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What Business School Taught Me About How to Ace a Presentation

November 20, 2015

When I entered business school as a thirty-something professional, I faced a laundry list of daunting challenges. First of all, what on earth do I wear to class? Something told me the oversized t-shirt and track shorts that the undergraduates get away with just wasn’t going to fly. But once I figured out the wardrobe part, the next hurdle was learning how to give a great presentation—something that nearly all of my classes required. Fortunately, the b-school experience is designed to help you learn, and I now have a number of tricks (up the sleeve of my Emily dress) that I’m delighted to share.

ace a presentation

The perfect presentation outfit: the Toi dress and the Woolf knit blazer.

1. Play to your strengths.

Business school places an emphasis on teamwork. If you have the opportunity to present in teams, leverage your background to speak to the slides you know the best. If you’re in marketing, take the lead on rolling out your team’s marketing strategy. Presenting what you are comfortable with and interested in will help you feel more confident and in control.

2. Don’t over-rehearse.

Presentations should be natural. No one likes to watch a robot read off a set of slides. When rehearsing, memorize just the big ideas, not the bullet points. A few days out, run through your slides a few times without any notes. If you can anticipate the next slide in the deck and remember the major points, you’re golden.

3. Wear something you feel 100% confident in.

Skip that skirt you constantly have to adjust and the blouse with the fidget-inducing buttons. If you don’t feel completely at ease in what you’re wearing, it’ll show. Not only will you create unnecessary distractions, but poorly fitting clothing can also make you feel less confident. If it feels too short, too revealing, or just too anything, leave it on the hanger. Wear something sleek and comfortable (I recommend the Lydia), and let your presentation speak for itself.

4. Prepare a statement that will help you “unfreeze.”

We’ve all been there: You’re speaking confidently and smoothly, and then bam! Your mind goes blank. It can happen even to the most seasoned presenters. To avoid having an “oops” moment, memorize a statement that will help you unfreeze. It can be a sentence or phrase to fall back on for the rare occasion when you need to make a smooth segue into a new topic. For example, if you’ve memorized the main point of your presentation, you can always revisit your overarching thesis by saying, “What’s important to emphasize here is ____.” You’ll reiterate your main point—never a bad idea—and buy yourself time to collect your thoughts.

5. There will be a Q&A session!

Nearly every presentation these days involves a follow-up Q&A session. If answering questions on the fly makes you nervous, plan ahead. Have a few stock answers and examples that you can reference easily if needed. Also, put any reference slides at the end of the deck in case you need to pull one up during the Q&A. And if you get tripped up by a question, take a tip from the PR pros and answer the question you wish you’d been asked instead.

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Rachel Truair is a marketer, writer, and member of the University of Texas Executive MBA Class of 2016. When she's not exploring her hometown of Austin, Texas, she can be found traveling the world—trying to hit 40 countries by her 40th birthday. Read more of Rachel's posts.

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