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The Commandments for Successful Business Presentations

23 Feb, 2016 By: Tim Votapka

In the Mel Brooks comedy History of the World - Part I, Moses (Brooks) comes down from the top of Mount Sinai carrying three very heavy stone tablets. “Oh hear me! The Lord has given me unto you these 15”…crash …“uh, 10 commandments!” It’s a very funny moment and indicative of a presenter who knows how to keep the ball rolling regardless of circumstances, particularly when addressing an audience. While Brooks used this classic shtick to get a laugh, it’s highly applicable to anyone who finds themselves – by choice or by force – in the position of setting up a business presentation for a new product or service, or on the organization itself.

Let’s look at what may be considered the top Five Commandments of Successful Presentations. Yes, five, not ten or fifteen.

1. Know Your Purpose. Whether you’re doing a webinar, addressing a large audience, or meeting with decision makers at their office, you need to be well-focused on your intention and purpose while the presentation itself becomes nothing more than a comfortable add-on to yourself. Before you ever open your PowerPoint, ask yourself what is the purpose of this presentation? What do you want your viewer to understand and ultimately appreciate? If you want your audience to recognize you as being better than their current vendor, then it’s entirely appropriate to assign seniority to that goal. Having these or any other worthy objectives in mind will focus your thought and streamline your efforts as you sit down to set up your presentation.

2. Don’t be a Slide Hog. The best presentations are the ones that put the author at stage front, ready to speak directly to and with the audience. Being a servant to your slide deck and computer will minimize your position as the well-polished authority on the subject. The best presenters use slides to merely reinforce their data. Look to establish the mindset that you could make a presentation without any slides, armed only with a handout and/or your commanding voice. If you’re not sure how that happens, get some professional coaching.

3. Don’t Covet Thy Podium. Nothing good comes from being an immobile presenter who, unknowingly, puts the podium or laptop screen between him and his audience. It creates a barrier between you and your audience and can dilute your position as a confident authority. You don’t have to be as animated as a stand-up comedian but you do need to be comfortable enough to move about the space to ensure that you are making a good impression, are using enough eye contact with the audience, and are fully engaged in being seen, heard and understood. Podium possums get polite applause but are rarely seen as dynamic or remembered for what they’ve said.

4. Honor Thy Corporate Branding.  Whether you know it or not, your company has a brand; an identifying mark or characteristic common to the products of your business. Graphic designers go through great pains to establish colors, type faces and other elements in order to create a palette that lets people know who your company is whenever they see your logo, website, promo, business card, proposal or presentation. When I see a product manager or regional sales manager go and download a free template that bears no resemblance whatsoever to their organization’s brand, I want to slap the back of their hand and take away their PowerPoint privileges. There’s nothing wrong with being creative in your presentation; in fact creativity should be used in abundance as long as it doesn’t diminish clarity. Just don’t confuse your audience with a presentation that looks like it is coming from another organization. Presentations should support consistent and applicable design elements that represent your brand, and if you are unsure of even having a brand palette then it’s time to get assistance. You need to set yourself apart from the competition as the leader in your field.

5. Remember the Value of Brevity. Whether your use the typical slide deck in your presentation or you’ve got another tool in mind for your next performance, remember this vital piece of advice: don’t make your audience read and don’t read to your audience. The best TV newscasters appear to speak to you directly instead of focusing on their teleprompter. That takes a bit of training yet it creates the desired effect. As the viewer you feel that your favorite weatherman not only knows his information well, but that he’s genuinely engaged in delivering the data to you. So it should be with your presentations. If you build a slide with a long paragraph of text, I challenge you to read it from 10 feet away (and not feel the urge to do something else like balancing a pencil on your nose or checking your phone for text messages!). Keep your message simple and your on-screen bullet points brief and straightforward, and verbally expand on them for the benefit of your audience.

Presentations lend a good opportunity to create and deliver useful information substantially better than your competitors can. They help establish an affinity between you and your audience. And when you have that, there’s very little else that can stand between you and your next customer.


Tim Votapka is the VP and Director of Marketing Services at Prosperity Plus Management Consulting, Inc. Email tvotapka@prosperityplus.com or 631.382.7762.

About the Author: Tim Votapka

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