I’m teaching a college class in business communication. We just finished our midterm project. Students chose a nonprofit organization, and over several weeks prepared a 5- to 7-minute presentation to persuade a corporation to support that organization.

The presentations are complete – to the students’ great relief. I asked my class to share some tips for future classes on how to make their presentations better. Their thoughtful answers can help you make more effective business presentations.

  • Choose a topic you have a passion for. The student who has volunteered since high school to make athletic competition possible for people with disabilities was an enthusiastic champion for that organization. The veteran who was once homeless made a compelling case for an organization that helps veterans find housing and jobs. On the other hand, students who chose an organization at random could barely gather enough enthusiasm to do their research.
  • Do your homework. This assignment required several weeks of research, an audience analysis, and peer and instructor review of PowerPoints, fact sheets, speaker bios, and meeting agendas. Every facet of the assignment went through several drafts before the final presentation.
  • Rehearse more than you think you need to. One student said she practiced in front of a mirror so she’d remember to smile. Another said it was important to practice with of someone who knows enough about the topic to challenge weak arguments.
  • Go easy on yourself. The six minutes of terror in the actual presentation was just one small part of the overall assignment. This presentation was just one small milestone on their journey to a business degree.

Sure, this assignment wasn’t the same as what really happens in business. You never have four weeks to prepare for a presentation, for one thing.

Here’s my challenge for you:

  • If you don’t have a passion for a project you’re proposing, that project needs a different champion – or you need a different job. Enthusiasm is contagious.
  • Don’t count on your PowerPoint slides alone to convince your audience. Your homework should include thorough research about the topic – and the audience. Bring along supporting materials to make a stronger case.
  • Very few people can wing an important presentation. Schedule time to practice – and ask someone you respect to watch you rehearse.
  • If your presentation doesn’t go well, learn from it and move on.  You’ll do better the next time.

Blythe Campbell is a speaker, trainer, coach and consultant who helps leaders at all levels communicate better.