Get over your fear and be confident making business presentations

As one of the judging panel for the up and coming Business Champion Awards I wanted to offer my professional advice to finalists to let them hone their presentation skills to share the best of your business to the judges.

The Business Champion Awards are designed to celebrate the best of British business nationwide, but my advice is valid for any business making presentations.

Are you ready to talk about your business decisions, or does the prospect of presenting make you feel nervous?

You’re not alone in feeling this way and as much as our team of organisers can say: ‘it’s meant to be a positive experience to reward the champions of business’ it’s still always a bit nerve wracking on the day. Have no fear, because there are ways around this though …

Great presentations are made from process, preparation and practice

There is a quote attributed to Dale Carnegie that states,

‘There are always three speeches for everyone you gave; the one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.’

The inference being that speeches and presentations don’t always go to plan, and most of us have sat and squirmed, or maybe even enjoyed a moment of schadenfreude, as a speech or presentation has collapsed into mayhem before our very eyes.

There are people who will tell you that delivering a speech or a presentation is an art, that some people have it, whatever ‘it’ is, and some people don’t. But, solely relying on “it” can leave even the most accomplished public speakers scrambling for the right bit of paper, heading off topic and seeing their presentation rapidly unravel.

Like most things in life, the best way to avoid a presentation disaster is to employ a process, prepare properly and practice. Obviously, you must understand the subject matter you’re presenting, but without process, preparation and practice you dramatically increase your chances of acting out Carnegie’s quote.

So here are a few tips that might help you actually give the presentation you planned.

1. Ask yourself why you are giving the presentation?

What is it that you want your audience to do after they have listened to you? This first step is vital in establishing the content of your presentation and the style in which you will deliver it.

  • Is the purpose of your presentation an enthralling call to action? If so, your style will need to be passionate, motivational and upbeat
  • Is it to educate? If so, do you need to present charts and statistics.
  • Is it to present a proposal or to gain approval for a contract? If so, the next steps need to be clearly defined.

Answer the question “why” before you start to create presentation content, otherwise why your presenting, what you present and how you present it are unlikely to be fully aligned.

2. Understand your audience

The smaller the group you are presenting to the easier it is to understand your audience, the larger the more difficult. That said, no matter how large your audience there are questions you can ask yourself that will help align your content to what they are hoping to hear.

A few questions to ask yourself about your audience include,

  • Who are they? What do they already know about the subject matter you are presenting and how does this inform your content and delivery style?
  • What are they expecting you to present? Have you been explicit enough in communicating the purpose of your presentation to them?
  • Out of all the different aspects of your subject matter what do they care about most? People engage when they hear things they care about and disengage when they don’t.

It may seem blindingly obvious but working out what your audience is interested in is key to the success of your presentation.

3. Have a structure and stick to it

There are numerous presentation structures that can be employed to deliver a presentation, but (in my opinion) the “open, body, conclusion” structure is ideal in 99% of cases, this is also known as, tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them. The process is simple, but very effective and works like this,

4. Tell them what you’re going to tell them

This sets the scene for the audience and confirms to them exactly what to expect from your presentation, the 7 points you should cover (and the order in which you should cover them) are,

  1. Who you are (as in “Good Morning, my name is …….”)
  2. Your role or responsibility in relation to the presentation you are about to give
  3. The specific purpose of your presentation (as in why you are giving it)
  4. The main points you are going to cover (no more than 4 or 5 as a maximum)
  5. How you would like to handle questions
  6. If anyone has any questions before you start.

When delivered proficiently, without notes or reading from a slide, this approach provides an impressive and confident start to your presentation.

5. Tell them

You can open the main body of your presentation by either:

    • Telling a joke – be careful, it’s a presentation not a stand-up comedy routine
    • Telling a story, one that is relevant to your content
    • Making a statement to capture the audience’s interest.

The objective is to grab your audience’s attention by letting them know why they should listen to you.

The body of your presentation needs to contain the (no more than 4 or 5) key points that you want to focus on. You should present these in a logical order, so that your audience can follow you and your presentation easily.

Trying to present too many points runs the risk of losing or boring your audience.

If you intend to present facts and figures to support the main points of your presentation, make sure you use reliable sources that you can quote and refer to.

6. Tell them what you told them

The words you use to close your presentation should be the ones you want your audience to remember most. They should be succinct and focused on summarising the purpose of your presentation and the key three points you wanted to deliver.

The structure of this segment of your presentation is,

  • Restate your objectives
  • Summarise your key points
  • State your call to action.

With the “tell ’em” approach, your conclusion summarises the main points of your presentation. If you want people to take an action, change their view of, or how they feel about something, be specific about exactly what you want them to do.

7. Practice makes perfect

We all know the saying that practice make perfect. So, if the first time you ever deliver your presentation is when you actually deliver it to your real audience you are setting yourself up to fail. You should run through it at least 10 times, preferably with a friendly audience (this could be one person) who can give you honest feedback on what works and what doesn’t.

If nothing else this allows you to check that you can actually delivery your presentation in the time allocated

The truly great presenters make it all look easy, but here’s the secret to their ability to deliver great presentations; they have a process, they prepare and they practice. That’s why for them, Carnegie would have said, ‘the one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave are all the same.’

John Cunningham

John Cunningham has over 35 years of successful sales and business development experience, including leadership of the largest Virgin Group B2B Sales operation in the world at Virgin Media Business. In 2010 he founded johnpc ltd, specialising in helping organisations improve their sales processes, capability, productivity and results. Outside of work John spends most of his time either spoiling his Granddaughters or with his hiking boots on up a mountain somewhere. You can find out more about johnpc ltd at



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