I was looking forward to the industry report presentations of final-year MBA students from a globally ranked business school In Africa.

The industry reports were a critical component of the business school’s annual Career Day event for the MBAs. It was a full day of networking, interviewing, and other activities where 30 top companies set up booths and interacted with MBA students. The business school meticulously planned the event to showcase the academic prowess, communication skills, and employability of its students.

For the final-year MBAs who were to graduate in a few months, it was an invaluable opportunity to demonstrate their skills and experiences to secure lucrative job offers.

And for the first-year MBAs, it was a priceless networking event that provided valuable internship opportunities with reputable companies.

Now the final-year MBAs had researched for months to prepare their industry reports. As has been the custom at the business school for years, the students were divided into groups to work on reports in five segments. They tackled ICT/telecoms, oil and gas, FMCG (fast-growing consumer goods), banking, and an overview of the major industries in the country. Moreover, the industry reports carried 20% of the weight in the ‘Strategy in Emerging Markets’ module. Therefore, the MBA students could appreciate the significance of the reports and the industry report presentations that followed.

I became involved in the process a few weeks before the event. I was invited to coach the MBAs on their delivery and offer recommendations to improve their presentations.  During the rehearsals, I was joined by an esteemed faculty member of the prestigious business school. His focus was on the thoroughness of the MBAs’ content, the accuracy of the data, and the relevance of the industry reports to companies and other stakeholders who would comprise the audience.

I was mentally exhausted after two gruelling coaching sessions that each spanned over three hours across two weeks—one where the MBAs presented live on stage, and the other where they presented virtually. Yet, the students still needed to implement content revisions and practice thoroughly to ensure a flawless delivery on the day.

The audience sat in the business school’s impressive mini-auditorium on Career Day. Excluding the central screen, other screens were positioned around the sides of the room. Table mics were set up on every row so the audience could ask questions wherever they sat. In the audience were company executives, recruiters from the 30 participating companies, and others. The presentations were to be streamed live. It was a setup that would have intimidated even experienced speakers.

So, there I was seated in the audience, anxious and expectant. I hoped the final-year MBAs remembered suggestions made during the rehearsals and what I had harped on nonverbal and verbal cues, flow, and delivery.

The presentations were successful, and I beamed with pride akin to a mother seeing her children receive well-deserved honours.

The event reinforced one fact:

Irrespective of the experience of the speaker, the content, and the occasion, there are four pillars of exceptional business presentations that are non-negotiable. Two are based on the content, and two are on the delivery.

The Content

1) Relevant, sticky content

During the rehearsals, the faculty member and I challenged the MBAs to ensure their materials were relevant.

We asked them questions. We wanted them to ponder on their information, revise sections, or remove data that didn’t address the what’s-in-it-for-me angle or the so-what question.

Relevance is a powerful element in persuasion. And at the heart of a relevant presentation is a drive to satisfy the needs of the audience.

Whether you’re a young professional, an executive with decades of experience under your belt, or somewhere in between, the first rule of effective speaking applies:

Consider your audience, then prioritise their needs in your content.

For example, the MBAs’ presentations provided insights that companies operating in those industries might not be aware of. But more importantly, the presenters made recommendations on what companies should do to ensure their businesses thrive.

You might not be a final-year MBA student. But whatever your role or industry, always remember that the purpose of your presentation/speech/address falls into at least one of three categories:

  • What do I want my audience to know?
  • What do I need my audience to feel?
  • What should my audience do?

I dub this widely useful tactic the Know-Feel-Do Premise. It helps your content to become ‘sticky’ and persuasive.  Use it in the planning/preparation stage alongside my foundational question to zero in on your goal and be clear about the desired outcome of your presentation.

You should also ensure that every slide in your presentation justifies its presence. If a slide doesn’t add to the ‘flow’ of your presentation or if it weakly supports your argument — delete it. This sometimes brutal but necessary cut sharpens your content and guarantees its relevance to the audience.

People are more likely to pay attention when your content resonates with them and potentially impacts their lives in some way.

2) Steve Jobs’ slide design

With the deluge of information on the internet and additional distractions competing for our time in live, hybrid, and virtual events, we have become less tolerant of ramblings.

We’re also fed up with cluttered slides, complicated content, and small text that’s virtually impossible to read in presentations.

As a non-tech professional, I quickly ‘tune off’ when I watch presentations with cumbersome slides or poorly presented information.

The late Steve Jobs, unofficially regarded as the ‘guru’ of business presentations, changed the game. He was known to rehearse for extended periods on stage. Moreover, his presentation style has become the platinum standard to follow.

But what did he do to earn such adulation?

Check out Jobs’ slides. Watch his presentation on the iPhone release in 2017 below.

Courtesy of CNET

Realise that the brilliance of his slides hinged on two elements:

I) His slides had large, clean visuals

Large visuals meant there was not much room for other distractions. The visuals grabbed the audience’s attention and verbally reinforced the points Jobs made.

Moreover, the ‘purity’ of the visuals (simple and clean) left no room for misinterpretation. They were large. They were relevant. And they were memorable.

II) His slides had little text

Jobs reportedly used a 190-point text for his presentations.  This meant minimal text on the screen. Less text meant less time and effort ‘reading’ slides. It also coaxed the audience to focus on Jobs who communicated the value of the iPhone in simple, concise language.

In Part III, Chapter 15 of my bestselling business communication book Influence and Thrive, I explain how to use presentations and other applications effectively. Below is my summary of Jobs’ technique on page 119:

The combination of large text and huge images creates the ‘wow’ effect, especially if you use open or ‘warm’ body language positions to signal credibility.

