How to Create a Business Presentation

If you’ve ever attended an industry conference or gathering of business owners, you’ve probably had to sit through at least one mind-numbingly boring presentation. You’ve also likely been wowed by a presentation before. When giving a presentation of your own, you obviously want it to fall into the latter category. But what separates a bad presentation from a good one?

Elisabeth Osmeloski, vice president of Audience Development for and, oversees dozens of presentations every year, giving her unparalleled insight into what makes presentations sink or swim. “The perfect presentation,” she says, “has certain attributes and will be engaging, entertaining, memorable, inspiring, and actionable — all at once.” Follow these tips to make sure that your next presentation has all of these qualities and leaves your audience in awe.

Understand Your Audience

A great way to turn off a room is to assume they all care about you just because you’re the one on the stage. The goal is for your presentation to resonate with the audience and compel them to buy, which is hard to do if you don’t know the first thing about the crowd.

Every event is different and so are the people who attend them. Try to glean as much information as you can about the folks you’ll be speaking to. Take your cure from the nature of the event. If you’re speaking to a group of lawyers, for example, tailor your message to be relevant to their profession.

Start With a Story

Narrative is one of the easiest ways to engage a crowd. More often than not, the goal of your presentation will be to sell something, but you won’t have much luck if you structure your talk to be an hour-long sales pitch. Instead, start by getting personal and sharing a compelling story with your audience. “Stories will make you more likable, trustworthy, and interesting,” says Leslie Belknap, marketing director at Ethos3.

Building this rapport early will pay dividends as your presentation unfolds. If you can hook an audience in the first five minutes, you’ll have their attention for the remainder of your time onstage. You can even build references to your initial story into later parts of your talk or pepper in additional stories throughout. Don’t be afraid to sprinkle in a little inoffensive humor. A crowd that’s laughing is a crowd that’s listening.

Use Visuals

Talking for an hour straight without any aids is a herculean task unless you’re a preternaturally gifted orator. It’s also bound to alienate the visual learners in the audience. The more graphs, charts, animations, and pictures you can incorporate into your presentation, the better. To be frank, there’s a good chance most audience members will forget the bulk of what you say within a day or two. Striking visuals, though, might stay with them a lot longer.

There’s just one caveat to go along with this advice: Put time into your visuals. A janky PowerPoint presentation will lower your credibility. "If it looks stock, it probably is,” notes Ryan Mack, president of Carrot Creative. “Altering an existing template doesn't take a tremendous amount of time. It also indicates that the presenter knows how to represent the idea and narrative visually.”

Follow the 3-Point Theory

In the desire to provide actionable takeaways during your talk, don’t give the audience too much to chew on. A good rule of thumb is that the average person can remember three key points, but no more. You should structure your presentation to emphasize your three most important points, touching on them multiple times and in myriad ways.

To create these three concepts, ask yourself, “What are the three things I want the crowd to know by the time I’m finished?” It seems simple, but far too many presenters fail to do it. Too few takeaways, and you come off as airy and insubstantial; too many, and you risk overloading your guests with information.

Sell Throughout, but Subtly

Unless you encourage somebody to take action (i.e., buy what you’re selling), they have no reason to. However, don’t spend the bulk of your time onstage selling. Demonstrate the value of your product or service without beating people over the head with it. You’re not Ron Popeil, and a presentation isn’t an infomercial. You have to present your sales proposition as a natural part of your talk rather than tacking it on at the end.