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Updated Jun 04, 2024

Presentation Skills Every Business Owner Should Have

A strong presentation can take your company to the next level. Learn what's involved.

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Written By: Katharine PaljugBusiness Operations Insider and Senior Writer
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

Table of Contents

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Business presentation skills are critical in the professional world, particularly for entrepreneurs and small business owners seeking new investments or trying to land important client accounts. A robust, exciting presentation can entice and sway your audience, but a weak effort can cost your business time, money and opportunities. 

While many entrepreneurs aren’t necessarily excellent public speakers or even practiced sales professionals, everyone can learn how to improve their presentations by honing specific corporate presentation skills. 

How to give good business presentations

What differentiates a strong presentation from a weak, boring one? According to James Ontra, CEO of Shufflrr, focusing on the following four categories can take your business presentation skills to the next level. 

1. Be strategic about your business presentations.

Ontra recommends that small business owners consider every presentation an essential aspect of their overall marketing plan and strategy — not a discrete set of slides for a single purpose. With this mindset, you must think tactically every time you prepare to present. 

Don’t focus solely on what will happen while you speak. Instead, structure your presentation around what you want to happen afterward. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What do I want people to remember at the end of my presentation?
  2. What next step do I want them to take when we are done?
  3. How can I gain my audience’s trust?

Gaining your audience’s trust is particularly crucial because of the face-to-face nature of in-person presentations. This type of personal interaction can make a profound impression on your audience — much more than a phone call or written communication. 

“If you lose them in your presentation, all your other marketing won’t make a difference,” Ontra warned. “If you don’t gain trust, no matter what else [your audience] read or saw on TV, [they] would discount all of it.”

By thinking strategically, you put yourself in the mindset to create a presentation that supports your other marketing efforts and connects with your audience.

2. Prepare and practice your business presentation.

According to Ontra, nothing is worse than learning the contents of a presentation as you speak.

“You’ve got to take a moment to know the content,” Ontra advised. “If you can’t speak confidently and conversationally, people will know you’re not the expert they’re looking for.” If you fail to demonstrate your expertise, your audience will lose interest before they come to trust your business.

Taking time to prepare and know your material is vital to an engaging presentation, no matter who your audience is or the topic you’re covering. However, knowing your material doesn’t mean memorizing a script. Instead, try to understand what you want to communicate and why. Focus on the following elements:

  • Information you want to cover, such as statistics and sales analytics
  • The flow of the material
  • The goal of the presentation
  • Questions that your audience may ask

Ontra suggests familiarizing yourself with your content well enough to continue without using any technology or visual aids you prepared. “If you were one-on-one in the elevator without a slide,” Ontra explained, “how would you explain that slide to a person?” You should be able to answer that question for every portion of your presentation. 

Preparation will help you develop confidence, eliminate fillers and awkward silences and nail down your timing. Consider the following structure: 

  1. First, practice on your own, but don’t memorize your presentation; memorization will make your delivery sound rote. 
  2. Next, video yourself and watch the recording. 
  3. Finally, practice with a live audience — a trusted colleague or family member — to refine your delivery.
  4. Capture your business presentation audience’s attention.

The first few moments of a presentation are critical — you must capture your audience’s attention and convince them to listen to the rest of your presentation. Ontra recommends a simple tactic: Start your presentation with a small story or anecdote about your business.

“Use something that captures curiosity,” Ontra suggested. If you can get them to imagine something — the dripping of a leaky pipe or the sick feeling in your stomach when you lose your wallet — it will help your audience relate to what you are talking about instantly.

If you aren't sure how to tell a story about your subject matter, Google "surprising statistics" plus the name of your industry. You'll likely find helpful material.

4. Speak candidly during your business presentation.

Even with your audience’s attention, it can be intimidating to speak persuasively and confidently, especially if you’re uncomfortable with public speaking.

To overcome your anxiety, Ontra suggests selecting one audience member to speak to. Never choose someone who intimidates you. Instead, “pick a friendly face in the crowd and speak to them,” Ontra recommended. “Then everyone will hear that same confident message.”

By speaking as if you were talking to a friend, your presentation will sound conversational and candid, not memorized and rehearsed.

But how do you sound conversational when delivering a prepared presentation? Ontra says you shouldn’t read what’s written on your slides. Instead, visualize your slides. “Put an image in your mind for each one,” Ontra advised. “Something that cues you so you can talk about it, not something that cues you off so you say words that have been memorized.”