The MBAs’ slides had large clean visuals for the industry report presentations: images, tables, and graphs. They stripped away a lot of text that had previously cluttered their slides in the rehearsals, and they ensured that only the critical points were listed.

You too should follow Steve Jobs’ slide design.

Remember that your slides should complement your delivery and not replace you.

Therefore, the next time you’re preparing for your presentations, use Steve Jobs’ iPhone reveal presentation for inspiration, then tweak your slides accordingly.

Having simple, clean slides also reduces the cognitive strain on the audience. As a result, they’ll easily understand your content and quickly process the information. Then they’ll turn their attention to you. And attention—as bestselling author Carmine Gallo regularly stresses—is the currency of this information age.

The Delivery

3) ‘Open’ nonverbal cues and vocal variation

During the live rehearsal, I stressed the importance of the final-year MBAs using their nonverbal cues to amplify their delivery.

They were already smart. But I wanted them to be seen as warm, trustworthy, and persuasive.

And I was pleased with what I observed on Career Day.

First, the way the MBAs stood and moved made them look relaxed and confident, whatever their mental state was.

Next, the ‘open’ body positions they displayed (e.g., open palms and hands) and gestures they used to engage and stress points had me nodding and smiling in the audience.

Then throughout their presentations, they made and maintained great eye contact with the audience.

I also noticed that the exceptional MBA presenters used volume, pacing, different tones, and pauses to create an impact. The variation in their vocals made them interesting to watch. Some MBA presenters were better than others. But the ones who stood out, whose presentations I didn’t want to end, were engaging from the beginning to the end.

Now go back to Steve Jobs’ iPhone reveal video. This time, focus on his delivery. Watch how he moved on stage. Note his gestures and the different tones he used. Then observe how his pauses created suspense. Listen to him repeat key phrases.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel for your business presentations. Learn what works, revise elements, and then apply them to your situation. After you’ve locked down your content, rehearse multiple times. Then release yourself to ‘perform’ in ways that are authentic to your nature.

And have fun. You could see that Steve Jobs was having fun during the iPhone release event. And so were the MBAs during their industry report presentations.

Use your nonverbal behaviours and vocal dynamics to power your delivery.

4) Strategic audience engagement

The best presenters engage with the audience directly or indirectly.

Your content and your delivery take the audience on a journey, but your interaction with them creates a bond. If done well, that connection with the audience lingers after your presentation and makes you unforgettable. This is the reason audience members approach speakers, presenters, and trainers for further discussions immediately after sessions.

Even if the format of your presentation doesn’t allow a Q&A session, you can connect with the audience by asking rhetorical questions or giving them a minor task to perform.

For example, the MBA student presenting the ICT/telecoms industry report on behalf of his group asked the audience:

“Who here has more than one SIM card in their phones?”

I raised my hand, as so did members of the audience. It was a widespread practice in the country. The action required from the audience was quick and simple. And by participating, we the audience became more interested in the speaker and focussed on his presentation.

Another presenter tackling the FMCG industry on behalf of her group made a statement that drew laughter from the audience. After listing challenges in the sector, she declared in a humorous tone that everyone still had to eat. Later in the Q&A session, an executive from a company that produced noodles and other food items referred to the presenter’s statement. He commended her analysis and declared that no matter how bad the economy got, people would still eat. He thus advised companies in that industry to invest more to reap greater dividends in the years to come. It was satisfying to see the impact of that MBA student’s presentation on the audience.

In the iPhone reveal presentation, Steve Jobs engaged with the audience by repeating certain phrases:

“An iPod.

“A phone.

“And an internet communicator.”

(Repeated twice)

“Are you getting it?”

The audience ‘got’ it. They whistled, laughed, and applauded.

Another way to connect with the audience is during the formal Q&A session. The MBAs answered questions confidently and provided more insights. Again, they demonstrated how their knowledge would benefit companies.

After the industry report presentations, I visited the company booths and mingled with recruiters and company executives. I asked them to share their thoughts on the MBAs’ presentations, and I got positive feedback. Some recruiters specifically requested to be linked to the MBA presenters who impressed them the most.

Again, copy best practices:

Go through your presentation and strategically create moments to engage with your audience.

Tell the audience a story/anecdote/account, but ensure it’s linked to your presentation’s big idea. Or ask them a rhetorical question. Or make a relatable, lighthearted comment to draw smiles and laughter. Or get them to complete a minor action. Or do all four.

Finally, welcome the Q&A session. If you consider your presentation a real estate portfolio, then your Q&A session is premium property. It’s one of the most powerful ways to win over unconvinced audience members, strengthen your points, increase your persuasiveness, and position yourself as the authority. Just ensure that you seal the deal with a strong finish (a clear call-to-action, a forward-looking projection, a declaration, etc.) after the Q&A stint.

Start in a memorable way and end with a bang for all your presentations.


To be fair, the MBA industry report presentations weren’t perfect. Some presenters could have done better by projecting their voices, slowing down, and using pauses to support their strongest points.

Nonetheless, the presentations did one thing well:

They revealed that the four pillars listed in this article can be applied to any business presentation to create a memorable experience.

Therefore, the next time you need to deliver a presentation to influence people or win advocates for a cause, use the four pillars.

You won’t regret it.

Do you need help with your presentation skills?

I love working with ambitious professionals, executives, entrepreneurs, and business leaders.

You already know my approach, my credibility, and my experience. So let’s explore how my transformational business communication coaching and training services will accelerate your career or boost your business.

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N.B:  First image is courtesy of Gerd Altmann via Pixabay. Video is courtesy of CNET’s YouTube channel. Second image is courtesy of JK_HGZ. Last image is courtesy of Sergio Montoya via Pixabay.

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