What is a Business Presentation?

So what is the difference between public speaking & a  presentation?

Nobody seems to have a clear answer. Even the Oxford English Dictionary does not clear up the confusion. If you look at the OED definition of the word “presentation” it says “a demonstration or display of materials, information etc; a lecture” So if you are giving information about the life of Abraham Lincoln it would seem you are giving a presentation. If you are telling a customer about a new product similarly you are giving a presentation. So what the heck is public speaking, because most people I come into contact with would reckon that the two previous examples could be classified as public speaking?

I mean do you need to have great presentation skills AND public speaking skills? Or can you get away with just one of them? Or are they the same blinking thing?

In my travels the phrase “public speaking” is more widely used in the USA to cover the whole spectrum of speaking to an audience than in Britain. In Britain, public speaking is something politicians & lawyers do (along with the father of the bride, the after dinner speaker, the captain of a sports club at their annual meeting….oh dear it is getting confusing again)whilst any form of speaking to an audience in a business context seems to be called “a presentation”. My American friends will still call this sort of communication “Public Speaking”! Grrr it all gets very confusing.

Maybe we should dwell on the common British usage of the word “presentation” as when we speak to an audience in a business setting. Could there be something in this neat division. Upon reflection, there are some unique demands placed upon a speaker or speech writer when making a business speech aka “Business Presentation.”

An intimate audience

You won’t be speaking to the masses. Often a business presentation will be less than a dozen, it might even be just to one person. This can lead to willingness for members of the audience to interrupt and to challenge mid way through your presentation.

You are on away turf

Rather than a conference hall where all speakers, chairmen, mc’s and the audience are on neutral territory, many presentations are held in a clients or your boss’s office. Not only do they feel very at home (& you feel very much ill at ease) but it is often harder to set the room up as you might prefer.

Facts and Figures are important

In a smaller business presentation (to people for whom facts and figures are critical to financial and organisational results) your facts and figures are likely to be challenged. It is essential that you are 100% sure of the accuracy of the content in  a presentation.

Seniority of Audience

Very often the audience at a business presentation are likely to be in a more powerful organisational position than you (they are your CEO; they are your client etc). This can be intimidating.

Time is Money

At a conference, the audience have chosen to attend. With a business presentation there is more a feeling that you, as the presenter, are interrupting them. The challenge is to help your audience think that you have not wasted their time; that you have given them something valuable.

The need to get a Decision

The purpose of most business presentations is to get a decision. Rather like a contestant on a show like “Britain’s Got Talent” or “The X-Factor” you are mentally trying to impress the audience and nervous that the buzzer may sound!

“Death by PowerPoint”

Many people automatically think they need PowerPoint slides in a presentation. In fact when I have heard people talk about “putting a presentation together” what they mean is putting a slideshow together. Far too often the production of the slides becomes more important than the construction or the delivery of the message.

But after all this fundamentally  presentation skills are very similar to effective public speaking skills.

And I still cant work out if speaking on behalf of your company at a major conference is public speaking or a business presentation.

Both are powerful business communication skills – I can’t remember ever coming across a business leader who cannot deliver both a speech and a presentation with equal confidence, clarity & style.

They rely on the same three core components:

  • Understanding & speaking to your audience
  • A clear & compelling message
  • Engaging delivery

These are the Holy Trinity of Public Speaking.

If you understand these key components, know how to apply them & practice them you can deliver engaging, powerful, and successful presentations and speeches alike.

So at the end of all that it seems rather academic as to whether you call it a presentation or public speaking. Whatever you choose to call them the skills needed are very, very similar. It is all about the message & the messenger.

The key to great presentation skills is to know what help you need, where to find it & to be able to apply it.

I have personally, delivered over 500 business presentations whilst employed as a senior executive with two FTSE 100 companies. Over the last 10 years I have been coaching business leaders and professionals in both the art of presentation preparation and the art of public speaking. I am also an experienced speech writer, so I can take the weight of writing your presentation off your shoulders!

About the Author

Chris is a speech writer, public speaker and communications expert based in Atlanta, Georgia. If you would like help from Chris and his team on your next presentation or speech, you can reach out to him at hello@chrisgreencommunication.com.

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