Imagine you're speaking in public at an important business meeting. The room is filled with your colleagues.
The CEO’s phone vibrates. They take the call and run out of the room. Bob stifles a yawn (and fails). Your friend, Anne, smiles and nods her head.
“Breathe,” you remind yourself as sweat stains bloom under your arms. You must get that budget approved. The contract closed. The project authorized. And so you force a smile and click to your next slide.
“Sheesh, I’m not trying to be the next Tony Robbins,” you say to yourself. “I just want this business presentation to stop hurting—for me and for the people watching.”
And it can.
People spend millions on training courses, books, and coaching every year, seeking to improve their public speaking skills. The phrase “tips for public speakers” is Googled over 5,000 times every month.
Careers and reputations are at stake, after all.
In this post, you’re going to learn from successful public speakers, most of whom have written the books and designed the training programs on the topic.
4 Basic Elements of a Great Business Presentation
Successful business presentations come in many different shapes. But they do share basic elements.
The word “presentation” usually evokes images of someone projecting a slideshow on a screen, covered with words, charts, and pictures. But it’s much more than that.
A presentation is both form and substance. Content and delivery. Message and medium.
Let’s break down a great presentation to its most essential elements:
The content of your business presentation, also known as the message or substance, is the meat of your presentation. It’s the idea, concept, problem, solution, or information you want to convey to your audience.
Your message is informed by your goal or the impact you want to make with your presentation. An effective presentation brings about change in your audience, whether it’s changing their knowledge, perception, attitudes, feelings, beliefs, or behavior about your topic. You know you’ve done a good job when your audience leaves the room slightly different people than they were before your talk.
If you need help writing your message into a speech, this tutorial takes you through the speech-writing process:
The medium is how you transmit your message. In business settings, the slideshow is still the most common medium, accompanied by your speech. You’ll want to avoid inflicting “death by PowerPoint”, so if you’re not a graphic designer, presentation templates, like the ones from Envato Elements, can help.
However, you may also find yourself relying on a flip chart, a whiteboard, or the back of a napkin. You may have to use props to make an idea concrete. You need to decide which medium, or combination of media, will help you convey your message and achieve your goal most effectively.
The medium is only part of your presentation’s form and delivery. The other part is...
You, the presenter, are also a medium for your message. By “presence,” I’m referring to how you conduct yourself during the presentation. Your appearance, your sound, your actions, your personality, your “vibe”… the total package.
A good presence captures and keeps your audience’s attention, establishes your credibility, and builds rapport with your audience. Being an effective speaker doesn’t mean pretending to be someone you’re not. It does mean being present in a way that best imparts your message.
We've got some helpful tips for giving a speech in this tutorial:
Which brings us to the most critical element of a business presentation….
Your audience brings with them their existing knowledge and attitudes about your topic, as well as expectations and self-serving goals. Their relationship with you also makes a difference in the impact you'll make. If your audience is a mentor, they’ll be more receptive, open, honest, and forgiving. But if they’re the head of a division who’s never heard of you before, then things will be different.
“What’s in it for me?” everyone wonders, although they may not be aware of it. If you take the time to understand them and help them reach their own goals, then you’ll be on your way to a successful presentation.
As you can see, many factors go into a fruitful business presentation!
No wonder the average person would rather die than speak in public. The good news is, public speaking is a skill that can be learned, honed, and mastered.
Business Presentation Advice From Experts Who (Literally) Wrote the Book
I asked the following public speaking experts:
If you could give only one piece of advice on how to deliver an effective business presentation, what would it be?
Here are their public speaking tips:
1. Michael Port
Michael Port is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of six books including Steal the Show: From Speeches to Job Interviews to Deal-Closing Pitches, How to Guarantee a Standing Ovation for All the Performances in Your Life. Port is also the co-founder and CEO of Heroic Public Speaking, one of the world's premier communication and public speaking companies for individuals and businesses alike.
Vividly paint a picture. All world-saving performances are transformational experiences for your audience. Start out by showing, “here’s what you’ve got today, and here’s how it could be.”
This builds immediate rapport and hooks the audience’s interest. You know them. You understand them. You’ve got their back ... and you’ve got a better way.
Speech and message coach Michelle Mazur is the author of several books, including 3 Word Rebellion: Create a One-of-a-Kind Message that Grows Your Business Into a Movement and Speak Up For Your Business: Presentation Secrets for Entrepreneurs Ready to Tell, Sell, and Compel. Mazur is also the founder and CEO of Communication Rebel, which helps business owners and speakers become thought leaders.
My one piece of advice is to get clear on the ONE and only one message that you want your audience to remember. Research shows that most audiences forget 80%-90% of what they hear a speaker say within 24-hours of hearing that speaker. If you want to be memorable, get clear on that one core message and drive that point home in your speech.
