Image: Vanity Fair Image: Vanity Fair

What separates a business presentation from any other performance for an audience? In short, the goal – business results. You haven’t sold tickets in advance, you’re hoping to sell something afterwards, whether it’s a product, service, or opportunity, or even just renewed faith in an existing relationship.

The purest form of business presentation is therefore the sales pitch. Business outcomes rely directly on what you’re presenting, but also how you present it.

The world of celebrity provides numerous examples of excellent presenters, in multiple spheres. The movers and shakers in our tabloids and newspapers are under the constant scrutiny of the public eye, with few escaping criticism and judgement. But a select group seem to have perfected how they present themselves.

Two prominent but very different examples are Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, and Caitlyn Jenner, a former OIympic decathlete and television personality. Both have outstanding profiles in the media, and the prevailing sentiment about them seems to be overwhelmingly positive.

But what are their secrets, and what lessons can be taken to help convert business from presentations? Here are my thoughts on why Branson and Jenner are two of the most accomplished presenters you might meet.

Be clear and focused (The Prep)

This advice actually applies to your mental state and your presentation. Before anything else, you need to have complete clarity on what you want to achieve with your presentation. From there, you can make sure everything you do is aiming towards that goal.

When it comes to the presentation itself, clarity will be the most important factor in your success. When Branson pitched the idea of Virgin Atlantic to the other Virgin Group directors, none of whom had any experience in the airline sector, it was the simple clarity of his vision that won them round. He spoke to them in business language they understood, and didn’t waffle or get bogged down with complications or numbers.

Be honest (The Truth)

Caitlyn Jenner is the most prominent contemporary example of someone deciding to be who they truly are. Her transition from Bruce to Caitlyn has been a permanent fixture in the media over the last year, and she’s been (largely) praised for her bravery and poise in the face of controversy.

When presenting, if you’re pretending or acting like someone you’re not, it will show. Taking on a persona that’s not part of your genuine personality will make you seem disingenuous, or just plain fake. Plus it’s one more thing to juggle while presenting. Being yourself can be liberating, but it can actually help every facet of a presentation, from posture to tone of voice to demonstrating your passion.

As Jenner has shown, being yourself doesn’t mean everyone will agree or like you. However, it’s far better to genuinely reach most – or at least some – of your audience in this way, rather than connecting superficially with everyone.

Be engaging (The Sell)

In a very short space of time, you’re aiming to forge a relationship with your audience, or substantially build on an existing one. No small feat! This means that first and foremost, you want to aim for a conversational tone rather than formal. A more relaxed approach will also help with any nerves you may have, as you’re being yourself and chatting. If you stumble then that’s fine – it happens in normal conversations all the time, so don’t stress out.

Storytelling is an overused phrase at the moment, but this is the secret sauce for presenters. No one engages with a list of bullet points or figures. Tell your audience a story. Where possible, make it a personal story, and sprinkle some humour in there if you can.

When discussing LGBT issues, Jenner refers specifically to her own experience. She doesn’t cite stats and make sweeping statements about what the LGBT community wants and feels. Instead, she recounts her personal journey and struggles, relating any points back to her experience and transition, and those of people she’s met.

Be passionate (The Convincer)

If storytelling is the secret sauce of an engaging presentation, then passion is the most important ingredient for converting business from that presentation. If you aren’t passionate about your business, then why should your audience give their custom to you? If you aren’t excited by what you’re presenting, how can you expect your audience to be?

More than any other businessman that comes to mind, Richard Branson is the living embodiment of passion. From his early attempts to sell Christmas trees, through the launch of numerous Virgin ventures over the last 50 odds years, right up to Virgin Galactic, passion has been Branson’s driving force. Every deal and opportunity has been fuelled by his world-famous, infectious enthusiasm, and belief. He brings people with him on the journey and uses his passion to convince them – the final step in converting business.

By Tim Levy, speaking and marketing coach