Bernie Lorenz had been promoting his business in public for 19 years when his wife finally persuaded him to take a public speaking seminar.
"I would talk about a thousand things without focusing," said Lorenz, owner of a Baltimore accounting and consulting firm.
After taking a two-day public speaking course, his skills improved considerably.
"They taught me how to focus and how to get my message out," he said, "not just make a sales pitch."
Passionate entrepreneurs like Lorenz tend to dump too much information on listeners, overloading them with statistics and data, said Frank Carillo, president of Executive Communications Group in Englewood, N.J. He teaches clients that focusing on two or three points is the secret to a memorable and effective business presentation.
"You need to look good, sound good and make sense," Carillo said. "And all these performance skills can be learned."
Since most small-business owners must be their own company spokesperson, feeling truly comfortable speaking in front of a crowd can be critical to success.
Yet one of the most common fears is fear of public speaking.
"You can reduce the fear by knowing your message and knowing your audience," said Christen Brown, founder and president of On Camera, a media coaching and consulting firm based in West Los Angeles.
She and her media and presentation trainers have been called on to work with executives at companies about to go public. On Camera's trainers help them brush up their presentations before they meet potential investors and stockbrokers.
Brown, a psychologist and former television interviewer who has been coaching for 20 years, tells clients that memorizing remarks is a big mistake. She advises clients to "write out your talking points, then build anecdotes around them."
"Give people one thought or idea, then give them an example," said Brown, who has coached executives at companies from Allergan Inc. to Xerox Corp.
"Do your preparation," Brown said.
The best way to practice a presentation is in front of a mirror or, better yet, a video camera. Watch how you move; see whether you are gesturing too much or too little. Brown also suggests watching out for head bobbing, swaying or hands stuffed into pockets.
Another point she constantly reminds clients about sounds obvious but is widely overlooked: Every successful presentation must have a beginning, a middle and an end.
Often, a key presentation is aimed at your employees, not the public. This was the case for John Shaw, president of a biomedical products subsidiary of Canadian company.
Shaw's challenge was creating an effective internal communications program at West Aim Biomedical in Hampton, N.H., as the company prepared to launch a new dressing for burns. Shaw said he faced two communications challenges: one internal and one external. First, he had to create unity among his 30 employees, many involved in developing the product and others whom he recently hired to market it to the medical community.
"We had to get everyone excited and committed to the product and the company," said Shaw, who worked with Carillo's communications firm to develop a three-hour presentation for employees.
"At the end of it," Shaw said, "we had blended the old employees with the new employees and had them going in the same direction--saving burn victims and improving their recovery."
Here are more presentation tips from Carillo:
* When you speak, make sure your feet are even and parallel. If the feet are in the right place, your hands will do the right thing.
* Look people directly in the eye. When speaking before a large group, focus on one person, then switch your "focus person" throughout your speech.
* Avoid the urge to share a lot of facts and figures. Accentuate your personal vision and passion for your company.
Jane Applegate is author of "201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business." To contact her on the Internet, visit http://www.janeapplegate.com or send e-mail to email@example.com.