The importance of a professional business presentation can not be overstated in determining the fate of a new business opportunity. Nevertheless, it is amazing how many times the presenter does not apply these same essential professional requirements to their own person. You only get one chance to make a great first impression. Make the most of it!

This goes far beyond the obvious elemental issues of personal care and hygiene. A person brimming with strength, confidence and a professional demeanor commands respect and their words are much more valued, even if they might not be as strongly grounded in details of the project.

Before we take clients to decision-makers (investment bankers, venture capital firms, potential licensees, etc.) we conduct a basic clinic in personal deportment. The points we cover seem may minute, mundane or simplistic. However, they can become hurdles to making a deal if they off-put the target and divert attention from the meeting goal, a successful placement. We use a version of media training as offered by QVC or HSN before they put a new vendor on the air.

One thing a presenter should never do is to try and be somebody, or something they are not. Be natural. Nevertheless, a personal foible that can not be controlled should be hidden or minimized.

Dress professionally, the centerpiece of the meeting is not your diamond brooch, gold pinky ring, or five inch stiletto heels, but your product or opportunity. Wear appropriate clothing for the type of business environment you are seeking to enter and for your physique. There is nothing worse for a presenter than to be minimized by a wardrobe choice that overwhelms the meeting. A skirt to short, a blouse cut too low, a mismatched shirt and tie, or an overwhelming cologne are only a few of the errors that can ruin the meeting agenda you must pursue.

It is not necessary to buy an Ermingildo Zegna suit, or a Chanel jacket in anticipation of presentation day. Clean, well pressed, proper fitting are essentials and more important than the price or label of the clothing. In fact, wearing a $3000 suit can be a turn-off, as investors usually want a prudent shepherd of capital as a partner. The high line, designer wardrobe can be interpreted as flashy, showy, a sign of a profligate spender.

It is always wise to spend a few minutes before the formal portion of the presentation engaging the participants in conversation. Do not be banal. With people you do not know at all, or at least very well, you can not risk any topic that might risk hitting a nerve or sending a negative vibe. A trophy on the bookshelf, a photo of a boat, an antique pen and inkwell, these are the types of things that can start an ice breaking chat. Keep it brief and mostly be a listener.

When the presentation begins, look the participants directly in the eye. When a question is asked, look the questioner in the eye. You do not, indeed, cannot come off ferret-like and achieve the result you desire. Eye contact is essential to projecting an air of strength, comfort with your subject, and confidence that can be contagious. I have sat in post-meeting reviews and seen otherwise fine projects shot down because the presenter did not seem to have the necessary presence to spur confidence from the investors.

If you are seated at a table, sit up straight, I prefer to be on the edge of my chair. This position projects an air of energy and can-do attitude. Body language is always being read.

If you are standing at an easel or making a power point presentation, use smooth, sweeping hand movements to highlight items and key points. Do not chop, swipe and jerk about with your free hands. Keep concentration on the details of your project, not your karate moves. Your motions should elegantly and forcefully enforce the strengths of your presentation. Stand up straight and avoid walking and talking.

Your voice should be modulated to the size of the room and number of participants. Do not yell, shout or be bombastic. A smooth pace and steady delivery is preferred to a racehorse style. The meeting participants may, or may not be, fully familiar with your opportunity’s business model, its endemic trade terms and “inside baseball” analogies.

Your strategy for taking and answering questions is dependent on your strength and the reception you are receiving from your audience. When I am cut off mid-presentation with a question, I typically answer, “Good question, I will be covering that point in just a moment”. Then I go right back to my outline. This deferral of answering provides two important benefits: one, I stay in control of the meeting and nicely exhibit my strength, two, I exhibit my mastery of the topic by having the question ready to be covered in coming remarks. For me this works. If you know your topic cold, and project an air of strength that is easily recognizable, you will be able to defer questions and provide answers in the context of your agenda.

Never ask a question yourself as an item in your presentation unless you KNOW the answer. If the question has more than one answer, or worse, an answer negative to you needs, avoid asking at all costs. We all know that wellness is a big issue for baby boomers, correct? Does your wife or girlfriend love shoes? Don’t all true Sox fans hate the Yanks? This type of question is non-threatening to your prospects. Gear a query, if needed, to an absolute truism related to your project.

I always ask for questions at the conclusion of the presentation. If you have provided a comprehensive, professionally delivered presentation, there will be questions. This is good, an excellent time for you to burnish your credentials as an expert on your subject.

Anticipate the worst during this open floor portion of the meeting. It is my experience that there are no perfect ideas. This should not be a deal killer, if you have alternative answers at hand. There is always an issue that is of some worry. If you are properly knowledgeable about your project you will have anticipated this and have appropriate answers. If you have not anticipated a shortcoming, well, oops! It never fails: decision-makers never seem to miss asking these questions. Your ability to satisfactorily answer the weak link question will probably determine your success.

Read the body language of your audience. Are they paying attention? Are they taking notes? Are they whispering to each other? Take note of positive head nods, pointing at documents and frowns, or negative head nods. The collective visual response of your audience can be a guide, to speeding or slowing your presentation and preparing mentally for the coming objections you must overcome.

A few years ago I took a clients product into HSN for initial review. The buyer loved the product, the price and the marketing program. He requested a meeting with the owner of the product. We spent hours with her, practicing, taping and massaging her product presentation. After all, she was going to be on national television acting as spokesperson for the item. She did fine in practice. She was excellent in the buyers meeting. She met with her HSN on-air personality and practiced the day before going on the air. The tape was excellent.

In the green room, before she went on camera, she was jovial, relaxed, and seemingly very confident. When the red light popped on, and she was introduced to the viewing public for the first time, she froze. The HSN personality, very smooth and agile, asked a couple of fur-ball questions. However, the timing was broken and the opportunity was lost.

You do not typically receive second chances from a decision-maker. The pressure of knowing that a one shot meeting has the potential to critically effect a project is daunting. The best way to mitigate that pressure and achieve a successful result is to be the expert on your opportunity, able to persuade by words, props, physical presence and professional bearing, your command of your subject.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. ( has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.