It’s widely known that public speaking is one of the biggest fears for many people. In fact, 74% of people suffer from speech anxiety. And that is completely understandable – getting up in front of a group of people and being smart, articulate and engaging can be a tall order. Many small business owners may underestimate how frequently they give presentations for sales, conferences internal meetings, etc.

 

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The good news about giving a presentation is that it can be an acquired skill. Sure, some people are naturally great salespeople and speakers, but there are plenty more who have learned to do it, and do it well. There is an entire industry dedicated to teaching people how to speak and sell, so don’t worry if it’s not easy right now.

 

As I always tell my daughters: Almost everything is hard before it is easy.

 

If you want to become good as presentations, whether it is a sales pitch, a speech or conference call, keep these tips in mind:

 

1. Don’t wing it: The very best speakers know what they are going to say and then they practice, practice, practice. They may even write down the speech and memorize it. Their skill is that they make it sound fresh every time.

 

At a minimum, create a PowerPoint and know what you want to say for each slide. Then present the speech or slide show alone or with someone you trust, and give it again.

 

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One group that really understands this concept is stand-up comedians. Comics go on stage almost nightly and figure out what works and what does not. You can see this process in the movie “Comedian.” In it, Jerry Seinfeld creates a new act, and we watch him refine it on stage, and then refine it some more. The detail is impressive, as is the willingness to make mistakes along the way.

 

George Carlin worked and re-worked every bit. He wrote and re-wrote.

 

You can also read about the same process in Steve Martin’s great book, “Born Standing Up.” In it, Martin relays what it took for him to become the first “rock star” comedian back in the late 70s. What it took (aside from impeccable timing and gut-busting humor of course) was precision. He was incredibly precise about his act – continually refining and adjusting it along the way.

 

Of course I am not asking you to be a comedian.  Instead, I am suggesting that any salesperson or speaker puts in the time and effort, constantly looking for ways to improve.

 

2. Don’t be boring: There is no right way to give a presentation. Of course you have to be professional and knowledgeable, that is a given. But too many businesspeople end up being far too stiff because they try to fit into some preconceived notion of what they should be doing or how they should sound like.

 

Instead, just be yourself. Be personable, humorous if possible (that almost always helps), smart . . . whatever it is that makes you, you.

 

3. Make sure your slides convey what’s most important: Of course, you do not want to just read your slides, but almost as inexcusable is having too many slides, or slides with way too much information. A few key bullet points usually will suffice, and even better – use visuals. People absorb information either visually, through words or audibly so be sure to use all three approaches.

 

Here are two books that can help you a lot:

1) Brain RJuly 3 Pull Quote.pngules: What Every Presenter Needs to Know by John Medina. There are a lot of excellent lessons to be learned in the book, but a main one is that visuals are a better use of PowerPoint space than words.

2) The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo. Jobs was famous for his great addresses at Apple events. One key was that his speeches told a story – beginning, middle and end.

 

4. Say something different: It could be a surprising statistic, an unconventional quote, or a personal story. The important thing is that you offer information that listeners would otherwise not have known. That will make you and your presentation memorable.

 

5. Know when to stop talking: Don’t you hate those salespeople who never know when to shut up? Don’t be one of them. It’s like knowing when to end a column.

 

Like now.

 

Do you have any go-to presentation tricks? Or, do you have valuable “lessons learned” that you’d like to share with the SBOC community? Leave your comments below. 

 

About Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.

 

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