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36 Ways to Make a Killer Business Presentation

36 Ways to Make a Killer Business Presentation
Credit: Ollyy/Shutterstock

What makes a good business presentation? Bombarding your audience with information isn't it. Neither is boring them to death with charts and figures. And forget about reading every one of those 20 bullet points you've crammed into each PowerPoint slide (note: this is definitely a don't). What really makes a good business presentation boils down to one thing: engaging your audience.

Granted, getting an audience involved and truly tuned in to a business presentation is easier said than done. Nonetheless, the quality of your presentation can mean the difference between persuading your audience and wasting their time. To help you knock your next gig out of the park, Business News Daily asked presentation coaches, speechwriters and business owners everywhere for their advice and the do's and don'ts of public speaking. Here are 35 tips, tools and secrets to making killer business presentations, regardless of your topic and audience.

No. 1: Be your own stage manager. Check out ahead of time where you will be presenting, find out about the setup, make sure you have tested all your AV. Move the chairs, if needed. Check the room temperature. Remember, hot rooms put people to sleep. — Lydia Graham, CEO, Graham & Associates [For a side-by-side comparison of the best presentation software, visit our sister site Top Ten Reviews]

No. 2: A good business presentation contains only the necessary information. It has one main point and everything is structured around that point. It doesn't rely heavily upon PowerPoint or slides filled with text, and it allows time for discussion and asking questions. — Eddie Rice, speechwriter, CustomSpeechWriting.com 

No. 3: Keep it short and impactful. Your audience will pick up quickly on the fact that you simply enjoy hearing yourself talk if your presentation goes on too long. You should also provide a takeaway. Even if it is a link to a website that gives a free report, if you leave the audience with something, you increase the value that you've provided. — Holly Rodriguez, chief communications strategist, H-Rod & Associates

No. 4: Remember, when making a business presentation, PowerPoint is not *the* point. Your job is to present the information. If your audience can take away just as much by reading it, you are superfluous. Also, I'm sure there is a special room in hell for presenters who merely read their slides to the audience. They deserve it. — John F. Dini, executive business coach, The Alternative Board (TAB)

No. 5: No secret sauce, tech, or gimmicks. What makes any presentation engaging and effective is to put the bottom-line up front (BLUF)and then provide whatever backup data which may be needed. I've seen many presentations where the story is dragged out and tension is built, as if the person was trying to make a movie and build to the climax. But most people appreciate getting to the climax quickly without lots of buildup or foreplay. It isn't a movie and it isn't sex — people are busy and need to deal with the issue and then move on. — Mark McMillion, president, McMillion Leadership Associates LLC

No. 6: Use body language to connect with your audience. Dynamic presenters use their hands, facial expressions, and eyes to keep the audience engaged. If possible, use props and stage movement to keep the audience interested. — Matt Reischer, chief information officer, Legal Marketing Pages Corp.

No. 7: The presenter should be the star, not his or her slides. You want to be a critical part of the presentation. Focus more on what you will say and how you will say it rather than on having the coolest slides. Not everything you say should be on your slides. Focus on your best insights and ideas, or the coolest thing about what it is you are trying to sell. No more than 3 sentences per slide. Present your best data, or no data, not all your data. — Michal Ann Strahilevitz, Ph.D., professor of marketing, Golden Gate University

No. 8: The best way to improve a business presentation is to exceed audience expectations. Sometimes, less is more. The best presentations I have done to buyers for my company at Royce Leather have been presentations in which I used no technology at all. If using technology, the key is to utilize high definition images and short, less than 60 second videos to convey your point. — Andrew Royce Bauer, CEO, Royce Leather

No. 9: As an engineer, we always tried to be as technical as possible to show people we knew our stuff. Now I act as an expert witness in cases where cell phones are used as evidence. My first job is to teach a jury how cell phones work. I've learned to put myself in the seat of someone who's completely out of my field, but still intelligent in their own right. Keeping it simple is key. Assume they are smart but know nothing and teach the way you would want to be taught. — Ben Levitan, telecommunications expert witness, BenLevitan.com

No. 10: Your presentation should trigger a reaction from your audience. Some examples:

  • Whoa! = Could you say that again or their nudging the person next to them, asking what did he/she say? (You need this to break into the clutter of people's ADD, OCD and preoccupied minds)
  • Wow! = Yep, that really was worth repeating and hearing again
  • Hmmm = I'm writing that down, because that is just too good to not use somewhere
  • Yes! = I just found out where I'm going to use it (and then they do)

—    Dr. Mark Goulston, business psychiatrist and author, Just Listen Discover —    the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone

No. 11: The key is simplicity! Simple explanations coupled with simple graphics equal one amazing presentation. People think you need to jam a bunch of data in the slides, but it's a huge mistake. Pick specific points to talk about and create simple graphics to re-enforce the point, not give the view extra information. — Gary Tuch, co-founder, Professor Egghead Science Academy

No. 12: Use natural humor (not jokes). Humorous quotes work well, especially during your introductions. For example, one section of my presentation skills workshop has to deal with speaking anxiety, and I usually begin this section with the following quote: "Mark Twain said it best: 'There are two types of speakers. Those that are nervous and those that are liars. Which one are you?'" This usually results in a chuckle or two from the participants in my workshop. — Lenny Laskowski, president and CEO, LJ Seminars

No. 13: What makes a good business presentation is practice, practice, practice! It's just like sports! You have to repeatedly practice your presentation to improve it. — Andrew J. Zurbuch, president, HealthPlanBrokers.com

No. 14: We would be lost without new technology like SlideShare and GoToMeeting. GoToMeeting helps us attract a nationwide audience and allows people to tune in, listen to, and engage with our presentations, no matter where they are. After a presentation is over, we immediately upload any visual aids to SlideShare, which helps us reach people who may have missed it. More than anything else we want to help small business owners, and thankfully the internet and services like GoToMeeting and SlideShare make that mission much, much easier. — Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation.com

No. 15: Don't: a) be defensive, b) pretend you know something you don't, c) try to BS your way out of anything, and d) extend the presentation after it has run its course. — Tim Montgomery, president, TIMIT Solutions. LLC.

No. 16: Authenticity is engaging; let your true personality show. Too many presentations are technically proficient but lack heart. If you are not genuine, there will be an unbridgeable gap between you and your listeners. Authenticity is the most important element of an effective communication in any context. — Brandt Johnson, principal, Syntaxis Inc.

No. 17: Begin with a bang and finish with a flourish. Be more dynamic. Stand instead of sit. If you're talking about something big, make a balloon shape with your arms. Describing a surprise? Clap your hands loudly. Talking about a big step? Take a big step. Use drama: "It killed me," versus "It was disappointing." — Bill Rosenthal, CEO, Communispond

No. 18: Keep eyes on the audience even when using PowerPoint to maintain connection. Divvy the venue into sectors and designate one person in each sector to look at directly during the presentation so that the audience feels connected to you. — Albert Goldson, executive director, Indo-Brazilian Associates LLC

No. 19: My must-have toolkit combines a set of eight colored white-board markers and an arsenal of business experience. A quality presenter will take any agenda and any questions throughout a presentation, draw out key concepts in an interactive manner that engages the audience, and finish five minutes early so everyone is happy. Slide decks fail because they are linear, so you can't rearrange the order without looking disorganized. Too many presenters rely on technology to gloss over their flaws in memory or expertise. — Jacob Aldridge, international business coach, JacobAldridge.com

No. 20: Start with "why." You need to ask yourself: Why you are there to speak? What is the point of your speech? What do you hope to achieve? Keep your ego aside and understand that the audience is not there to watch you fail, but to find value in what you have to say. When it isn’t about you, it is much easier to reduce stage fright and convey the information in an interesting and engaging way. Keep the "why" at the center of your presentation and don't let fear take you off track. — Michelle Stansbury, founder and CEO, Little Penguin Public Relations

No. 21: One key is for presenters to determine which presentation style to use. If you're trying to entertain or inform a large audience, use ballroom style. If you're trying to persuade or educate a smaller audience, use conference room style. Two very different styles, but most mistakes occur when presenters confuse the two purposes. — Paul Radich, master trainer, Extreme Presentation

No. 22: The presenter should do an analysis of the audience and determine the best way to present to them. The delivery and the content should be specific and relevant to them. The presenter should know the purpose of the presentation and exactly what the end result is to be. In business, the end result is usually some form of action. — Glenn Schroeder, president, Glenn David Productions

No. 23: Keep it brief. If not, the consequences can be brutal: wasted time, money and resources; decisions made in confusion; and worthy ideas rejected. If you can’t capture people’s attention and deliver your message with brevity, you’ll lose them. Not sure if you’re brief enough? Ask yourself these 6 questions:

  • Can I hear an hour's worth of complex information and summarize it in a two-minute debrief? 
  • Do my PowerPoint presentations contain fewer than 10 slides, with plenty of images and little text? 
  • Can I translate complicated ideas into a simple story, analogy, or anecdote?
  • Can I expertly deliver headlines like a reporter? 
  • Do I speak clearly and concisely—in plain English rather than confusing corporate jargon?
  • Do I know instantly when I’ve "lost" somebody? 

