When presentation software company Shufflrr conducted a survey of how 1,500 U.S.-based professionals behaved during business presentations, the results were grim.
One in 25 people reported walking out on a presentation that lasted too long. Another 25 percent of people admitted to having been so uninterested in the material that they had fallen asleep. And one out of every 12 people had been so unengaged by a business presentation that they spent time browsing a dating app.
Poor presentation skills are costing businesses time, money and opportunities. For entrepreneurs and small business owners who rely on presentations to secure new investments or land big client accounts, a bad presentation can be the difference between success and failure.
Strong presentation skills, on the other hand, help a business stand out from the competition, connect with new clients and make an impression on industry leaders.
What differentiates a strong presentation from a boring one? According to James Ontra, CEO of Shufflrr, it comes down to these four things.
1. Be strategic
Ontra recommends thinking about every presentation not as a discrete set of slides, but as a part of your overall marketing efforts. This means that every time you prepare a presentation, you should think strategically.
Don't focus solely on what will happen while you are speaking. Instead, structure your presentation around what you want to happen afterwards. Ask yourself:
- What do I want people to remember at the end of my presentation?
- What next step do I want them to take when we are done?
- How can I gain my audience's trust?
That last one is particularly important, because the face-to-face interaction of a presentation often makes more of an impression than any other form of communication.
"If you lose them in your presentation, all your other marketing won't make a difference," Ontra said. "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. Know your material
According to Ontra, there is nothing worse than learning the contents of a presentation as you speak.
"You've got to take a moment to know the content," Ontra said. "If you can't speak confidently and conversationally, people will know you're not the expert they're looking for." And if you fail to demonstrate your expertise, your audience is going to lose interest before they come to trust your business.
Taking time to prepare and know your material is key to an engaging presentation, no matter who you are speaking to or what topic you are covering.
Knowing your material doesn't mean memorizing a script. Rather, understand what you are trying to communicate and why, including:
- Information you want to cover, including any statistics
- The flow of the material
- The goals of the presentation
- Any questions that your audience may ask
Ontra suggests familiarizing yourself with your content such that you can carry on without any of the technology or visual aids that you prepared.
"If you were one-on-one in the elevator without a slide," he said, "how would you explain that slide to a person?"
You should be able to answer that question for every portion of your presentation.
3. Capture attention
The first few moments of a presentation are critical, Ontra said. This is when you have to capture your audience's attention and convince them to listen to the rest of your presentation.
Ontra recommends using a simple tactic: Start your presentation with a small story or anecdote about your business, then relate that anecdote back to your audience.
"Use something that captures curiosity," he said, or something surprising. 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 instantly help your audience relate to what you are talking about.
If you aren't sure where to start, Google "surprising statistics" plus the name of your industry. According to Ontra, you'll always find something useful.
4. Speak candidly
Once you have your audience's attention, it can be intimidating to speak persuasively and confidently, especially if you are not comfortable with public speaking.
To overcome your anxiety, Ontra suggests picking one person in the audience to speak to. Never choose the person who intimidates you the most. Instead, "pick a friendly face in the crowd and speak to them," he said. "Then everyone will hear that same confident message."
By speaking as if you were talking to a friend, you presentation will naturally sound conversational and candid, rather than memorized and rehearsed.
How do you sound conversational when delivering a presentation that you've prepared extensively for? Don't read what's written on your slides. Instead, Ontra said, "visualize your slides. Put an image in your mind for each one ... 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 suggested remembering that all you are doing is telling a story. "Presentations are corporate storytelling. If you can tell the story of your company with a short message and have it reinforced with a visual slide, you're in."