How to Improve Your In-Person Business Presentation Skills
During the pandemic, business presentations went virtual. For skills training, meetings, and conferences, we all grew accustomed to staring at our screens and the tiny images of instructors and co-workers. Attending a business presentation became a mind-numbing exercise as we tried to maintain focus through the distractions of varying business presentation skills and styles, poorly designed PowerPoint slides, slow internet connections, bad presenter lighting, and inconsistent sound quality. Most didn’t like it, but we appreciated that our remote work locations were far better than commuting to the office, especially as the COVID-19 virus ran hard worldwide.
As we return to the office, live conferences, and training classrooms, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that many of the fundamental business presentation skills and good habits we took for granted before the pandemic have fallen off a cliff—both for the presenters and participants.
It’s time to change that…
5 Tips for Better Business Presentation Skills
Here are five suggestions to pull you back from the edge and refresh your live in-person business presentation skills:
- Never Forget You Are the Presentation
It’s not about your notes, your PowerPoint slides, or your handouts. To present is to bring your whole self present in front of others in order to…
- Gather information
- Present findings and recommendations
- Influence action where it’s needed
Those who witness our presentations want our legitimate and apparent expertise. They want to believe that we can be trusted and are just like them—a normal person doing important work. Attention to personal details reinforces that image.
Take full advantage of Brendon Burchard’s book The Millionaire Messenger. And keep his advice in mind: “If you want to stand out, dress well, speak well, and carry yourself well. Project the strength and energy within you that cares and is enthusiastic.”
To improve your business presentation skills, never forget you are the presentation.
- Look for Someone to Mirror, but Be Yourself
Here in two simple steps is one of the great (and free!) accelerators of soft skills improvement.
Step one. Right now, think of someone in your work environment who you feel is a better presenter than you are today. It may be a co-worker, supervisor, or executive. Imagine you are sitting in a conference room as they are presenting.
Why did you pick them?
What are they doing, saying, or not saying that is catching your attention?
How are they standing or sitting?
What do you notice about their voice, body movements, and physical presence?
List three very specific observable details that you can see even when they are not in the room right now. Write them down. Then…
Step two. Make a decision about whether you want to try out a few of their techniques the next time you present. Don’t copy them word for word, step-by-step, or action-by-action. Instead, tailor what you see in this stronger presenter to your own style and comfort zone.
Start small with low-risk actions. Be yourself always, but push your comfort level bit by bit by incorporating a few of the techniques you see in better presenters. Watch your listeners. Ask for feedback from coaches and trusted work friends. And if you believe your own business presentation skills improved by mirroring the techniques of those you admire, perhaps you are on the path to improvement.
- Get Help
The next level of improvement comes from asking for help. Approach that presenter you admire and ask how they prepare, deliver, and obtain feedback. Ask them to coach you. Join Toastmasters or other speaking improvement associations.
The key is to find someone qualified and willing to provide the detailed feedback we all need to improve. When it comes to business presentation skills, please hear this loud and clear: Our own impressions of how we did and the views of others are often very different things. We need the feedback and coaching of others to improve.
- Present as Often as Possible
A dozen years ago, I was fortunate to witness a conference presentation by former NFL player Bo Eason. Bo’s theme was that mastery of any skill comes from our relationship with practice. It’s certainly true of a professional athlete like Bo or any serious musician or stage actor. So, why not for us?
Most business professionals “practice” their presentations silently in their heads. They look through their slides, jot comments in the margins, and maybe even imagine what it will look like from their front-of-room or virtual delivery perspective. But that’s not practicing—at least not how Bo recommended.
Practicing any skill means physically doing it over and over again in exactly the same environment where the actual skill will be utilized. That means we go to a conference room, activate a Zoom or Teams meeting, and practice our presentation out loud in the same conditions where the real event will occur. We speak the opening lines out loud, state the purpose of the presentation, work through each bullet point, slide, and handout, include examples, address expected questions, and close out the program.
All. Out. Loud.
“Repetitio est mater studiorum” is an old-school Latin phrase that certainly applies to presentation skills. Literally translated, it means “repetition is the mother of learning.” Perhaps this old-school advice is still the secret to improvement today.
- Grade Yourself Using the 4-E Report Card
In 1990, as I was taking my first wobbly steps in the business-speaking world, I was fortunate to sit next to a true master at a Saturday morning National Speakers Association chapter meeting. As we shared coffee, he asked if I would like to hear the best advice he ever received when he was just starting out many more years before.
He told me that every single business presentation must contain 3 Es—and if any one of them is missing, the presentation will fall flat.
- There must be Education. The audience or meeting participants must think, “Huh! I didn’t know that!”
- There must be Engagement. There must be relevant visual examples that make the presentation come alive in listeners’ minds.
- And there must be Encouragement. The listener-participants must come away with the feeling that they can and will perform their work better because of the information you presented.
I know—this lesson is 4 Es, not 3. That’s because I added one more during my 33 years and over 3,500 business presentations and training programs that have become my primary work. We also must project Energy.
We all have an energy signature. That’s the lasting impression created when we present to others. Did we pass that energy on to them or drain it away? You and I have experienced both in our meetings.
Keep the 4-E list in mind as you evaluate your own presentations or those made by others. I promise objectively scoring Education, Engagement, Encouragement, and Energy will point you right to where opportunities for business presentation skills improvement lie. Moreover, it will help you in creating a more intentional presence. It works for me to this day. And it will certainly work for you, too.
Ready to Improve Your Business Presentation Skills?
If it’s been a while since you’ve presented in person, even the idea can be intimidating. But the tips provided above can go a long way in helping you improve your business presentation skills. More importantly, they can help you deliver strong, engaging presentations that stick in the listeners’ minds and inspire action.