Presentation skills give anyone a competitive advantage, professionally and personally. Whether pitching a business idea or communicating difficult news to a co-worker or family member, your presentation skills make a big difference in how you are received.

Two experts on presentation skills offer new perspectives to business students at the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University. Debbie Holzkamp, founder and CEO of Virtanza, and Tammy Palazzo, co-founder of Presentr, share knowledge and a unique new technology with students in the Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility cluster at the College. Holzkamp and Palazzo introduced their collaboration on persuasive presentations in a new exercise entitled Pitching the Business Case for Sustainability.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term sustainability, one of Dr. Neil Drobny’s favorite definitions is “living off nature’s interest instead of nature’s capital stock.” Drobny is Program Director for Environment, Economics, Development and Sustainability at Fisher College.

Selling business solutions that preserve environment, value humanity AND make money

According to Drobny, sustainability-minded professionals are challenged by the need to “pitch” the business case for sustainable products to corporate leaders. In the new exercise, students work in teams to develop skills in selling the business case for a product or service they conceive. Their idea must offer sustainability, have potential commercial value, and be technically feasible.

“The tips provided by Debbie and Tammy energized the students to work as hard on their presentations as on the content of their projects,” Drobny says.

Holzkamp demonstrated how the Virtanza consultative sales process can be used to build a presentation to sell a sustainable solution. “It’s like any other sales opportunity,” says Holzkamp.  “You start with a vision, define objectives, study the market and the competition, then tell stakeholders how you’ll give them a return on their investment. With a sustainable solution, the additional element is selling its advantages for humanity and the environment.”

Students received an outline and template for making their pitch presentations. Holzkamp showed how three organizations – Virtanza, Amazon and Global Capital Markets’ Audrey Choi – used such an approach to communicate sustainable solutions and gain success in the market.

Feedback from students about Holzkamp’s lecture was positive, with many remarking they thought it improved their grade. One wrote, “This project greatly improved our ability to provide a persuasive presentation involving sustainability. I never really knew the way to structure a presentation in order to persuade others to commit to a project. The lecture that outlined the way to do this coupled with the actual experience of doing it has led me to be more comfortable presenting a case.”

Practice your presentation skills with smartphone

Following Holzkamp’s step-by-step instruction for developing content, Palazzo stepped up to share the Presentr smartphone app to help students become better presenters. Presentr is an interactive automated coach whose groundbreaking technology measures and analyzes body language and speech. It then offers personalized coaching on what users can do to improve their presentation skills. Users simply turn on their smartphone video camera to practice a presentation and get an objective analysis of their performance. Palazzo explains: “Presentr listens to your voice. It looks at your gestures and posture. How is your volume? Are you using unnecessary filler words? What are you doing with your hands? What does your body language communicate?”

Presentr then scores the speaker and uses a gaming approach to offer entertaining, interactive coaching for improvement. It’s all private and self-motivating. No scary practice in front of your boss or team followed by critical feedback. It’s just you and your smartphone, plus follow-up that makes it fun to improve your presentation skills.

Although Presentr is usually marketed to organizations for use by their employees, the Fisher students received individual access to download and demo the app to put a professional polish on their pitches and – they hope – boost their grades.

Communication and relationships

Both Virtanza and Presentr focus on making the most of opportunities to communicate with others. “When distilled to its very essence, sales is communication: matching a message with an audience,” says Holzkamp.

“Presentr can strengthen your ability to communicate in any type of setting,” Palazzo adds. “It might be talking to a family member or giving an employee a performance review. It doesn’t have to be speaking in front of a group.”

“At Virtanza , we believe that just about anyone with good social skills can be successful in sales, which accounts for about 30% of available jobs at any given time in any region,” says Debbie Holzkamp. “We are passionate about helping people translate their natural-born communication ability into a successful sales career.”  Virtanza’s 5-week, college-level certification course in professional sales enables qualified students to begin well-paid careers in sales. Or, experienced salespeople can use the program to develop more sophisticated skills and achieve a higher level of success.

To learn more about Virtanza, visit our website and complete the online contact form.

The Presentr pilot program is now available in the App Store. Request a demo at

Author Ibby Vores, SHRM-SCP, is a human resources consultant and a Virtanza instructor. She teaches resume writing, cover letter customization, and interviewing techniques.