If you become nervous or lose your place, Ontra suggests remembering that all you’re doing is telling a story. “Presentations are corporate storytelling,” Ontra noted. “If you can tell the story of your company with a short message and have it reinforced with a visual slide, you’re in.”

Did You Know?Did you know
PowerPoint isn't the only presentation platform available. Other top presentation tools include Visme, Haiku Deck, Pitcherific and Canva.

What makes for a good presentation?

A presentation has three parts: what you say, your body language and facial expressions and your visual aids. For a truly outstanding presentation, all three must be top-notch.

Verbal presentation

Your verbal presentation consists of what you say and how you say it. Here are some tips for a successful verbal presentation:

  • Consider your audience: Before beginning, consider what your audience already knows and what they want to learn. If speaking to novices, cover the basics in a longer introduction so they aren’t lost. For a more experienced audience, a sentence or two on the basics is fine before jumping into higher-level information. Include at least one surprising statistic or fact to keep their attention and tell stories to illustrate your points.
  • Speak loudly and clearly: Few things are more frustrating than sitting through a presentation and being unable to hear the speaker. If you have a microphone, get to the venue early to do a mic check. Modulate your volume so it’s not too loud or too soft. Practice holding handheld mics at different distances from your mouth until you get the best volume — and keep it there throughout your presentation so your words are audible.
  • Project your voice: If you don’t have a microphone, you must project your voice to be heard. Breathe from your diaphragm and speak louder than you usually would. Start your presentation by asking audience members sitting in the back if they can hear you and make adjustments as needed. 
  • Enunciate properly: When talking, enunciate your words to ensure you’re understood. End each sentence with a downward pitch to portray confidence, not an escalating pitch, as if you were asking a question. Speak with enthusiasm and passion, not in a monotone.
  • Speak at a controlled pace: Your presentation should be well-timed from your practice sessions to fit your time allowance. Even if you have limited time — if you’re giving an elevator pitch, for example — don’t talk fast. You’ll seem nervous and not in control of the material. In a sales presentation, talking too fast can also make you sound like a high-pressure salesperson. Additionally, a fast pace can make it hard for your audience to grasp what you’re saying.
After an important point or statement, pause for emphasis and let the information sink in.

Body language

Just as body language mistakes during an interview can cost you a job, poor body language during a presentation can lose your audience. Your facial expressions and bodily stance communicate significant information about your confidence level and emotional state. Here are some presentation body language tips: 

  • Before you go on, strike a power pose: Before going on, take a moment to strike a power pose to get psyched up. For example, channel one of Superman’s or Wonder Woman’s stances to boost your confidence.
  • Greet the emcee or host: If someone introduces you, stride purposefully to them, look them in the eye and shake their hand while thanking them. 
  • Acknowledge the audience: After being introduced, turn to your audience and focus on different parts of the room while smiling. Make eye contact with people as you speak.
  • Maintain good posture: Stand up straight with your shoulders back and keep your arms by your side or slightly in front of you when gesturing. 
  • Choose the right setup for your needs: Some people like to move around while talking while others prefer to stand mostly in one place. A wireless microphone allows you to use more hand gestures, so it works best if you like to gesticulate. Otherwise, you could end up moving the mic away from your mouth or, even worse, bumping it and causing feedback.
  • Smile, smile, smile: Smile occasionally throughout the presentation. This allows the audience to bond with you and shows you’re relaxed and confident, even if you aren’t. The simple act of smiling can make you feel more self-assured, so it’s a win-win.

Visual aids

Visual aids are a common presentation tool. Here are some tips for using visual aids in your presentations:

  • Don’t use visuals as the primary information source: Many presentations use visual tools, such as a PowerPoint slideshow that includes images and key facts. Visual aids give the audience something else to look at and reinforce the presentation’s information. However, they shouldn’t be the primary information source.
  • Use limited text: If you’re using slides, your text should be brief. A slide should not include more than three sentences or bullet points. 
  • Include high-quality images: Most, if not all, slides should include striking images. Graphs can illustrate your points and other images can support the talk’s theme. To ensure consistency in your presentation, include elements of your visual brand, such as your logo and company images. 
  • Consider all audience members: The slide text should be large enough that people in the back of the room can read it easily — no smaller than 32-point font. 
  • Work with a professional: If you lack confidence in your presentation design skills, ask a colleague or a freelancer for help.
  • Use a remote: Advance each slide manually with a remote. This will give you time to discuss each slide and answer questions as needed. In contrast, tools like auto-playing PowerPoint presentations can feel rushed. 
Record and upload your PowerPoint presentation to YouTube to share it with customers, colleagues and others interested in the topic.

