You've made it onto the short list for that big contract, and the client wants you to present your proposal to the executive committee. Or the leader of your networking group has offered you a spotlight presentation at next month's luncheon. Or you get the chance to informally pitch your new business concept to an angel investor over coffee.
What do you do next?
Get grounded: Whether you're starting with a blank page or sifting through a pile of marketing collateral, begin your process by setting a solid foundation for your talk. Geni Whitehouse, author of "How to Make a Boring Subject Interesting," advises answering these questions:
Why am I speaking?
What do I know about the audience?
What am I trying to accomplish?
What do I want people to walk away knowing?
What should they do after they hear my words of wisdom?
Why does my audience care about this?
If you're unclear about any of these, make it your mission to find out. A little homework up front can save you from missing the mark with your audience and wasting a valuable opportunity.
Get organized: The classic teacher's advice ("Tell them what you're going to tell them. Tell them. Then tell them what you told them.") still works. So be sure to include a preview of your content at the beginning and a review at the end.
For example, say: "I'll begin by sharing some information about the size of the problem, then describe our proposal for solving it. I'll conclude by comparing our solution to our competitors', so you can see where we agree and where we differ."
Giving this type of road map accomplishes several things. First and foremost, it forces you, as the presenter, to logically group your thoughts. Second, it establishes credibility with the audience by demonstrating an organized approach. Third, it enhances your listeners' comprehension and retention of the material by providing a larger context.
Get visual: Many business presentations, especially more formal ones, involve the use of visuals. Most commonly, these are slides that are either projected or printed, or both.
Resist the urge to fill your slides with text. Once upon a time it was cool to simply throw your outline up on the screen; nowadays that's passe. Carmine Gallo, writing for Forbes.com on "The End of PowerPoint as We Know It," recommends ditching slides that are "dull, wordy and overloaded with bullet points. Image-rich presentations work effectively because pictures appeal to the right hemisphere of the brain -- the emotional side."
Update your visuals with custom photography, well-chosen stock images, and graphics that enhance your message. And put your outline and bullet points where they belong -- in your speaker notes.
Get your game face on: Athletes have been using positive visualization for decades now, so why not presenters? Both are high-performance situations with plenty of eyeballs watching, so consider borrowing a page from sports psychology.
Make sure to give yourself 10 minutes of quiet focus before you're due to speak. Picture yourself walking into the room and starting your speech with energy and charisma. Mentally walk through your presentation, and see yourself giving your ideal performance right through to a strong and confident finish.
Or put more simply, in the words of speaker's coach Dan Black, of Charlotte, N.C.-based e-learning company Tortal, "Relax. No one in the audience knows how it's supposed to go."
Jennie Wong is an executive coach, author of the e-book "Ask the Mompreneur" and the founder of the social shopping website CartCentric.com.