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Dianna Booher shares 10 tips for business presentations

“They think they’re pretty good,” the executive vice president said of his team of 200 senior leaders at a Fortune 500 corporation. “They keep telling me that ‘their people’ need help in presenting dry information. But actually ALL of them need help. They get too far into the weeds. They do a data dump. They use too much jargon. They take too long to get to the point. Their charts are too busy. It’s often unclear what they’re asking us to do. Their summaries are either missing key information—or missing altogether.”

Although I listened as if hearing these indictments for the first time, the complaints are all too familiar. If I had only 5 minutes to coach presenters, here’s what I’d tell them:

1. Forget the warm-up drill as an opener. “Good morning. My name is …” does not set you apart in the line-up of presenters or the marketplace. Start with a high-impact opening that immediately engages listeners in your topic.

2. Make your information or facts tell a story. Don’t just dole out data. Turn your ideas into communication. Take a viewpoint, and shape your information persuasively to lead to a specific message. Connect with an audience to push them to action or a decision.

3. Punch key points—do not swallow them. Avoid rambling on with repetitious statements. Say it; then stop.

4. Strive for simplicity. The ability to make a complex subject understandable to the layperson is the mark of an effective communicator.

5. Never use a $100 story in a three-minute time slot to make a nickel point. Stories make your points and information memorable—but they must be shaped, edited, and delivered well. The longer the story, the better the point must be.

6. Add a touch of humor, but make it relevant to the topic and the situation. A humorous anecdote, illustration, or one-liner adds an element of class and distinction. Humor also reduces resistance and opens minds.

7. Make your presentation both a performance and a conversation. Your passion, energy, and topic make the presentation a performance. Your natural speaking style and relaxed but confident body language make it a conversation. Gestures, posture, movement, facial expression—these all either support or sabotage the impact of your content.

8. Master the monotone monster. Vary your volume, inflection, pacing, and intensity to engage listeners. Do not put people to sleep with the pitter-patter of a monotonous delivery.

9. Use silences to underscore your meaning. Pauses convey your meaning and give your audience breathing room between ideas. Without them, listeners find it difficult to distinguish between major and minor points.

10. End with a wallop, not a whimper. Never just fade away with a comment such as “That’s all I have. Any questions?” The rule of primacy and recency says that people remember best what they hear first and last. That means your opening and your closing are the points of highest impact. Craft them carefully to create the best return on your presentation.

What other tips would you add to the list?

Dianna Booher, an expert in executive communications, is the author of 46 books.  Her work has been translated into 23 languages.  Her latest books include Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader  and  Communicate with Confidence, Revised and Expanded Edition.  National media such as Good Morning America, USA Today,  the Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, Bloomberg,, CNN International, NPR,Success, and Entrepreneur have interviewed her for opinions on critical workplace communication issues. As CEO of Booher Consultants and as a high-caliber keynote speaker, Dianna and her staff travel worldwide to deliver focused speeches and training to address specific communication challenges and increase effectiveness in writing skills, presentation skills, interpersonal communication, and organizational communication.   Clients include 22 of the top Fortune 50 companies.  1-800-342-6621

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37 thoughts on “Presentation Skills: Top 10 Tips for Business Presentations”

  1. Good, solid recommendations. I’d add to it audience involvement. It’s always helpful to ask a “show of hands” question to get the audience involved and feel like you are talking to them.

    1. Amy, I definitely agree on the importance of audience involvement–and the earlier, the better. However, I’m not a “show of hands” person unless you intend to do something with that show of hands. For example after they raise hands, you might reflect back to them a conclusion: “That looks like about only 10 percent of you here agree with the idea that blah, blah, blah. You’re actually quite typically of the population as a whole. According to a recent study done by blah, blah, blah…” If the idea is getting engagement, consider a variety of ways other than continually asking people to raise hands. Examples: a provocative question, an ancedote from the group, buzz group, “suppose you” language to set up scenarios.

  2. In the standup trade, we call #1 the cold open. A quick joke to tell the audience what you're about, and who you are. When presenting something like the need for money for a comedic movie, you would need to be humorous all the time. Just make sure that your jokes are in fact, funny. Oh, and life is performance art, if everyone hasn't figured that one out yet, then you're even further behind. That's about all I've got for now ;).

      1. Agreed, Daniel. Humor is not easy. That’s why stand-up comics get paid the big bucks. But then nobody is asking the business presenter to be a stand-up comic. Just a lighted-hearted comment here and there helps. It communicates to the audience that you are confident and relaxed. If you feel challenged when it comes to humor, you can always work in a cartoon or humorous quotation to make a point and accomplish the same effect–or just react to your surroundings in a relaxed–rather than tense–manner.

  3. I’ve always believed in, “Tell ’em what you’re going to do, do it, and then tell ’em when you’re done.” This may go against some of your tips, however, a slide at the end with three or four bullet points that you want them to definitely remember may be a good thing.

    1. Mike, I agree that a summary at the end of an informative presentation typically works well. Yet, I prefer never to end on a slide–especially a slide of bullet points. Your words alone can pack a much more powerful punch than a bulleted slide–that is, if you words are clear, concise, and carefully crafted in a memorable way.

    1. A checklist reminder is a great idea, Ross. No matter how many flight-hours pilots have under their belt, they always go through the checklist when they climb into the cockpit.

    2. A checklist reminder is a great idea, Ross. No matter how many flight-hours pilots have under their belt, they always go through the checklist when they climb into the cockpit.

  4. Those tips are so helpful. Do you recommend practising the speech or do you think this can make it too rehearsed? I have a big speech to deliver and don’t want to end up sounding like I’ve memorised the whole thing! Any tips would be appreciated as I’m quite nervous!

    1. Definitely practice for that big presentation, Charlotte. But you’re right not to memorize. You’ll sound rehearse and stiff. And if you forget a word or section, you’ll become flustered. But do have a keyword outline with you just as a safety net in case you need to glance at it. In my book, Speak with Confidence, I show examples of the three kinds of outlines speakers typically use: The idea wheel is a “thinking” outlining tool to generate content. Then you convert that to what I call a half-and-half script for practice. That’s partly sentences for your introductory and wrap-up sentences to each major point (so these can be smooth and perfect) mixed with just words/phrases for major points and subpoints. The third type outline you need is after you basically become very familiar with your speech and are ready to deliver it. Slim your outline down to just a list of key words as a safety net. Your eye will catch them in a quick glance if you need a prompt.

  5. Thanks Dianna – that’s really helpful. The prompt is a good idea and not having the whole thing in front of you. One website I’ve just landed on is Present.Me which is a website that allows you to attach a video of yourself presenting to your powerpoint. It is used for presentations when you cannot be there to perform them but it is also great when you want to listen and watch yourself and builds your confidence. Dianna I will buy your book tomorrow to fully understand the three kinds of outlines. Thanks for the advice

  6. Dianna I have your book and I would highly recommend it.
    Charlotte it is interesting you say that because swear by Present.Me. Unfortunately due to a busy schedule I cannot always attend events and send a in my place. Genius.

    1. Thanks, Colin. Glad you found Speak with Confidence helpful. Yes, sending a Present.Me performance rather than getting on another airplane would be a great idea! Let me know when and if clients starting accepting that version of you and I’ll be an earlier adopter.

    1. True, Tricia. If the audience members have a tense expression on their faces, it’s a good indication that the presenter also does.

  7. These are all great. And you only had five minutes to teach them?!? Just imagine how awesome a person could be if they had an hour of your time :)

    Just popped this article into Evernote and tweeted the link. Thanks for sharing it.

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