Tips for in-person business presentations

Focus on the following best practices when giving an in-person business presentation: 

  • Address different parts of the room: Walk to both sides of the stage and make eye contact with someone in every part of the room. This will make everybody in the audience feel like you are speaking directly to them.
  • Avoid filler words: Don’t use words like “um,” “like” and “you know.” If you lose your train of thought, take a breath and get back on track.
  • Avoid negative words: Avoid negative words, such as “don’t.” Negative words tend to communicate the opposite of what you want to say. Instead, speak positively. For example, replace “don’t forget” with “remember.” Instead of saying, “Don’t get bogged down in minutia,” say, “Focus on the big picture.”
  • Arrive at the venue early to organize equipment: Arrive ahead of time to check in, get fitted for a microphone, hook up your laptop to the projector and test your internet connection for a smooth presentation. If you’re setting up a presentation using an iPhone or iPad, ensure you know how to connect your device to the venue’s projector or smart TV. 
  • Gauge your audience’s reaction: During the presentation, does the audience look engaged or bored? If they look bored, use humor to reengage them or ask a question to generate instant engagement.

Tips for virtual business presentations

Virtual presentations can be challenging because there is a greater propensity for your audience members’ attention to wander. Follow these tips to optimize your results:

  • Ensure you’re well-lit: Avoid backlighting, which will throw you into shadow. If you have a window behind you, close the blinds. The light should come from in front of you. Eyeglass wearers should adjust the angle of their light source to reduce glare. Many virtual presenters use ring lights for optimal lighting.
  • Be mindful of your background: Audience members can see behind you, so opt for a clean and uncluttered area. If you present from home, ensure nothing personal or potentially embarrassing sits in the background. If you can’t control your environment, choose a video conferencing service that allows virtual backgrounds, such as Zoom.
  • Get comfortable with the technology: Do several run-throughs with the software to familiarize yourself with the controls and capabilities. For example, you should know how to mute yourself or others and acknowledge audience questions.
  • Ensure all tech works correctly: Well before the presentation, test your camera, microphone and internet connection to prevent glitches. Adjust your distance from the camera so your head and shoulders take up most of the frame.
  • Look at the webcam: During an in-person presentation, typically you’d look at the audience. However, this approach will backfire in a virtual presentation. Instead, pay attention to the camera to help every participant feel like you’re looking directly at them.
  • Interact with the audience: Every 10 minutes or so, interact with the audience by asking a question and having them answer in the chat window. Next, mention and comment on some answers, acknowledging individuals by name.
  • Recruit an assistant: If possible, have someone else be your admin. Keep a copy of the presentation for yourself and forward the slides to the appointed individual in case a technical issue arises. Your assistant can also monitor the chat for anything noteworthy to comment on.
Communication tools that work well for virtual presentations include Cisco's Webex, ClickMeeting, Fuze and TeamViewer.

Crushing your presentation

Many entrepreneurs and small business owners feel stressed about giving presentations. While some are natural-born public speakers, others struggle. However, honing corporate presentation skills can boost your confidence and help you convey your ideas with aplomb, whether you’re pitching business investors or wooing a new client.

From preparing and practicing in advance to speaking candidly about your experiences and knowledge, business presentation best practices can elevate your speaking skills and impact your audience — and your bottom line.

Sammi Caramela contributed to this article. 

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Written By: Katharine PaljugBusiness Operations Insider and Senior Writer
Katharine Paljug has spent more than 10 years advising small businesses on the digital marketing strategies required to gain exposure, convert leads and strengthen brands. She has partnered with a number of companies on social media management and consulting, website design and maintenance, and content optimization. Paljug's goal is to improve the online presence of each business she serves through cost-effective methods that increase profitability. With a strong understanding of small business finance, Paljug has also contributed to financial outlets like The Balance, First Quarter Finance and The Penny Hoarder. Her guidance has also been featured in HuffPost, and YFS Magazine.
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