Business presentations are an essential part of professional life. Whether you’re an avid public speaker or shudder at the thought of getting up in front of an audience, it’s likely that at some point you will be asked to deliver a business presentation. It is vital to develop the skills you need to ensure that these presentations are effective and well-executed. In fact, 70% of American employees claim that presentation skills are critical to their success in the workplace. Improving presentation skills not only aids our own professional development but can also improve outcomes for both our colleagues and the organization. With this in mind, let’s look at five simple ways to improve business presentations.
Analyze Your Audience
Have you ever sat through a presentation and thought, “How does this information apply to me?” The information doesn’t seem relevant to you or your role, and rather than benefiting from the presentation you feel like you’ve instead wasted time. When you’re preparing to deliver a business presentation, your audience should be at the forefront of your planning process. If the content isn’t tailored to your audience, they have little motivation to buy in. So, in addition to researching your topic, you should study your audience: Who are they? What are their roles? What information should be emphasized? What questions might they have? Keeping these questions in mind as you craft your presentation will allow you to create a presentation that engages your audience. When you include content that’s applicable to your audience, they won’t have to search for ways to connect with what you’re saying.
Business presentations can often feel very one-sided. After all, a large portion of your presentation will involve lecturing to your audience. However, presentations should act as launchpads for further conversation, not one-and-dones. Creating opportunities for audience members to ask questions and express thoughts, concerns, and ideas can improve the experience for everyone. When you invite others into the conversation, you’re encouraging them to invest in the topic. If you’re presenting virtually, encourage your audience to interact with chat features and reactions. Simply asking for a “thumbs up” to confirm understanding or inviting individuals to raise their hand when they have a question can strengthen your connection with them. If the audience doesn’t feel connected to the topic and doesn’t think their voices will be heard, you may find that little progress is made, and necessary changes are delayed. Learn how to present reciprocally: when you invite your audience into the conversation, they’re no longer passive observers, but active participants.
Find Your Flow
Sometimes in our effort to include every piece of relevant information in our presentation, we fail to organize that information effectively. When we design a presentation, we’re essentially crafting an argument. Presentations generally serve one of three purposes: to inform, to persuade, or to inspire. For instance, if you’re giving a status report, the purpose is to inform your audience, while an appeal to increase funding for training programs would likely be persuasive. No matter your objective, it’s essential to structure your presentation in a way that is easy to follow. Creating an outline that succinctly captures your main points and incorporates smooth transitions between topics gives you a great vantage point. Take a closer look at your structure and ask: Do the topics relate and build on one another? Are there any gaps? Start off on the right foot by previewing your content before diving in. Let your audience know what you’ll be covering at the start of your presentation, detailing your main topics and the order in which they’ll be discussed.
Business presentations often include large amounts of complex information, and it can be challenging for an audience to keep up. To help everyone stay on the same page, it can be helpful to send out a slidedoc prior to your meeting. Slidedocs are created using PowerPoint software and act as a visual report for your audience. They are designed to be read rather than presented, uniting visuals and text to clearly illustrate your presentation’s key points and takeaways. This document will serve as a guide for your audience and a point of reference if they need to review the information after the presentation has taken place. They can make notes and jot down questions, leading to better conversations and greater insight into the topic. This is also an excellent opportunity to ask your audience if they have any areas of concern or interest they would like addressed during your presentation. You may find that you need to incorporate more information on a particular subject or prepare for questions that may arise around certain topics.
Exciting, interesting, compelling— these descriptors likely don’t spring to mind when we think of business presentations. While developing them, we often think solely about delivering information, but it’s helpful to also consider the audience’s experience. No one wants to sit through a dull lecture. Even if the content isn’t particularly exciting, you can add interest and invite engagement with visuals and quality presentation design. Research shows that information is easier to remember as pictures than as text. So, when you incorporate images, charts, and graphs into your presentation, you increase the likelihood of your audience understanding and retaining the content. This is especially helpful for depicting abstract concepts and complex processes: for instance, creating a graph to capture key data points helps direct attention to the most salient patterns and findings. Your audience spends less time trying to interpret the information and more time absorbing it. A great example of the impact of imagery is the food pyramid. While we may not remember the location of each food group in the pyramid, we likely remember more because it was presented to us in a unique shape. At the simplest level, visuals make a presentation more attractive to your audience and grab their attention in a way that text cannot.
These five tips serve as an excellent starting point to making your business presentations as effective as possible – but if you want to learn more about what makes a great presenter, check out The Power of Presentation, VITAL Talent’s flagship program for all your business presentation needs.