Presenting a sales pitch can fill many people with dread. It’s commonly said that we tend to fear death more than standing in front of a group of people and presenting an idea. Anyone who has had to do it can certainly see why that phrase came about.
Fortunately, entrepreneurs (or anyone else planning to pitch a big idea) can take steps to avoid these dreaded feelings and host a successful business presentation. Here’s how:
Failing to Plan Is Planning to Fail
Planning should start as soon as you know about the meeting. If you’ve made limited or only minimal preparation, you will fail before you utter your first word.
Most people consider planning to consist of creating a wonderfully scripted speech and beautifully designed PowerPoint presentation. If those are your first thoughts, perhaps you should consider this question: How does your presentation appeal to your specific audience?
The key to answering that question is to know who the audience is. Therefore, the first step in preparing for the big presentation is researching who will be listening. If you don’t know, find out! The Internet is a useful place to seek information about those attending, but so are your contacts within the business. Ask people who might know the attendees for critical information.
Without trying to stalk these people, you need to know at a minimum their names, career histories and how long they’ve been at the company. If you can also find out what their hobbies are, you can find ways to tailor your presentation to their emotional tugs. In addition, if there are commonalities between you and the audience (such as golf or tennis), you can create an easy bond that will draw them in.
One of the worst examples I have seen of the above was a rep presenting his company’s resume writing service to a group of students. He thought he could walk into the room and speak their language, but what transpired was cringe-worthy. Instead of treating the group with respect, he insulted them with over-used clichés and misconceptions. Even more unforgivable was that he didn’t realize 80-90% of the students were foreign, and he had designed the whole pitch around the British student.
His presentation wasn’t remembered for what he was selling; it was remembered for being a waste of time. I’ve never seen so many postgraduate students texting on their phones and looking on Facebook. However, it did demonstrate that the presenter should have researched who he was going to pitch to and how he could connect to his audience.
Designing the Presentation
Once you have all this information, you can start building the presentation. Don’t be tempted to join the 25% of businesses that don’t update their presentations or use pre-made ones. Information may have changed since you wrote it, and it will be unlikely to suit your audience.
When you’re tailoring the presentation to your audience, remember that it still needs to be short and sweet. The average attention span has dropped from 12 minutes a decade ago to just 5 minutes in 2012. Business managers have limited time, and you may not have their attention long before it drifts onto the next meeting or the next report due in.
Facts are a good way to grab attention, but you have to properly source them. Wikipedia is generally not an acceptable source material as it can be edited by anyone. Images are also an excellent way to convey a message as they are absorbed by the human brain 6,000 times faster than text alone and are six times more memorable.
A good rule of thumb is to keep the information limited to three key points on each slide. It may be easier for the audience to digest the points if introduced one at a time. Don’t use too many slides as it can be distracting if you’re constantly switching between them.
When you’ve finished writing your presentation, it’s time to practice it. Once you’ve learned your script off by heart, get colleagues, friends and family to listen to your presentation. They may find errors you haven’t noticed.
At the end of your practice sessions, ask them to grill you. Make sure they know to ask you the tough questions—anything (within reason) goes. This helps prepare you and means you won’t lose your footing in the presentation when something unexpected is asked.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs was a master of presenting. He often had a standing ovation after his speeches. However, he still practiced his script for an average of two full days before he went on stage. It can be hard to put that amount of effort into practicing, but if you can practice for a few hours, you will see vast improvements in your performance.
Closer to the time of the meeting, you will want to research the venue, particularly if the location is in uncharted waters. If this is the case, you need to get out there to ensure you know your way there and the layout of the room. Something as silly as where the light is coming from can have a big impact on your presentation. If you know the light will be bright on the right of the room, you can plan to stick to the left, thus preventing being distracted by the sun in your eyes.
An acquaintance of mine once presented on a particularly bright day. Unfortunately, the big windows in the room—which happened to face south—were right in front of him, and the bright sunlight prevented him from maintaining eye contact with the audience. Had he known earlier, he could have asked for the room’s orientation to be changed around to avoid this problem.
Make sure you set aside what you’re going to wear to the presentation in advance. Ensure that your outfit is clean and ironed. It’s also advisable to have a professional haircut a couple of days before the presentation and to be clean shaven, if applicable.
At some point, you should make a checklist of what you require on the day of the presentation. Prepare any handouts or promotional materials well in advance—don’t take any chances. Not having everything at hand will reflect badly on your organizational skills.
The night before, go through the checklist and test any equipment you’re taking with you. The worst thing that can happen is your equipment failing in the meeting.
You’ve now done all your prep work and are ready for the big day. Keep these next tips in mind to deliver a presentation that will truly impress:
The first thing to do before you even start to present is make sure you either have a glass of water or your own drink at hand. Begin by greeting everyone, and ask if it’s okay to start. This ensures that you have the audience’s attention, increasing the chances they’ll absorb your message.
Decide if you’d like people to ask any questions as you go along or to wait until the end of the presentation. If the latter, remind people to keep any questions until the end of the presentation.
As soon as you start, you are fighting the clock. Remember to keep sections short, especially in the introduction. If you struggle, think about keeping the introduction down to these three points:
- Who you are.
- What you are going to tell them.
- What they are going to take away.
If you can’t pass on that information within one minute, you need to consider adjusting your presentation. And remember to try to keep the first 30 seconds exciting—really grab the audience’s attention. This period will determine how the whole presentation will proceed.
Fifty-five percent of all communication is done through body language. Avoid crossing your arms or standing with an object between you and your audience, such as a podium. Keep an eye on your hand gestures as well. Sometimes when people are really enthusiastic, their hand gestures can let them down by portraying someone who is uncontrollable.
Eye contact is a must. It creates a connection between you and the audience. You should aim to make eye contact with a new person for every new point made. While you’re making the point, aim to get a response—a nod or yes is sufficient.
Wrapping It Up
By the end of the presentation, the one question that should never be left unanswered is how your proposal will benefit them. The whole point of the proposal is not to convince you of anything, but to convince them. For that, they need strong facts and an indication that you’re someone they can work with.
At the very end of the presentation, close by asking for questions and feedback. Make sure you are listening. This is your last chance to calm any concerns they may have about your proposal. Once all the questions have been answered, thank your audience with a friendly smile.
Make sure the day after the presentation to send a thank you note to the company you presented to. Thank them for taking the time to listen to you, remind them of how to contact you should they have any further questions and, finally, wish them luck. Always show care in your correspondence; it builds trust between you and the company.
Presenting can be tough. However, with the right preparation, body language and engaging content, you will find it easier. Follow these tips, and next time you’re presenting a proposal, you won’t find yourself yearning for death instead.
And if you perform well in your presentation, it won’t take long before you reap the rewards.
What other presentation tips have you picked up? Share them with other readers in the comments!
Josh Hansen writes on behalf of Edison Red, a London-based team of experts who help companies and individuals communicate their ideas by improving their presentation skills. They run one-to-one sessions, as well as in-house and open courses, for a wide range of clients, helping them all to be the best they can be.