5 steps to the perfect business presentation
We’ve all been struck with fear when asked to deliver a presentation on business performance or the latest product launch, but you can ease the pain with these five easy steps from The Worklife Company founder Lynne Copp.Matt Scott
The dreaded business presentation. Even the mere mention of having to stand up and deliver a polished presentation to colleagues with the obligatory accompanying PowerPoint slides is enough to instil fear.
In fact, research has found people are more fearful of public speaking than they are of spiders – and even death (see left).
But budding orators can take solace from the fact that the onset of sweaty palms, heart palpitations and a churning stomach are all the result of simple biology.
And, more reassuringly, there are five simple steps you can take to make sure you don’t end up dying on stage next time you have to present the company’s quarterly financials.
Fight Or Flight; Eat Or Be Eaten
Speaking on a recent CMI and Citrix GoToMeeting webinar, Lynne Copp, founder of The Worklife Company, said that the fear of public speaking is part of the natural survival instinct of ‘fight or flight’ that has helped ensure human survival through millennia.
“Fear begins in the basic reptilian part of the brain, which is the ‘fight or flight’ response,” she said. “Our first response is we freeze, and then we go into the fight/flight response.
“Your brain prepares you for fight or flight; it releases adrenaline that is pumped to all your muscle systems – that is the fuel that allows you to run away from the sabre-toothed tiger or fight it. The other things that happen are very physiological. The brain says we need to keep this person cool, so you start to sweat. It also makes you focus, so your eyes focus on the fear – that is why you might stare at one person in the audience just a little bit too long.”
But Copp has devised a five-step process for creating and delivering presentations that minimises the effects of these atavistic fears and can help ensure your presentation hits the mark with your audience.
1. Plan and prepare
Preparation is key to a successful presentation, and Copp is an advocate of the ‘4x1 rule’: for every hour of presenting you do, you should do four hours of preparation. This means that you will know your presentation inside out and won’t get lost or dry up mid-sentence.
In addition to understanding the content of your presentation and the details of your topic, it is equally important to understand your audience.
“Think about what they already know,” Copp said. “Sometimes people might already be informed about things. Think about what you want them to walk out the door doing differently.”
This allows you to tailor your style and content to the needs of the people you will be presenting to, ensuring you hit the right note when it comes to the final delivery.
Copp also emphasised that preparation runs right up until the moment you stand up to speak, and that arriving early at the venue to settle nerves and check everything is in order is vital.
“Just before I go on to speak I spend a bit of time focussing on relaxing those parts of me that are related to fight/flight,” she said. “The first thing I do is breathe deeply – three big breaths to the count of four in and the count of four out will begin to dissipate some of that adrenaline that is in your system.
“The other thing to do is the walking breathing technique, you walk into the room at a pace that is much faster or determined than your normal walking pace. That also helps to release some of the adrenaline.”
2. Build immediate rapport
An opening line full of impact is the first step to building a rapport with your audience as it sets the tone for the rest of your presentation. When public speaking, Copp uses a tried and tested opener that ensures she grabs the attention of her audience.
“My opening line when I’m public speaking is: ‘There are more people who die on a Monday than any other day of the week - fact’,” she said. “Then I go into why that is the case – I talk about the structure of organisations; why organisations are not working and why leadership practices are out of date.”
Once you have established this initial rapport, it can then be used to build empathy with the audience so they buy in to the meaning and the purpose of the presentation, helping the audience to concentrate and the presenter to hit home with their message or call to action.
3. Deliver the message
So you’ve grabbed their attention with an outstanding opening line and you have a thoroughly prepared presentation just dying to be set free. Now its time to deliver the message.
The first thing Copp recommends you do is throw away those notes and prompt cards and rely on the preparation you have put in to ensure you get through your presentation unscathed.
Equally important to the delivery of a successful presentation is to say your words with confidence. Copp told viewers of the webinar that your confidence level should be anchored at a level of four out of five, where a confidence level of three represents a chat with friends in a comfortable social situation.
Copp said that this ensures you earn the respect of the audience without coming across as cocky or over-confident.
There is an unwritten rule of presenting that you should tell your audience what you are going to tell them (introduction), tell them, and then tell them what you told them (conclusion or summary).
And in this summary is where Copp says you should remind and re-emphasise the main parts of your presentation and clarify the central call to action.
This ensures the audience is clear of the message you have delivered and goes away ready to enact the changes you have recommended or reflect on the new information you have provided.
To get the most out of your presentations it is essential to learn and grow from previous experiences. Key to this is to review presentations once they have been delivered and actively seek feedback from delegates.
Copp said that this means each presentation you give will be better than your last and you can ensure that your message sticks in the minds of your audience long after you have reached your final PowerPoint slide.
Lynn Copp is founder of The Worklife Company and is an expert in public speaking, organisational development, change and leadership and supporting clients to create great places to work that are relevant to today's world.