Business Presentation Guide

August 17, 2016 - SOPHIE THOMPSON

This guide covers important business presentation tips on body language, structuring your message, presentation slides and preparing for questions. Use these tips in your next speech to engage the audience and enhance your message.

Choosing the Signals you give to Others

Before any business presentation, think about these 5 topics – voice, pace, eye contact, facial gestures and body language. Consciously decide how you will use each of these to reinforce your message. Use the table below for help.


Passive Aggressive Assertive
Voice Flat, monotonous, trails off, shaky, hesitant. Sharp, cold, loud, shouts, abrupt, clipped, fast. Controlled, firm, warm, rich, clear, even, loud.
Pace Ers and ums, jerky, too slow, too fast. Fast, emphatic, blameful, abrupt, erratic, hurried. Steady and controlled, changes easily.
Eye Contact Evasive, looking down, darting, low eye contact. Stares and glaring, dominating, fixed gaze, threatening. Firm not fixed, natural and relaxed.
Facial Gestures Fixed smile, apology facial gestures, blinking, blushing, chewing lip. Set face, few smiles, clenched jaw, frowning, chin forward, lips tight, gritted teeth. Open, varied and congruent expressions, calm, jaw relaxed, few blinks, smiles.
Body Language Hunched, hand over mouth, arms crossed, head down, slumping, legs crossed, stands awkwardly, soft handshake. Thumping, clenched fists, pointing, pacing, leaning forward, sharp and rapid movements, crushing handshake. Open hand and arm movements, head upright, calm, emphatic gestures, relaxed, head nodding to show attention, firm handshake.

Business Presentation Tips

Structure your Presentation

First, find out how much time you have to present, is it 10 minutes, 15, an hour? Prepare enough material for this time and have a couple of extra slides as backup – we tend to speak much quicker when nervous so you might find you finish your presentation too early. At some large conference events, timings may change on the day, be aware of this have a shorter version of your presentation in mind (i.e. know which slides to skip over).

Don't Say too Much

As shown in the How to Write a Speech article, your audience has a short attention span. Follow these rules to keep them engaged:

  • keep your material simple
  • explain technical words
  • show your audience your presentation structure
  • recap key points
  • try and avoid acronyms unless they are obvious

Eye Contact with Audience

Keep your eye contact, firm not fixed, natural and relaxed. Maintain eye contact with people for around 3 seconds then move onto someone else. This helps keep your audience attention and makes you appear confident and that you understand what you are presenting. Note pauses in your presentation notes, where you take a deep breath and collect your thoughts.

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

Rehearse in front of colleagues, friends, a mirror – always aloud. The Communication Skills Training Tools blog article explains several unique techniques to increase your confidence, including using new virtual reality technology to immerse yourself in the environments. Make sure you spend plenty of time practising your business presentation, it will make you feel much more relaxed if you know your material.

Prepare for the Room

If you can, go to the room you are speaking in before the actual event. It gives you an idea of furniture layout, podium height, location, room size, audience size and lighting. You can then visualise the room while practising and avoid the shock of suddenly being faced with a huge room when you expected a tiny one.

Ask the organiser if you need any particular props, for example a table to help with your live demo.

Before the Business Presentation – Plan & Organise

Purpose – what outcome are we trying to achieve? How can results be measured? What will success look like?

Topic – Novelty? Complexity? Technical?

People – Who should attend? What do they already know? How are they going to help?

Timing – When will it happen and how long will the meeting take?

Location – Where will the meeting be held? Do you have access to the correct facilities for the meeting?

Papers – Who is keeping minutes? Do you need to send out an agenda before the meeting? Background information required?

Visual Aids – Is a projector required? Boards?

Style – Structure or unstructured, discussion style? How assertive should you be? How should the meeting items be organised?


Technology will Fail!

It is very common for live demos to fail on the day. Make sure you have a backup, either a video showing it working or a second demo to show.

PowerPoint software and computers have also been known to fail. Bring notes of your speech so you can still give it without a computer if needed. Make sure you ask the event organiser if you have any special technology requirements (even something as simple as extension cable if your demo needs power, and a power socket adaptor for that country).

Audience Size will Vary

If you were expecting a packed out meeting or conference room, and find it’s only half full for your presentation, don’t take it personally. There are many reasons people can’t attend. Also, if presenting at a well-known conference, you can still mention it on your CV or LinkedIn, no one needs to know the audience wasn’t packed.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

If you feel the presentation didn’t go as well as you would have liked, or that you didn’t explain yourself well, don’t worry. It happens. Even famous speakers mess up delivery – while presenting at parliament, Winston Churchill once forgot what he was going to say next, and had to resume his seat in shocked silence.

Change of technology failing on your big day? ~ 100%. Make sure you have a backup demo or video for when the inevitable happens.


Prepare for Questions, even though there may not be any

Have a few backup slides for questions you think will arise from your presentation. It is sometime a tactic to explain a section briefly in your speech, so that you get a question about it afterwards. If you don’t understand the question, ask for it to be rephrased. See the article on Handling Questions for more detail on this.

If there are no questions, it is not an indication how good or bad your presentation was. You many have explain your material extremely well, or simply that people are tired at the end of the day and want to go home.

Keep Presentation Slides

Keep a copy of your presentation – you can always use the same presentation structure, even similar slides for an upcoming event. Keep material well-structured and named on your PC so you can find it months later if required.

Enjoy the Business Presentation

If you’re presenting, it usually means your opinion is important and interesting. Enjoy being the centre of attention – it might open up business leads and develop useful contacts. People usually abandon/forget/lose their name badges on the second day of the conference – keep yours on so that you can be easily recognised.

For additional guidance on presenting, read Presenting a Conference Paper.

Have a few slides as backup for questions you expect to be asked. This demonstrates to the audience that you really know your material.