiterate this point throughout.
As you can see, business presentations are a multi-layered topic with many moving parts. While this guide is a good starting point, we’d recommend you do further research into the specific areas that have the greatest upside based on your situation. Whether that’s honing your skills, fine-tuning the design of your presentation, or mastering your craft.
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