3. Roger Love
Known as vocal coach to celebrities, Roger Love is one of the world’s leading authorities on voice. Love's bestsellers include Set Your Voice Free: How to Get the Singing or Speaking Voice You Want and the audiobook. Love has trained celebrities like Tony Robbins, Reese Witherspoon, and Louise Hay. Love's latest credit is vocal coaching Bradley Cooper for the Academy Award winning film, "A Star Is Born."
Start thinking about what you SOUND LIKE. Your voice is the most powerful communication tool you possess. A 2017 Yale study proved that we have learned to lie with our words and our body language, but the sounds of your voice reveal authenticity and truth.
Learn how to use melody, volume, pitch, and pace to create sounds that move people emotionally. When you find your voice, you find your self-confidence, your storytelling ability, your charisma, and your influence. Only then can you create effective and outstanding business presentations.
4. Donna Moritz
Donna Moritz is a Digital Content Strategist who helps businesses leverage the power of visual storytelling and content strategy. Moritz is an international speaker in the tourism and marketing industries, and the founder and author of the blog, Socially Sorted—named one of the Top 5 Blogs You Should Know About in 2019 (Forbes) and a Top 10 Social Media Blog 2015-2017 (Social Media Examiner).
Ensure that you focus on key, actionable takeaways that your audience will remember and can easily implement. This means one key point per slide - even eliminate dot points altogether - and use stories to bring home those key points. We remember well-told stories way beyond any slide or speaker, so match the power of storytelling with powerful, visual slides. It will make you a more memorable speaker. And more importantly it will make your message so memorable that your audience will take action!
5. Tim Calkins
Award-winning professor Tim Calkins is the author of several books. Among them are Breakthrough Marketing Plans, Defending Your Brand, and How to Wash a Chicken: Mastering the Business Presentation. Calkins is also Clinical Professor of Marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and co-academic director of the Kellogg on Branding executive education program.
The most important thing to remember is this: start by thinking about your audience. Take a step back. Who am I presenting to? In particular, who is the most senior person? What do they know about this project? Is the topic important for them or not? Do they have to make a decision? How can I create a presentation that will be most useful for them?
A business presentation is a marketing task; you are communicating a recommendation or a set of conclusions. The first lesson in marketing is to think about your customer. This is also true when presenting. If you keep the focus on your audience, you will create a presentation that will work and your recommendation is more likely to be approved.
6. Lisa Bloom
Lisa Bloom is a consultant, trainer, and expert in the art and business of storytelling. Bloom is the author of Cinderella and the Coach - the Power of Storytelling for Coaching Success!, and has an extensive background in training and development in large, multinational organizations.
Using story in your presentation awakens your creativity while providing a refreshing perspective to re-energize and engage your audience and move them to action. If you want your presentation to have impact, you need to tell powerful stories.
Let’s say you have a high-stake opportunity; you need to make a very specific impression—to close a deal or secure funding. You may not get a second chance. By using the right story at the right time, you can access your authentic, inspired self while learning to creatively articulate your vision & ideas. This means you get to connect deeply, contribute widely and inspire the people that matter.
Michael Hudson is a business strategy and communication coach who helps people and organizations be heard and understood when the stakes are high. Hudson is the author of Public Speaker Secrets: 52 Proven Ways to Increase Your Impact Every Time You Speak, host of the Get Your Message Heard podcast, and a frequent guest on business and communication podcasts.
Decide what you want the audience to do and take them on a journey that reveals why it matters, what they should do about it, and how to get started. But if you deliver a focused presentation that makes it clear how you want people to see the issue you are addressing, you to add more value and eliminate confusion and continuing debate.
You'll be remembered when you walk out of the room because you didn't dump everything you know about the topic onto a bunch of slides and read them. You delivered a message crafted to fit that audience in that situation at that time.
10 More Tips for Public Speakers
In addition to the public speaking tips above, here are more public speaking quotes from some of the world’s presentation experts.
1. Nancy Duarte
Duarte is the bestselling author of several books on presentation such as slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations and Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols. Duarte's company created Al Gore's presentation, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Here’s a quote from Duarte's book, Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences:
The audience does not need to tune themselves to you—you need to tune your message to fit them. Skilled presenting requires you to understand their hearts and minds and create a message to resonate with what’s already there. Your audience will be significantly moved if you send a message that is tuned to their needs and desires. They might even quiver with enthusiasm and act in concert to create beautiful results.
2. Bo Eason
Former NFL player for the Houston Oilers, Bo Eason today coaches people to become better presenters and storytellers. Eason has also written and performed in a one-man play, of which Eason said:
Back when I was performing my play, “Runt of the Litter”, my hands would shake like crazy every time I stepped on stage. My coach at the time would say, “That’s not nerves, it’s love. You want to be good. You love and honor the audience. That’s called love, not nerves. It’s okay.”
Eventually… my nerves became fuel and the shaking did stop. But sometimes, even now, they’ll still shake. It’s just how it is; I care. I like when people care. Nerves are your jet fuel. Don’t try to pretend you don’t have them. (Source)
Hyatt is the author of several books, including Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, a New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestseller. Hyatt is also one of the most prominent influencers on social media, with blog, podcast, and social platforms reaching close to half a million people every month.
