The Proof’s in the Presentation

Three years ago, all a person had to do was sneeze and the venture capitalists would fund it. Need a couple million dollars to start up a moss factory? Sure! As long as you called it “,” you could find the money.

Several business articles suggested that a lot more money existed than ideas. And therein lies the crux of the economic downturn in the dot-bomb world: Venture capitalists were funding ideas, not businesses.

Now a presentation to an investor can border on pleading — or worse, it can become an inquisition. It’s not enough to have a good idea, a good executive team, or even a good business plan. Just like in the old economy, an entrepreneur has to have a presentation that will rally the enthusiasm of investors, instill confidence in the concept, and ultimately obtain the funds to launch the next big idea.

Therefore, here are some tips on making a solid presentation that every entrepreneur should know. Whether you’re presenting to investors, your board, or your staff, these are the basic guidelines that anyone who presents to more than two people at a time should know.

Before the Presentation

Learn about your audience. It’s important that you tailor your messages to the exact audience. That means you need to understand their perspective on your information. In other words, how will you make your information pertinent to them? Your audience has one question in mind: “What’s in it for me?” Be sure you identify the answer to that before you do anything else.

If you have an opportunity, go to the room or facility where you’ll be speaking. Test the equipment. That includes the microphone, the projector, and any remote pointers or other devices. Get a feel for how your audience will be seated. Is it like a classroom, or will they be at tables? Will they be eating, as at a luncheon or breakfast meeting? Take into consideration the distractions of the waiters running around pouring coffee and clearing plates.

Look at your presentation slides, and discard half of them. Most people are too dependent on their slides to tell the story. Slides are just an additional tool to highlight the most critical points. Also, cut the text on slides by about half. Just like in writing for the Web, no one reads slides. They scan.

During the Presentation

The first words out of your mouth should have impact. Start with a strong opening statement, and tell your audience right away what benefit you expect them to derive from the presentation.

Repeat your three or four key points. One old adage goes, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Then tell them. Then tell them what you told them.” Studies show that within a week your audience will likely forget about 90 percent of what you’ve said. Pick out the 10 percent you want them to remember, and hammer it home.

After the Presentation

At the end of your presentation, summarize your key points. Use the Q & A portion of the presentation to re-emphasize those points. You can take almost any question and get the audience to your key points by “bridging.” Politicians are expert at this strategy. It takes some training and practice, but you’ll find it invaluable.

Remember the audience. Keep repeating how relevant the key points are to them.

At the end of the Q & A, thank members of the audience for their time, and sneak your final “punch line” there. This is called your “takeaway.”

No matter how well you know the material, a little practice and some professional presentation training can help you develop your key points and polish your presentation for better results!

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