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Delivering Business Presentations
Why It Matters: Developing and Delivering Business Presentations
It’s mid-May; a major retail management conference is less than one month away. Your manager has been recruited as a speaker in the Redesigning Retail track at the annual
Sustainable Brands conference. She’s asked you to assemble background information and tune in to relevant media and social media feeds. You’re scheduled to meet with her
next week to discuss your findings and an approach to her topic: “To-the-Bank Trends: How Green is Driving Retail Dollars.”
Figure 1. Career moments happen outside of our comfort zone
On Monday morning, your hear your manager shattered her leg in a rock-climbing accident over the weekend, and she will be out of commission for three months. When she calls
you later that week, you’re taut with anticipation—this is your opportunity to step up and demonstrate you have what it takes to be a manager. You’re ready! In fact, you’ve been
ready. But what you didn’t realize is that the person who steps up will also be the person stepping out on stage at SB ’18 and presenting in front of thousands of high-level
attendees. This is what’s known as a career moment.
In life, as in mythology, we’re never really ready for the call. Regardless, ready or not, our response is what defines both our character and our career trajectory.
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So let’s prepare for the call.
Presentation Tools and Visual Aids
Figure 1. There are four commonly accepted modalities for learning, often abbreviated as VARK.
Presentation software allows you to take an oral presentation to the next level—engaging your audience verbally and visually as well as aurally. What’s particularly powerful about
using presentation software and other visual aids is the ability to use imagery to bridge cultural and language gaps and arrive at a shared understanding of the issue/opportunity at
A related point to keep in mind is that words have two different meaningsa literal or denotative meaning (think: Merriam-Webster or Wikipedia definition) and a more subjective
or connotative meaning. The connotative meaning of a word is based on a person’s cultural background and experiences and has emotional and/or judgement associations.
Accomplished presenters are attuned to their audience and avoid words or references that may be misinterpreted by non-native speakers or may be perceived as emotionally
“loaded” by audience members from a different subculture. In an increasingly diverse society, cultural awareness is as important for business communicators as it is for
international marketers. To ensure that the message you intend to convey is what will be received, ask peers or colleaguesideally, those with a socio-cultural profile similar to
that of your audiencefor feedback, with particular attention to the subtext of words and images.
Using multimediaimages, photos and video and animationthat supports your point also provides repetition and can increase retention. A memory research pioneer, German
psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, found that we forget approximately, 50 percent of new information within 18 minutes, with retention falling to 35 percent after a week.
However, Ebbinghaus also discovered that repetition of the new information at key intervals can change this trajectory, a discovery known as the spacing effect. Specifically,
repeating the information at a 1020 minute, 24 hours and 7 day intervals countered the initial memory loss and reduced the subsequent rate of memory loss. The lesson for
presenters: work repetition into your presentation and your follow-up. Figure 2 shows an illustration of the Forgetting Curve and Spacing Effect.
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Figure 2. The Forgetting Curve
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Introduction to Making a Presentation for a Meeting
What you’ll learn to do: Create a presentation intended for a business meeting
Tools, no matter how sophisticated, are simply tools. Moving from the right tools to a good presentation involves perspective and
planning. For perspective, we’ll approach the concept of a good presentation from two standpoints: identifying the key features of a good presentation and common mistakes that
contribute to presentation failure. We’ll also discuss what’s involved in the planning process, including the three essential questions that need to be answered prior to developing
content. Finally, we’ll explore the classic story structure and apply that structure to a business presentation scenario.
Parts of a Good Presentation
Like reverse engineering a product, we can distill the key features of a good presentation by looking at presentation evaluation scorecards. Refer to Table 1 for a sample class
presentation grading rubric.
Table 1. Presentation Grading Rubric
Overall communication effectiveness. Presentation reflects thoughtful planning (content) and
development (structure) and engaged delivery (style)
10 pts (Full Marks)
0 pts (No Marks)
10 pts
Presenter has a unique voice and compelling message.
10 pts (Full Marks)
0 pts (No Marks)
10 pts
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Table 1. Presentation Grading Rubric
Presentation reflects learning. Content reflects knowledge and thoughtful development of
subject. Speaker applies communication concepts learned and/or incorporates relevant
terminology. Points are supported by credible sources/data.
50 pts (Full Marks)
0 pts (No Marks)
50 pts
Slides reflect thoughtful design. Slides reflect an understanding of and ability to apply design
best practices (i.e., 10-20-30 rule; “bullet points kill”)
20 pts (Full Marks)
0 pts (No Marks)
20 pts
Presentation meets stated requirements. Presentation meets subject matter, research, length &
formatting (including citation) requirements.
10 pts (Full Marks)
0 pts (No Marks)
10 pts
Total Points: 100
At the macro level, the key elements of a good presentation are content, organization, and delivery. There are both substance and style aspects of content. Substance elements
include the originality and significance of your idea, the quality of your research and analysis, clarity and potential impact of your recommendations. Style aspects of content
include confidence and credibility, both of which have a significant impact on how youand your messageare received.
