Seven steps to a powerful presentation

By Steve Campion, Toastmasters International

Make an impact and keep your audience engaged when you deliver your next business presentation. Here’s how:

  1. The audience

Think about your audience, why they are there, the size of the group and what they may already know about the topic.  Build a “persona” to help you – give your persona a name and think about what they’re like, why they’re here, their hopes and fears and how you might solve their problem.

  1. The message

Stick to just one message.  It could be to solve their problem by buying your product, investing in your project or changing a policy.  As Stephen Covey says in The 7 habits of highly effective people; “begin with the end in mind”. If you’re not sure what the audience should think, feel and believe by the end of your presentation, then grab a few PostIt notes and start doodling; turn “buy my market research service” into “hear how XYZ improved results by delighting their customers”.  Remember to focus on the benefit to the audience.

  1. The planning

Step away from the keyboard…. instead use PostIt notes to plan out the key points, then add a story or anecdote for each.  Rather than saying that your taxi company has more drivers than anyone else, share a story of how a client had been able to get to the airport after a last-minute flight change.  Although most business presentations need to contain facts and figures, it’s the stories and emotional connection that we remember.

If you’re thinking of adding charts and graphs – ask yourself; “will this chart make it easier for THIS audience to understand THIS message?”.  If not, try something different.  If you do need to provide the detailed data, then make it available through a handout or a follow-up email.

  1. The images

Use your own photos, or search for free-to-use ones under the “Creative Commons”. Alternatively use a low-cost photo library – there are plenty around.  Photos, quotes and videos from your current customers can help.  However, avoid using a video at the start of your presentation – it’s a great way to send the audience to sleep.  If you are presenting at an event, make sure that your first and last slides have your name and contact details, and the event hashtag if there is one.

Consider your use of text carefully; use it sparingly and use a large, clear font.  Remember, your audience can’t read and listen to you at the same time, so always pause after revealing something on the screen. 

  1. The rehearsal

Although you’re not aiming for perfect, practice will make you better.  Rehearse what you’re going to say and how you’re going to use your slides. Go back to your persona(s) and imagine their reaction as you make each point.  Make any notes that you need, but don’t read to the audience.  The rehearsal process builds confidence and allows you to practise your timing.  If you’ve been given 20 minutes to present, then don’t prepare 60 minutes.

  1. The equipment

Check what equipment you’ll need and pay attention to connectors for screens and projectors.  Bring spares of everything including a power extension cable.  Have your presentation on a USB stick – just in case.  Remember; things can change at the last minute, so be prepared to adapt. Arrive early so that you can test that everything is working.

  1. The delivery

Compose your thoughts and smile.  Then enjoy the experience of delivering your powerful presentation to an audience that will be enthralled, delighted and convinced by your message.

Whether it’s a sales pitch to a client or an update in a team huddle, the most important thing is to focus on the needs of the audience and make sure your message is useful to them.  By doing that you’ll deliver a powerful presentation and produce an experience that is enjoyable for both you and your audience.

Steve Campion is from Toastmasters International a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations.