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Lead Your Team Personal Growth

Business Presentations: 6 Tips to Engage Audiences

Business Presentations: 6 Tips to Engage Audiences
Credit: Shutterstock

Presentations are part of business life. Training, sales, engagement, information sharing, meetings – you name it, and chances are there will be a presentation opportunity for it.

Most employees and potential clients dread PowerPoint presentations. The key is to engage your audience, to keep them interested in what you have to say and keep their hands and eyes away from their smartphones. In an age of constant distractions and shrinking attention spans, it seems that giving an engaging presentation is an art that few have mastered successfully.

"Presenters often put too much value on being funny or charming," said Bill Burnett, co-founder and CEO of presentation software company PointDrive. "On the other side of things, the value of data is overlooked."

With a combination of powerful data and the right messaging strategy, you can hold your audience's attention and make your business presentations a success. Follow these six expert tips to keep all eyes and ears on you. [See Related Story: 10 Ways to Give a Kickass Business Presentation]

Before you begin preparing your slides and notes, take the time to analyze and reflect on your own personal style of presenting. Scott Schwertly, author of "What's Your Presentation Persona?" (McGraw-Hill Education, 2017) and CEO of Ethos3, a presentation design and training company, says it's important for presenters to know their strengths.

Schwertly created a system that is designed to be the Myers-Briggs test of presentation skills, revealing which of 16 Presentation Personas you are. It asks question that evaluate how you prepare, how your audience responds, how you want them to react and what motivates you to speak. At the end, you are assigned a Persona – a unique delivery style to guide you in creating the most impactful presentations. You can master your own Persona and learn about others to experiment with and learn from, helping you become a strong and well-rounded communicator, capable of wowing any audience on any topic at any time.

By taking a Badge assessment, you discover which persona out of 16 best represents who you are as a presenter. For instance, a Liberator is passionate about presenting, taking great care in preparing to present, as well as how they deliver, how they are perceived on stage and sharing a message that resonates with the audience for a long time, while an Activator may not spend on much time on preparation but is captivating in the moment.

"The most important thing is to be passionate and enthusiastic," Schwertly told Business News Daily. "I am a big believer that if you aren't passionate about your topic, you can't expect that audience to get passionate about it."

Statistics and facts are important to any presentation, but without a good story behind them, the charts and tables you painstakingly created will mean nothing to your audience.

"Using a story is a great way to make an audience receptive to the content," said Sheldon Senek, executive vice president of Eagles Talent Speakers Bureau. "It relaxes them and lets them know you're real. Stories are also a way of creating an example of the content a speaker is talking about."

But don't tell stories just for the sake of telling them; make sure they have a point. A confusing story will only lead to a disengaged audience, Senek said. Most importantly, don't just read off your slides. Your presentation should support the slides, not the other way around.

Schwertly advised presenters to embrace the rule of three – that is, to boil your presentation down to just three main points.

"The human brain is wired to '1, 2, 3, I forgot', so keep it simple," he said. "By making the presentation more about you as the speaker and less about what is displayed on a screen, the presentation is more engaging and interactive and less likely to have someone reaching for the nearest distraction."

It's easy to let nerves get the best of you when you're speaking in front of a large crowd, but remaining calm and in control of your body movements, general appearance and tone of voice is imperative to establishing yourself as a strong presenter.

"When standing in front of a room, that time should be used connecting with those that are listening," Burnett said. "Look people in the eye, smile, and don't be scared to use your hands and move."

Senek agreed, noting that being natural – instead of being stiff or robotic, or clinging to the podium – is a big part of engaging your listeners. He also recommended taking the time to look professional in terms of dress and grooming.

The circumstances for every presentation are different, and as the presenter, you need to be aware of those circumstances ahead of time. The three basic factors affecting a presentation are the speaker, the message and the audience. Edward Schiappa, head of the MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing Department and a professor in the MIT Sloan Executive Education program, advised asking yourself certain questions as you craft your presentation.

"As a speaker, are you already well known and respected by the audience, or do you need to take steps to establish credibility?" Schiappa said. "What are the goals of your presentation? The purpose of the presentation should drive the design of your message. Finally, what is your audience like? Are they knowledgeable about your message topic? Is there an opportunity to have a dialogue with the audience, or will you only have a chance for a monologue?"

The success or failure of a presentation depends on how well presenters adapt to the particular needs of the situation, Schiappa added.

They say that practice makes perfect, and this is especially true for presentations. Before you go up in front of the audience, go over the data you're presenting and the notes you've written. If possible, test out the technology you'll be using to make sure it works. Rehearse your speech in front of a test audience, and ask for feedback. The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to gracefully handle any unexpected hiccups, tangents or audience questions.

Additional reporting by Nicole Taylor. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Marci Martin

With an Associate's Degree in Business Management and nearly twenty years in senior management positions, Marci brings a real life perspective to her articles about business and leadership. She began freelancing in 2012 and became a contributing writer for Business News Daily in 2015.