Good organization starts with a strong opening and continues in a logical and well-supported manner throughout the presentation, leading to a close that serves as a resolution of
the problem or a summary of the situation you’ve presented. The audience experiences good organization as a sense of flowan inevitable forward movement to a satisfying
close. This forward momentum also requires audiences to have a certain level of technical and information-management competency. To the latter point, good presentation
requires a presenter to put thought into information design, from the structure and content of slides to the transitions between individual points, slides and topics.
Delivery entails a range of factors from body language and word choice to vocal variety. In this category, your audience is responding to your personality and professionalism. For
perspective, one of the three evaluation categories on the official Toastmasters speaker evaluation form is “As I Saw You;” in parentheses: “approach, position, personal
appearance, facial expression, gestures and detracting mannerisms.” A good presenter has a passion for the subject and an ability to convey and perhaps elicit that emotion in the
audience. Audience engagementthrough eye contact, facial expression, perhaps the use of gestures or movementalso contributes to an effective presentation. However, to
the point in the Toastmasters evaluation, gestures, movement other mannerisms can be distracting (see Module 7: Public Speaking for more on this). What works: natural (not
staged) movement that reinforces communication of your idea.
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Figure 1. The WIIFM Principle.
With those key features and presentation-evaluation criteria in mind, let’s add a disclaimer. The reality is that your features won’t matter if you don’t deliver one essential benefit:
Whether you think in Toastmasters terminology—”What’s in it for me? (WIIFM)” from the audience perspective—or put yourself in the audience’s position and ask “So what?,” it’s
a question that you need to answer early. We’ll get into this more in the next section as we discuss presentation planning.
What’s my Presentation About
It may be helpful to think of your presentation as having three key moving parts or interlocking gears: purpose, audience and message. Let’s walk through the presentation-
development process at this planning level.
Generally the first step in developing a presentation is identifying your purpose. Purpose is a multi-layered term, but in this context, it simply means objective or intended outcome.
And why is this? To riff on the classic Yogi Berra quote, if you don’t know where you’re going, you might as well be somewhere else. That is, don’t waste your audience’s (or your
own) time.
Your purpose will determine both your content and approach and suggest supplemental tools, audience materials and room layout. Perhaps your purpose is already defined for
you: perhaps your manager has asked you to research three possible sites for a new store. In this case, it’s likely there’s an established evaluation criteria and format for
presenting that information. Voila! your content and approach is defined. If you don’t have a defined purpose, consider whether your objective is to inform, to educate, or to inspire
a course of action. State that objective in a general sense, including what action you want your audience to take based on your presentation. Once you have that sketched in,
consider your audience.
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The second step in the presentation development process is audience research. Who are the members of your audience? Why are they attending this conference, meeting, or
presentation? This step is similar to the demographic and psychographic research marketers conduct prior to crafting a product or service pitchand is just as critical. Key factors
to consider include your audience’s age range, educational level, industry/role, subject matter knowledge, etc. These factors matter for two reasons: you need to know what they
know and what they need to know.
Understanding your audience will allow you to articulate what may be the most critical aspect of your presentation: “WIIFM,” or what’s in it for them. Profiling your audience also
allows you adapt your message so it’s effective for this particular audience. That is, to present your idea (proposal, subject matter, recommendations) at a depth and in a manner
(language, terminology, tools) that’s appropriate. Don’t expect your audience to meet you where you are; meet them where they are and then take them where you want to go
Returning to the site analysis example mentioned earlier, knowing your audience also means getting clear on what management expects from you. Are you serving in an analyst
role—conducting research and presenting “just the facts”to support a management decision? Or are you expected to make a specific recommendation? Be careful of power
dynamics and don’t overstep your role. Either way, be prepared to take a stand and defend your position. You never know when a routine stand-and-deliver could become a
career-defining opportunity.
The third step is honing your message. In “TED’s Secret to Great Public Speaking,” TED Conference curator Chris Anderson notes that there’s “no single formula” for a compelling
talk, but there is one common denominator: great speakers build an idea inside the minds of their audience. Take, for instance, Chimamanda Adichie’s idea, which Anderson
summarizes as “people are more than a single identity.”
As Adichie expresses it: “The problem with stereotypes [of a single story or identity] is not that they are untrue, but that
they are incomplete.”
Or Sir Ken Robinson’s idea that creativity is a essential building block for learning. As he expresses the idea: “My contention is that creativity now is as
important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
Ideas matter because they’re capable of changing our perceptions, our actions and our world. As
Anderson puts it: “Ideas are the most powerful force shaping human culture.”
So if ideas are that powerful, more is better, right? Perhaps a handful or a baker’s dozen? Wrong. As any seasoned sales person knows, you don’t walk into a meeting with a
prospective client and launch into an overview of every item in your company’s product or service line. That’s what’s known as “throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks.”
And that’s an approach that will have you wearing your spaghetti—and perhaps the dust from one of your client’s shoes on your backside, as well. What audience members
expect is that you’ve done your homework, that you know them and their pain, and that you have something to offer: a fresh perspective, an innovative approach or a key insight
that will change things for the better. As Chris Anderson puts it: “pick one idea, and make it the through-line running through your entire talk.”
One message, brought vividly and
relevantly to life.
So now that you have a macro view of the presentation development process, let’s review what canand often doesgo wrong so we can avoid the common mistakes.
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