Master the Presentation Skills to Sell Yourself and Your Business
Regardless of the unique passion and expertise that inspired you to found your own business or build a career in Corporate America, you work in sales. Because building your business and advancing in your career require you to present ideas effectively and persuade people that you can help them solve their problems and advance their goals.
As an entrepreneur, the impression you make as an individual (with potential customers, lenders, community leaders and employees) reflects directly on how stakeholders see your business too. Even in a large organization, you are like your own one-person company who will advance to the degree that you can consistently articulate your unique value proposition. Consider these tips to enhance your presentation skills with an audience of one or 1,000.
- See through the eyes of your audience. Better communication always starts with what your audience wants and needs. Before presenting a proposal or launching a presentation, think about what a potential client, your boss, or people you work with already know and what they need to know. Next, ask probing questions to better understand the challenges they face and where they need help. You will not only be better positioned to tailor your strengths and services to meet their needs, but you will create a positive impression by focusing on them.
If speaking to a large group, such as at a professional conference or Chamber of Commerce meeting, talk with your host prior to the event to get a sense of who will be in the audience and what their key concerns are likely to be. If there is time to mingle before your presentation, chat with a few attendees to get a better feel for the room.
- Be lean of expression. When you present your ideas succinctly, they become more powerful. Although you may be tempted to show off everything you know or everything your company can do, information overload will muddy your message, may confuse your audience and can even cause people to walk away or mentally shut down.
- Share your passion. People buy from those they believe in. When you convey enthusiasm about the solutions you provide, it is much easier to express the “why” that brings others on board. Your body language, eye contact, vocal tone and gestures all work together to make your presentation more effective. Research out of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania found that effective speakers modulate their voice with changes in volume and variation that make them sound more confident and make them more persuasive. They might raise their voice to emphasize something or pause after making a particularly important point.
- Lean in to your personal style. The idea of selling — your product or yourself — scares some people because they equate sales with a flamboyant, gregarious style. But, even as a quiet introvert, you can build excellent presentation skills. You may need to push outside your comfort zone a bit to shine in front of a larger audience, or even to speak up in a small group, but remaining true to yourself will increase your confidence and build trust with others. If you’re a big idea person, focus on the highlights and have a colleague share details you may gloss over, or prepare a leave-behind. If you are a data person, select a few key facts to emphasize and discipline yourself to stick to those.
- Finish strong. Especially in informal presentations, such as a networking event where someone asks you about your business or in a meeting where you are advocating for a new idea, people often start strong and peter out. Have you ever seen someone conclude their remarks in a meeting by speaking more and more softly, trailing off or mumbling, in effect finishing weak? Discipline yourself to end with a strong voice and a clear statement, thought-provoking question or call to action.
- Practice and rehearse. “Most speakers don’t practice nearly as much as they should,” says Carmine Gallo, author of Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great and an instructor in Harvard University’s department of executive education. “Oh, sure, they review their slides ahead of time, but they neglect to put in the hours of deliberate practice that will make them shine,” he adds.
Rehearsing means literally practicing your remarks out loud, possibly in front of others or at least in front of a mirror. Consider recording yourself and then evaluating your performance on your own or, for high-stakes presentations, with a trusted advisor of colleague. It may sound odd to record yourself pitching your business or explaining a new initiative to your team since you aren’t taking the stage at a formal event, but every time you present yourself professionally, you are on stage.
Improving your presentation skills can significantly increase how others perceive your expertise and credibility, make your message more memorable and help you distinguish both yourself and your business in a sea of so-so communicators. How you perform can make the difference in landing new business, securing critical investment or getting promoted.