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How to gain the advantage during your next presentation

The truth is, all business leaders are capable of giving a powerhouse presentation. All it takes is the right mindset, a well-crafted presentation with a strong core message and thorough preparation.

7 min read


Public speaking

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There was a time when classes in public speaking, leadership, and other so-called soft skills were considered a nuisance or something to be tolerated. Thankfully, such attitudes have shifted.

To cite one example, a recent study shows that when companies connect emotionally with their customers, sales growth accelerates. But we don’t need a study to prove that connecting on a human level is the cornerstone of successful business communication and a skill to be cultivated.

Today, most business professionals see the value in connecting with a purpose. After working with business leaders to accomplish specific goals like acquiring the next piece of big business or persuading legislators to work on a specific policy change, I decided to compile (almost) everything I’ve learned throughout my career into a goal-oriented, strategy-focused book.

In the following blog post, I present the CliffsNotes — or StephaniesNotes — version of my book “Talk on Water: Attaining the Mindset for Powerhouse Presentations.” These highlights will give you a head start in preparing for your next big communication moment. Ultimately though, if you’re looking for a real competitive edge and to gain an unfair competitive advantage, I do suggest reading the whole book. Are you ready to talk on water?

Connection and opportunity

Our heads are often so filled with the “do’s and don’ts” of giving a business presentation that we can easily forget we are speaking to real people. Once we’ve lost our bearings, you can bet we’ve lost the connection to ourselves, our message or our audience.

The power of connection is vital to business communication. Indeed, it’s the foundation for every lasting professional or customer relationship you create. Connection is so vital, in fact, that I’ve seen missed opportunities to connect result in:

  • Lost business when the sales team overwhelmed a client with details of features and benefits and services and capabilities and…
  • Shallow bench strength because the new vice president hadn’t found her voice and the manager couldn’t figure out how to move beyond his subject-matter expertise.
  • Money wasted on town-hall meetings that didn’t increase employee understanding, engagement or buy-in.

If you could improve business presentations, what might be possible? Increased sales? Better financial standing? Deeper bench strength? More motivated and confident employees? All of this and more is possible when you discover how to connect and communicate on a higher level.

The “Talk on Water” mindset

Connecting with your audience, whether during a one-on-one sales call, presenting market research to a group of eight stakeholders seated around a conference table or speaking to hundreds on a TEDx stage, starts with mindset. You simply can’t connect with an audience of any size if you are plagued by self-doubt or putting on a facade that obscures your authenticity. Your audience will pick up on the subtle cues you are giving and respond accordingly.

Rather than focusing on getting through a presentation, the best thinkers focus on developing a rapport with their audiences. They achieve this by keeping several foundational beliefs in mind:

  • Your audience is your biggest fan.
  • A presentation is an enlarged conversation.
  • Your audience wants connection, not perfection.
  • There are enough ways for everyone to have their own.

Ahead of your next powerhouse presentation, do your best to instill these foundational beliefs in your mind. This will put you well on your way to connecting with your audience. But don’t forget that to get the results you are after, you also need to connect with yourself and with your message.

Connect with yourself by knowing what you need to succeed. What will make you feel most confident in this presentation? How much time do you need to prepare? Who can you depend on for support as you prepare?

Connect with your message by empathizing with your audience. You have one job while you are presenting: to help your audience “get it.”

Depending on your presenter profile, the “it” could be effectively communicating facts and sharing information about a new safety protocol (The Expert). Or the “it” could be sharing your startup’s business model and influencing venture capitalists to invest (The Interpreter). Or the “it” could be disrupting the status quo in the minds’ of your audience members and igniting change on a grand scale (The Catalyst).

To achieve the results you’re after, you must put yourself in your audience’s shoes.

The Presentation C.O.D.E.

Once you’ve become aware of the Talk on Water mindset (Part 1) and figured out your presenter profile (Part 2), you’re ready to start building your powerhouse presentation. The book presents a simple four-step process called the Presentation C.O.D.E (Part 3) to help with the nuts and bolts. Here’s a quick overview:

Step 1: Clarify your core message. It’s important to keep your message simple. I recommend asking yourself, “If my audience takes away one key message, what does it need to be?” Your goal will be for each person hearing your presentation to be able to repeat whatever your core message was at the end of your presentation.

Step 2: Organize your content. Organization is key to helping your audience “get it.” Ask yourself how you can best segment your important content with a logical structure that maps back and supports your core message.

Step 3: Develop your audio-visuals. Many presenters make the mistake of using audio-visuals in a distracting or overwhelming way. It can sometimes appear as if presenters are trying to hide behind their media. This impression is not the way to win over your audience! Instead, consider how you can use audio-visuals to help your audience quickly grasp what’s being discussed.

Step 4: Express yourself and engage your audience. Never forget that you are best at being yourself. Rather than trying to imitate others or their captivating presentation styles, work to express yourself with ease, energy, and enthusiasm. If you can do this well, you will succeed in speaking with confidence. Skillful authenticity always results in a memorable presentation.

Prepare for prime time

In the fast-paced business world where everyone seems to want everything yesterday, preparing and rehearsing a presentation can seem like a luxury. But to achieve results in high-stakes presentations, practice is absolutely a necessity.

What do I mean by practice? I want you to think of your presentation as a performance. Now, elsewhere I’ve pushed back against the comparison between delivering a business presentation and giving a stage performance. But please allow me to explain.

There’s no way an actress in a Broadway play would go out on stage without rehearsing adequately. To be stage-ready there are table read-throughs, off- and on-site rehearsals, partial and full rehearsals, dress rehearsals and technical rehearsals. If you are as prepared as an actress on Broadway, you are going to be your most confident and ready to achieve the results you desire.

On average, it takes a business leader five focused practice sessions to be ready to seal the deal when it comes to high-stakes, career-defining presentations. I promise that, if you take the time to prepare, you will deliver a powerhouse presentation. You don’t want to skimp on practice time!

The truth is, all business leaders are capable of giving a powerhouse presentation. All it takes is the right mindset, a well-crafted presentation with a strong core message and thorough preparation. These are all definitely within your grasp!

By far, the greatest key to success in any presentation is making connections that count. When you show up as your authentic self, the audience will respond positively and your message will have the lasting impact you’re after. What strategies do you rely on when you want to talk on water?


Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at and

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