We often think that when we go into the boardroom or in a professional situation, that we’ve just got to stick with the statistics and the facts and all of that, but it doesn’t connect like stories. Stories are what move people, and the more of them you can tell, the more persuasive, the more influential you’ll be. (Source)
A writer and business communications trainer, Dave McKinsey authored Strategic Storytelling: How to Create Persuasive Business Presentations. Here’s a quote from McKinsey's book:
Strategic storytelling is mostly about what you do before you actually speak to a group. While traditional intelligence (IQ) plays some role, I believe emotional intelligence (EQ) plays a far greater role. High EQ, which can be developed, is what makes you a more persuasive public speaker.
5. Lisa Nichols
Nichols is a motivational speaker who has appeared on Oprah, The Today Show, and other popular programs. Nichols is also the author of No Matter What!: 9 Steps to Living the Life You Love and co-author of Abundance Now: Amplify Your Life & Achieve Prosperity Today.
[My] number one [tip] in being unforgettable, having people fall madly in love with you, is to be willing to share your story. When you share your story, all of a sudden the listener becomes a part of your journey. And then what happens is you tap into something in them. (Source)
6. Dave Paradi
Paradi is the author of several books about slideshow presentations including The Visual Slide Revolution, Select Effective Visuals, and Paradi's latest, GPS for Presentations: A Structured Approach to Planning Presentations with a Clear Message and Focused Content. Paradi explains the metaphor this way:
When I think of a presentation, I think of it as taking the audience on a journey…. [GPS] is a complete approach that can be used by any business professional to plan their presentation.... Once the GPS has your current location and your destination, it determines the best route for the chosen method of transportation. In a presentation, the steps are the topics, points, and supporting information we will use to move the audience from their present situation to the goal we set for the presentation.
A communications consultant, Reynolds has written several books about creating presentations, including Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery and The Naked Presenter: Delivering Powerful Presentations With or Without Slides.
In most cases a good presentation is a mix of logic, data, emotion, and inspiration. We are usually OK with the logic and data part, but fail on the emotional and inspirational end. Certainly leaders and educators need to infuse a bit of wonder into their talks that inspire people to make a change. A good presentation should not end when the speaker sits down or the class comes to an end. (Source)
8. Dan Roam
Roam is a business visualization consultant and author of several bestselling books about visual communication. Some of them are The Back of the Napkin, Draw to Win, and Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations. Roam's slide deck on health care reform, which featured handmade drawings, has been viewed over 4 million times. Roam summarizes tips for public speakers in three rules:
The three rules that I’ve learned: (1) Tell the truth. (2) Tell that truth with a story. (3) Tell that story with a picture. If we just do those three things, any presentation we make will be enjoyable for us and pretty extraordinary for our audience. (Source)
9. Simon Sinek
Sinek is an organizational consultant, business motivational speaker, and author of a number of books, including the international bestseller, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Sinek's TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” is one of the most popular talks of all time.
I’m often asked, “How did you become such a good presenter?” and I like to joke that I cheat. I only talk about things that I care about, and I only talk about things that I understand. You can’t manufacture passion. You can manufacture energy. You can bounce on the stage and scream and yell. That’s not passion; that’s too much caffeine. (Source)
Founding engineer of the software company Mint, Vijayashanker is also an entrepreneur, author, and speaker. Vijayashanker's site, Femgineer, is an educational platform where techies learn how to build impactful products and companies. In the book, Present! A Techie's Guide to Public Speaking, Vijayashanker and co-author Karen Catlin describe the right mindset for a presentation:
A talk is an exchange of information, like a conversation. Imagine having a conversation with an audience member about a topic that benefits and entertains them. This helps you keep the audience in mind as you craft your talk. It also affects delivery; presenting in a conversational tone helps you connect with your audience.
Learn More About How to Give a Presentation
If you want to go deeper on the subject and learn more about public speaking, then you’ll find our public speaking guide helpful. We created it especially for people who must speak in public but find themselves uncomfortable or downright anxious.
These posts will also help:
- Public Speaking15 Inspiring Public Speaking Quotes (Famous, Funny, & Fear-Reducing)Laura Spencer
- Microsoft PowerPoint43 Effective PowerPoint Presentation Tips (To Improve Your Skills)Brad Smith
- PresentationsThe Best New Presentation Templates of 2019 (PowerPoint PPTs & More)Sean Hodge
Become a Better Public Speaker Starting Today
I hope the above tips for public speaking gave you practical ways to make your business presentations better and, possibly, even learn to enjoy giving them.
No matter what your current public speaking skills are, you can get better.
Instead of dreading your next business presentation, embrace it as an opportunity to practice the public speaking tips in this post.
So that next time, whether in the board room or on a stage, you'll be so compelling that the CEO will stay in their seat, Bob will keep alert, and Anne, loyal as ever, will have reason to cheer you on.