By Paul Jermain leader of an Entrepreneurial Training Program for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in partnership with Northern Essex Community College

It’s a well known fact that many people fear giving public presentations almost as much as death. The events, when objectively compared in the light of day are obviously very different, but that’s true of many situations. The other day I meet with Nancy, a small business owner who was getting ready to deliver a presentation to a group of investors, and to say that she was nervous would be an understatement.  Here are some of the tips I shared with Nancy to help her deliver an effective and relatively stress-free presentation.

1.      The goal of most presentations is to persuade, and studies have shown that people are much more likely to be persuaded by an organized presentation, with visuals, than through a simple conversation.

Use structure, and visual props, to significantly increase your odds of success.

2.      People justify “purchases” based on facts and logic, but actually buy on feelings and emotion.

Consider how you can avoid being a “robotron” full of facts and figures only; make sure you acknowledge the audience’s personal side.

3.      Audiences have to be open to receiving a message in order to be convinced by it.

In the early stages of presentation development, reflect on the perceptions of your audience. If you’re introducing a consulting practice focused on educating foreign arms manufacturers on “best practices”, be prepared to highlight how missiles can be used to protect, not just destroy.

4.      To act on your presentation, the audience will have to be clear as to how the idea will benefit them and what you want them to do.

When developing the presentation, think about what’s in it for them (WIFT) and make sure you bring that out. And if your own personal goal is to get the audience to invest money, make sure they do not have to read between the lines to understand that.

5.      Audiences have memory limits.

Create a presentation which crystallizes on three key points, if at all possible. Your phone number begins with three numbers-that’s because most people can remember three digits or pieces of information. Don’t bury people under details; keep returning to the three key points.

6.      Business audiences are interested in relevant, credible information delivered in a clear and concise fashion.

As you craft the presentation understand that more successful your audience is, the busier they are likely to be. Information that relates solely to the subject at hand, backed up by third party “facts”-numbers, references, quotes or testimonials will typically be well received. And, if you can use examples, graphs, pictures, samples or demonstrations that will only add to the convincing nature of it.

7.      You’re the expert; practice putting your points out there smoothly.

Prior to delivery, many people get nervous because they feel some fatal flaw will rear its ugly head during the middle of the presentation causing their ship, the SS Persuasion, to sink, quickly. While it’s important to acknowledge that an important overlooked detail can arise, it’s more important to reflect on the fact that in most cases, you’re likely to be the expert in the room and the chances of anything coming up that you’re unable to address adequately are slim. That said, smooth presentations are typically built on rehearsals, or dry runs, to ensure the mental transitions from idea to idea go smoothly.

8.      Audiences are most strongly convinced by solid presentations delivered by people that believe in them.

Solid points, clearly and coherently outlined through effective visuals, are the foundation to a successful presentation. But, audiences also want to feel that the presenter is confident in the proposal at hand. Creating the impression of confidence during presentation delivery can take some time, but some targets to aim at include: a professional appearance; sincere, warm presentation style; lots of natural gestures and movement; healthy eye contact; and a firm and clear voice with varied voice pitch and pace.

Effective presentations will, absolutely, help you succeed in your small business. As with any endeavor, you likely won’t go from tenderfoot to pro, overnight, but if you apply the tips above, you’ll certainly gain ground as Nancy did. She gave her presentation, got the funding, and felt good about dealing with one more challenge on her way to business success.