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How can you improve your business presentations?

4 min read


It may have been a few years since you graduated from B-school. Since then, you’ve done dozens, maybe hundreds, of formal and informal presentations to employees, investors, managers, clients, and others.

Now ask yourself, “How effective am I really? Do my presentations motivate others to action? Are they inspiring?”

If it’s been a while since someone congratulated you for a stupendous presentation, perhaps you could use a mini refresher in presentation pointers. It never hurts to revisit some fundamentals. Here are six of them:

  1. Identify the “why” of the presentation. Many presentations aren’t appropriate for the timing or for the material. And often, one is asked to present to someone but really isn’t sure of why or what the desired outcome should be. Why now? What’s the significance of this timing? Why this audience? What does the listener hope to know, and why? Why are you presenting this information at this time? Outline what you hope to accomplish before you begin.
  2. Identify the “who.” Connect with your audience. What do you know about this audience? What matters to them? What do they hope to get out of this? What do they know, and not know? It’s a common mistake for the presenter to work hard on the message but then fail to modify it for this audience. In a one-on-one presentation, you can ask the listener to answer some questions first, such as, “What’s most important to you?” You may also say something like, “Before we start, there are six key items I’ve been asked to focus on in this presentation. Has anything changed, or do you have anything to add?”
  3. Chunk the information. Many of us are guilty of trying to pack information and data into one continuous flow. Instead, look at your information and ask yourself, “What are the themes?” Organize the information into a handful of topics. Then categorize the information under each heading. When you present, your audience will be better able to take in the details after you give them an overview of the segments — as in, “I have three key points.” Open and close each section so the listener knows which information they’re hearing.
  4. Make it matter; provide context. How can you bring your information around to address the needs of this audience at this time? Why does this matter to them? Don’t leave it up to chance that the listener will understand why this information matters. Keep asking yourself, “So what?” Why does this concern your audience, why does it help them, why might they need to know it? Make it clear. If you can’t give context and clarify the meaning of what you’re presenting, then that information shouldn’t be there.
  5. Match behavioral style. Particularly in one-on-one meetings and in small groups, a presenter needs to listen and watch for others’ preferred style before he or she engages. Style is our tone of voice, our pace, the words we use and our body language. What’s the communication style of your audience? How can you shift your approach to make the person or audience feel most comfortable? Excellent presenters use different tones, styles and communication in response to different audiences.
  6. Bring closure. Circle your audience back around to what you started out with as the objective. What did you want to happen — sharing of information, need for a decision on some data, the “close” of a sales process? This is where you ensure that the listeners received what they need. Before you leave the presentation, reconfirm the desired outcome: “As a result of this presentation, I wanted you to understand three things” — then list them. “Next step, I’ve asked each member of this audience to …” Vote? Give me a business card? Buy my product? Be sure when you end the interaction, whether one on one or in a group, that you’ve confirmed what you hope will happen next.

Using these six keys to presenting will enable you to stand out and be more confident and effective. A little refresher course may be all you really needed.

Beverly Flaxington is a certified professional behavioral analyst, hypnotherapist, and career and business adviser who specializes in helping managers and employees deal with difficult workplace relationships, performance issues, and goal achievement. She’s the author of five business and financial books, including “Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior,” and her latest book, “Make Your SHIFT: The Five Most Powerful Moves You Can Make to Get Where YOU Want to Go’ (ATA Press, 2012). Learn more at