How to Improve Business Presentation Skills
January 22, 2021
“How do you improve business presentation skills?”
We are often asked for tips on improving business presentation skills. To complement our various free presentation and pitching guides and presentation training courses we run, here is some practical advice to help you build effective presentation skills.
If you want really good business presentation skills, you probably need to re-think how you prepare your presentations.
If you, like most people, switch to PowerPoint as soon as you hear the word ‘presentation’, then we have something to show you. This solid advice is from our presentation coaches who have been coaching business leaders to improve presentation skills for over 15 years.
We suggest you completely re-engineer how you plan your business presentations.
First, forget PowerPoint. Yes, that’s right, don’t even think about PowerPoint. The best presentations start with a lot of thinking and a blank sheet of paper.
Instead, when planning your business presentation, before you open PowerPoint and before you write anything, do these four things:
1. Work out exactly who your audience is
For example, it it really everyone in the room, or just those 5 people who matter? The more you know about your audience the better your can target your presentation so it speaks directly to them. That’s how you improve presentation skills.
2. Be clear on what you want to achieve with your presentation
For example, are you really going to sell the idea at this stage, or do you just want a second meeting? Do you want to update the team on last month’s performance or do you want to reassure senior management that everything is under control. If you are absolutely clear on your objective, you are more likely to achieve it. One of the biggest problems is that too many people use their business presentation as a data dump. Instead, you should aim to achieve a clear goal.
3. Plan a Hook
How will you grab attention early on? A great start to a presentation is more likely to show that the whole presentation will be good. For example: a fact, a quotation, a story are all good ways to start a presentation. Learn some of the tried and tested ways to start your business presentation with impact.
4. Identify Your Main Message
What’s the one thing that will get remembered from your talk? How would you like others to talk about your presentation? That is your Main Message. Finding your Main Message is probably the hardest part of planning a great presentation. And it’s a powerful business presentation skill to master.
For example, “Quarterly update” is not a main message. “This quarter’s sales are slightly behind target” is a message.
When you know your Main Message and you know what you want to achieve, you’ll find it much easier to be a powerful presenter.
5. Prepare an Executive Summary Early
The one thing that separates great business presenters from average presenters is experience and practise. Presenting is a skill that you will get better at over time. It’s a learned skill. One way to get better quickly is to summarise what you want to say before you write anything. Imagine someone asking you “I can’t make it to your presentation, could you please summarise it in 30 seconds.” If you can do this then you have planned your presentation well. This clear thinking will make it much easier to prepare a compelling business presentation.
In fact, if you do a good job in planning, you may never use PowerPoint at all, and no longer waste time editing your slide deck. This approach to preparing a presentation is used in our training. In this way our clients create and deliver highly impressive and high impact presentations fast and efficiently.
How can you improve your business presentation skills? How much would a 10% improvement across your company be worth?
You can learn a lot by reviewing how other people present their business presentations.
We analyse great speakers to help our clients be more effective when pitching or presenting. That’s why clients such as Equinor, Permira and eon use Benjamin Ball Associates for their business presentation skills training.
Three Persuasive Videos – Better Business Presentations
Despite huge differences in the following three videos, you will see that all three speakers:
- Make a connection with the audience in the first 15 seconds
- Explain complex ideas clearly and simply
- Look and sound confident
They do this using different techniques. For example, as you watch, note how they:
- Tell personal stories
- Use short sentences
- Incorporate many pauses
- Talk directly to the audience
- Ask questions
- Use rhetorical techniques such as contrasts and triplets
Each talk has a different purpose. But each works well for similar reasons. You too can learn how to use these persuasive techniques for better business presentations.
Sheryl Sandberg – Why we have too few women leaders
Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook. She gives a highly personal and compelling talk explaining why few women get to the top. She has practical advice about how to change this.
Lt Tim Collins – Eve of battle talk
How do you get your men fired up to risk their lives and still remain disciplined under pressure? This re-enactment by Kenneth Branagh of a reported off-the-cuff speech is a perfect example.
CFO of Walmart – annual shareholders meeting
Not every firm has an annual shareholders meeting as big as this. Chief Financial Officer Charles Holley of Walmart shows how you can speak to analysts, shareholders and employees and keep them all engaged.