Joe McCormack, founder, The BRIEF Lab

No. 24: Have a high energy level. It's the most important step to take in presentations. This applies to any type of speaking, any size audience and any topic. If you seemed bored or tired, that vibe will translate to your audience. — Ken Boyd, owner, St. Louis Test Preparation

No. 25: When going from topic to topic, good segues are important. Here are some ways to create great segues: Use Bridge Words, such as "furthermore," "meanwhile," "however," "consequently" and "finally." There are also Bridge Phrases, like "in addition to," "a similar example is," "do you remember when I said," "on the other hand," and "in conjunction with." And use Bridge Actions, such as by asking the audience questions, going point-by-point, using visual aid, pausing and physical movements. — Parker Geiger, CEO, CHUVA group

No. 26: Think about your speech rhythm. It's one thing to say don't be monotone, but there is more to it than that. You should be able to clap to your words. Listen to Barack Obama speak to get a feel for this. Good speeches have a rhythm like a song or a poem. — Bill Balderaz, president, Fathom Healthcare

No. 27: One absolute don't in presentations is reading slides. Tell stories and talk to the slides, but by no means read the slides. If you need notes, then keep those separate from the presentation content for use in meetings. — Justin Honaman, managing partner, Teradata

No. 28: You must be able to make the complicated simple. A confused mind NEVER buys, so focus on finding ways to make you the most OBVIOUS choice. — Michael Bremmer, CEO, Telecomquotes.com

No. 29: One concept that I've borrowed from the book Presentation Zen with great success is the 'take away.' What's the one point that you want to drive home? Your presentation should start by declaring a 'big idea' that will be the take away. You should follow with three or four points that support the big idea, and then bring it back around and restate the idea to summarize. — Michael Assad, vice president of sales and marketing, Argenia Systems Inc.

No. 30: Use visuals, not words. A great business presentation that is both effective and engaging must leverage visual storytelling in order to capture your audience's attention. This is proven by The Picture Superiority Effect, which found that concepts are more likely to be remembered if they are presented as pictures, rather than words. In fact, research has proven that visuals are recalled six times better than words alone. If you're using text-only presentations, it's time to rethink your strategy. — Tim Riesterer, co-author, Conversations That Win

No. 31: The biggest mistake presenters make is lack of preparation. They believe they can wing it — they know enough about the topic to just stand up in front of their audience and go. This idea is a total myth! Your audience can tell if you didn't prepare, and they will respect you less for it. — Andi Enns, marketing and public relations consultant, The Ethical Communicator

No. 32: Your audience may be viewing your slides on-the-go, so make sure your deck is mobile-optimized. Use highly contrasting colors, like white text on a black background, to increase readability and help your images stand out. In addition, text-heavy slides aren't well-suited for mobile screens, so look for opportunities to replace words with images. If you're using video presentation software, use a solution that automatically optimizes your presentation for the mobile device accessing it. — Joan Babinski, vice president of corporate marketing, Brainshark

No. 33: Respond to the audience like a DJ. Strive to create an experience. A good DJ pays attention to how people are responding and can adjust the mood in real-time. The same goes for presentations. You can prepare, yes. You can plan, yes. But, once on stage, it's the audience that will define what goes through and what is forgotten. Feeling their interests and responding is key. — Adam Somlai-Fischer, co-founder, Prezi

No. 34: Have different versions of your presentation for different situations (sales, informative, investment, etc.). And make sure to have an email-friendly PDF version you can send out afterwards that an individual can skim and get the gist without you having to be there to narrate each slide. —Jordan Warzecha, co-founder, backstitch

No. 35: People generally make this mistake when making business presentations: they list their achievements, the benefits or features of their product/service/cause or, heaven forbid, they talk about pricing. What should they be presenting? Their story. Stories give us context, and context helps everyone understand. Why did you start your company? How has this product helped other people? What difference am I/are we making? A good business presentation paints a vivid picture and helps you understand why you would want to do business, or continue doing business, with that company. — Christine Clifford, CEO and president, Christine Clifford Enterprises

No. 36: Choose the right presentation medium. For many presenters, PowerPoint is the default, and that's fine. However, PowerPoint gets a lot of criticism as the cause of poor presentations, but it is not the fault of PowerPoint if a presentation isn't good. You should pick a medium based on the audience. How big is it? What about the venue? Will you present live, face-to-face on stage before a big audience, via a web meeting or one-on-one in a coffee shop or conference room? What kind of technology is at your disposal? Consider all these factors as you determine which medium makes the most sense. — Jerry Rackley, chief analyst, Demand Metric Research Corporation

Sara Angeles
Sara Angeles

Sara is a tech writer with a background in business and marketing. After graduating from UC Irvine, she worked as a copywriter and blogger for nonprofit organizations, tech labs and lifestyle companies. She started freelancing in 2009 and joined Business News Daily in 2013. Follow Sara Angeles on Twitter @sara_angeles.