We are all familiar with the old adage 'it's not what you know, but who you know'. In business, it's equally true that it's not what you know, but how you put it across that counts. Few people are born with a natural talent for presentation skills and good business communication. The good news is that presentation skills can be learnt.
Business is about winning
You may not be in a sales role but if you are in a profession or a service industry and have to 'pitch for business', how you present yourself and your organisation is as important as what you say.
When you've worked hard for the opportunity to make a new business pitch, you must prepare thoroughly. You will probably only get one chance so be sure you have the answers to the following questions:
Who are your audience?
- how many people, what do they know about the subject, and what do they expect from you
What main points do you want to get across?
- that you know your subject, you understand their business, you have clear objectives, and are results-orientated or will provide great service?
How long is your presentation?
- establish how much time you have and whether this includes a period for questions.
Where will you be presenting?
- do you know the size of the room and the layout?
Structure your presentation
The content of your presentation will vary according to the requirements of the potential client. In general:
- people can only take on board three or four main points so agree what they are
- clients are much more interested in hearing about themselves and what you can do for them, so keep your credentials short and relevant
- focus on what's in it for the client or prospect
- emphasise what makes you different
Selecting your visual aids
The basic rules are:
- use as few as possible
- keep them simple and avoid too much detail
- make sure they have the equipment you need
Use positive body language
Standing, looking confident and smiling will give a good initial impression, even if you feel nervous. Remember these points to enhance your presentation skills and come across with impact:
- maintain eye-contact to build rapport quickly
- use meaningful gestures to emphasise key points
- use prompt cards or brief notes
- if you present with a team, listen to your colleagues when they're speaking
Develop an interesting voice
If you speak in a monotonous drone your audience will soon stop listening. Put plenty of expression into your voice.
- pause and slow down to eradicate fillers such as "errs" and "ums"
- don't let your voice trail off at the end of sentences - keep up the energy
- vary your pitch and don't rush through it
Practice makes perfect
There's no substitute for thorough preparation and practise if you want to develop your presentation skills. In any case remember:
- if presenting as part of a team, ensure that everyone is present for the rehearsals
- do at least one complete run-through with no interruptions. Time it and, if necessary, condense without disturbing the "flow". Never over-run.
- anticipate and prepare for likely questions
- practise handovers
- Presentations skills training can help you get valuable feedback on your approach
Attention to detail, preparation and practise take time - but you will probably only get one chance to get it right. The difference between success and failure lies in the effort you put in. Who knows, your presentation skills could end up not only winning you business, and you may find you actually enjoy the experience.
Shaun Parker investigates how presentation skills can benefit your business. When combined presentation skills and personal impact training can be the key ingredient to delivering sales pitches with confidence and winning business.