How to improve business presentation skills – Tips from the experts
1. “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Peter F Drucker
What this means is that sometimes you should not be preparing a presentation. For example, should you write a memo, just have a chat, or outline your thinking without PowerPoint. Remember, leaders rarely use PowerPoint.
2. “If you can’t write your idea on the back of my calling card, you don’t have a clear idea.” David Belasco
What this means is that any great presentation has just one big idea behind it. That is the hard bit about preparing a presentation.
3. “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” Charles Mingus
What this means is that your job as a presenter is to make it easy for your audience. The easier your presentation is to understand, the better you are as a presenter.
4. “For an author to write as he speaks is just as reprehensible as the opposite fault, to speak as he writes; for this gives a pedantic effect to what he says, and at the same time makes him hardly intelligible.” Arthur Schopenhauer
What this means is that spoken language and written language are completely different. To present well you need to learn about powerful spoken language. Read more here. Similarly, don’t confuse written document and visual aids. They are as different as a book and a film.
5. “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” Thomas Jefferson
What this means is that presentations are made in the edit and the practice. One of the greatest mistakes you can make is to put too much into your presentation. Instead say less, and say it better.
6. “Out of intense complexities intense simplicities emerge. Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words when short are best of all.” Winston Churchill
See the link above on Power Language. The language of leadership is clear and simple.
7. “The shorter and the plainer the better.” Beatrix Potter
You can achieve much more with a short presentation than a long one. A great planning tool is to summarise your talk in just one minute. If it works well in one minute it will work well as a longer presentation. Keep hammering away at your one minute version of your presentation until it is tight and compelling.
8. “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” Mark Twain
The Pause. The presentation master’s true friend. You should pause every 5-12 words. You’ll sound more authoritative. Learn how to pause in your presentations.
9. “Don’t be nervous. Do just as I do. Whenever I get up to speak, I always make a point of taking a good look around the audience. Then I say to myself, ‘What a lot of silly fools.’ And then I always feel better.” Winston Churchill
Nerves are natural. The trick is to hide any tells. We have a great toolbox of tricks to transform nervous presenters into compelling communicators.
10. “The more I practise the luckier I get.” Gary Player
Great presenters practise, a lot. The more you practise, the better you will become.
How to improve your business presentation skills quickly
If you want to learn more about acquiring brilliant business presentation skills, speak to us.
We have been coaching presenters for the last 15 years, transforming them into great confident speakers.
How to make a stand out business presentation
Learn how to improve your business presentation skills.
About Benjamin Ball Associates – Business Presentation Skills Coaching
At Benjamin Ball Associates, we help clients to communicate better.
Over 15+ years the award-winning BBA team has coached thousands of senior executives globally to present themselves brilliantly. You get access to a transformational toolbox of techniques to help you become a clear, confident communicator.
We’ll help you create a powerful first impression that hooks and engages your audience immediately, and we’ll transform you to deliver clearly, confidently and with impact.
Speak to Louise on +44 20 7018 0922 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more and discuss your upcoming speech or presentation.
Contact us for a chat about how we can help you with your presenting.
What leaders say about Benjamin Ball Associates
"Essential if you are going to be a spokesperson for your business"
Senior Analyst, Sloane Robinson
"Being an effective communicator is essential to get your stock ideas across. This course is exactly what's needed to help you do just that!"
CEO, Blast! Films
“Our investment in the coaching has paid for itself many times over.”
Corporate Finance House
“You address 95% of the issues in a quarter of the time of your competitor.”
“Good insight and a great toolbox to improve on my presentations and delivery of messages to not only boards, analysts and shareholders but to all audiences”
“We had a good story to tell, but you helped us deliver it more coherently and more positively.”
CEO, IPSO Ventures
“Ben did a great job on our presentation. He transformed an ordinary set of slides into a great presentation with a clear message. Would definitely use him again and recommend him highly.”
“Moved our presentation into a different league and undoubtedly improved the outcome and offer we received.”
Head of IR, Equinox
“A fantastic job reviewing and transforming our marketing material and helping us get our message across with clarity to potential investors.”