tips for small businessThis post was written for Wave by guest blogger Dr. Ava Cross for the Small Business 500.

All professionals deliver presentations — to groups of 5 or 6 and to audiences of 100 or more. Presentations not only provide opportunities to sell your products and services, but also to make a personal impact on people and cement your firm's overall image and reputation. Here are 5 tips that will help you present with confidence and ease.

1. Know your audience

Learning about your audience — their backgrounds, age group, general interests, and attitudes — will help you determine how to select, shape, and deliver your information. Some audiences will be familiar with your company, and some won't. Some audiences will be subject matter experts and others won't even know the basic terms. Some audiences may be resistant to your message, and others will welcome it. Knowing your audience will help you pitch your information so that they can act on your objective.

2. Determine your purpose

What is the point of your presentation? What information should your audience take away? Do you want your audience to consider using a specific service or product? Or do you only want to raise your company profile? Think about the end point of your talk, and work toward that goal.

3. Organize your information

Prepare your talk with a clear introduction, middle, and conclusion. Use your intro to state your credentials, reveal your purpose, and preview the main topics you will cover. Then deliver the substance of your talk, being sure to have a clear strategy – for example, you may need to start with simple information and then move to the more complex. In your conclusion, recap your key ideas and your main objective. And remember to use transitions that guide your audience through each part of your speech, so they can follow your talk easily.

4. Prepare visual support

Visual support will reinforce key ideas and communicate complicated information, such as company growth. Keep it simple: Be sure your visuals enhance the spoken message, not hijack it with text-heavy slides or complex charts. Remember to prepare a title slide with your name, contact information, and speech title and date. You might also want to prepare handout slides so audience members have a take-away. Finally, proofread visuals carefully — spelling errors can destroy your credibility.

5. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

Almost everyone is nervous before delivering a presentation. We worry about making mistakes and how our audiences will view us. The best way to overcome nerves is with thorough preparation and rehearsal. Practice your presentation several times a day before delivery. You might want an audience of colleagues or to record yourself, so you can monitor your pace, eye contact, and mannerisms. While practicing remember to control your pace by breathing and pausing, and use eye contact to roam the room, so people feel you are speaking to them individually. Maintain good posture, but avoid stiffness – your audience wants to see a professional, but also someone they can relate to.

5 tips for a winning presentation

Originally from New York, Ava Cross teaches in the School of Professional Communication at Ryerson University. She is the author of Talking Business: Strategies for Successful Presentations and the Canadian author of Excellence in Business Communication, both published by Pearson Education Canada.