The most powerful place in any room is at the front, on the platform. What you do when you get there will have a dramatic impact on your business – for good or for bad.
Do a good job, and win respect, admiration, and new business. Do poorly, and you’ll wish you had stayed home.
When you have the opportunity to do a presentation or give a speech, will you seize it, or head for the hills? If you’ve got expertise to share, speaking to an audience can bring tremendous rewards.
With running your own business, you’ve got a set of specialist skills that are sought after. Moreover, you know your niche inside and out!
But are you recognised as an expert? Being able to demonstrate your expertise opens a world of rewards. For a business owner, speaking to an interested audience is a tremendous opportunity for both exposure and growth.
The good news is, being recognised as the expert you are is entirely within your control. It comes down to how you establish your authority. The single best way to leverage your knowledge is to create and deliver a compelling presentation that you can share with customers, with industry peers, at conferences etc.
You may have spent years developing an understanding of your industry. Believe it or not, you can create a terrific presentation and acquire the skills to present it in just weeks.
Getting your presentation content ready
For most businesspeople, research is the key to a successful presentation. But with your already extensive knowledge of your business, the most difficult part is behind you. You simply need to get what you already know out of your head and into your presentation.
Start by choosing your topic. For maximum appeal, identify a narrow slice of your business.
With a broad knowledge of your practice area, it may be difficult to narrow down, from all the possible topics, one that will have widest appeal. By going deep on a slice of your area, and avoiding generalities, you’ll be forced to be specific.
What do people ask you about? What are you known for? Imagine speaking to a group of your peers, or customers. What are people intrigued by? What do they speculate about? Listen carefully to the conversations at conferences and meetings, and take your cue from these.
If you’ve got an intriguing topic, you’ll have an advantage. An audience that is intrigued by your topic is a receptive one. That’s a great start, particularly for a novice speaker.
What do you want to communicate?
Once you’ve selected your topic and narrowed down your niche, it’s time to decide what it is you want to communicate.
Think about the outcome. As Dr Stephen Covey advises in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “start with the end in mind”. What do you want your audience to know when you finish? What would be most helpful to them? Use that to guide your decision.
Next, identify three main points you would like to make about this topic. Sketch these out on a piece of paper. If it’s your style, then create a mind map.
Now note down three or more interesting or important aspects of each of your three main points. Is there a story you can tell to illustrate your point? People love stories. They bring your examples to life.
If you are using figures or statistics, see if you can bring these to life as well. Think about translating numbers into analogies your audience can relate to. This will help reduce barriers to understanding, and increase interest.
Avoid too much information
Depending on the amount of time you have to speak, you can add more layers of examples. But avoid trying to communicate too much information. Most people have a very short attention span. If you’re talking on a technical subject, you will lose most of your audience’s attention in a few minutes.
Speaking of “technical”, at this stage it’s also important not to add too much specialist terminology to your material. Avoid jargon. As soon as you use a term your audience doesn’t know, they’ll switch off. You may not get them back.
With jargon out of the way, another element to keep your audience engaged is to be succinct. Don’t go into more detail than you need to to make a point or illustrate an example. Your audience will thank you!
Use your 3 main points for structure
Now, write down your presentation. Structure it into the three main points you wish to make. Add a beginning, and a conclusion.
One hint: it’s helpful to signal your closing. By saying, “And in conclusion. . . “ you signal to your audience that are wrapping up. They’ll reward you with renewed attention.
And if you really want to “wow” your audience, don’t use slides at all. Instead, be the speaker who got up there and simply spoke. No slides, no technology, and no distractions! Without any audio-visual backup, you can make the biggest impression.
It’s all down to your delivery.
Getting your delivery on point
To showcase your expertise and truly stand out, you’ll need more than great content and a well structure presentation: You need to delivery so that you and what you have to say are memorable.
While you may never be truly comfortable speaking to a group, there are ways to become less anxious.
The most important part of being comfortable on stage, is to be prepared. You need to know your material inside and out and the only option is to practise your presentation.
Start by simply reading it aloud. Are there parts that are too wordy?
A common mistake inexperienced speakers make is to use sentences that are too long. These can create mechanical problems that may make you think you are anxious.
Did you know that speaking sentences that are too long can leave you breathless – literally? Shorten them and you’ll eliminate the risk of needless strain.
Even though you’ll be the only one speaking, aim for a style that is conversational. Imagine you are speaking to friends or colleagues. How would you speak to them? This will help you adopt an informal approach. Keep your sentences short.
Knowing your audience is helpful. It enables you to use language they will understand, and even make a joke or two.
If I’m doing an important presentation, I like to record it and listen to it. I will play it back while I am driving, and speak along to the recording.
As I get better at reciting it, I will make a fresh recording. This gives more accurate inflection, and I will have a better handle on where to put the emphasis in each sentence.
When the day arrives
When it comes time to deliver your presentation, remember why you are there in the first place. You want to establish your authority, by sharing your expertise. You’ll want to dress like an expert, too. This means dressing more formally than your audience will.
To avoid any wardrobe disasters, wear a dress or a suit (if you’re a woman) and a suit (if you’re a man). Resist the urge to wear jeans and a t-shirt. Many high-profile speakers have mastered the “casual look” on stage, but you are not there. . . yet.
For a beginner speaker, nothing beats the confidence that comes from knowing you look professional. And there’s no point not taking every advantage.
Be sure to drink plenty of water. Speaking is a dehydrating activity. Drink more water than you think you need, and avoid eating too much, or having a heavy or starchy meal. You don’t want to start yawning just before you step onto that stage.
When you walk onto the stage, give them a big smile. It will relax you. Best of all, it will relax your audience!
Now, deliver your presentation with aplomb, and reap the rewards. Consider videoing your speech so you can review it later. You’ll be able to assess your presentation on screen in a way you’re simply not able to any other way. Make a note of what you did well, and areas you’d like to improve.
Congratulations! Now that you’ve overcome your reluctance to give presentations you can look for opportunities to present it again (and again!). Each time you do, your confidence will grow. And so will your business and your reputation!
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Laura Bruce of Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. With 300+ clubs and 7,500 members in the UK and Ireland, find your local club at Toastmasters.org
More help on perfecting presentations, pitches and talks
You can find lots more tips to help you deliver winning presentations, pitches and and talks in these other ByteStart guides;
- Harness the “Power of Three” to nail your pitch
- How to deliver ‘rocking’ presentations and pitches that will captivate your audience
- The 3 Golden Principles of public speaking
- Using the power of your body language to deliver show-stopping speeches and presentations
- Perfecting your pitch: 10 Principles for entrepreneurs
More help on running a business
ByteStart is packed with help and tips on all aspects of running your business. Check out some of our most popular guides;
Funding your business
- How to maximise your chances of securing a small business loan
- A Guide to ‘Alternative Finance’ – the new funding options for startups and small businesses
- What to do when the bank says “NO”
- 6 Things you need to know before launching a crowdfunding campaign for your business
- Invoice Finance – What is it and how can it help my business?
- The way to get paid – 12-Step Action Plan to stop customers from paying you late
- Revolving credit facility – The short term funding solution every small business owner should know about
- 10 Late payment excuses used by customers – and how to deal with them
- How NOT to Network – 7 Business networking mistakes to avoid
- How to get more out of your networking than passable plonk canapés
- The “Magic 10” Tips on networking – how the experts build great networks
- 5 networking secrets to help you make the most out of networking events