In the many years that I have been giving presentation skills training and coaching I have noticed that there is a common pattern of the same mistakes being repeated again and again. Most of these mistakes are obvious to the presenter and they tell me that they know that it is a mistake, that they should correct it but don’t, and they continue making them. I have been wondering why. There could be several reasons, with the main one being that the presenter does not know how to correct the mistake. In this blog post, I will begin by identifying what the most common 10 mistakes are, and then in subsequent posts write about the best ways to correct each mistake.
Mistake 1: Not Preparing Enough
In my training and coachingI like to ask the question,
‘How long should you take to prepare a presentation?’
The answers I get vary, however, the correct answer is – It depends! It depends on how important the outcome is for you and your company. Many presenters are actual not clear at the beginning as to what their presentation wants to achieve, what result the presentation should bring, so it is difficult for them to decide how important the outcome is. So, they fail to see the value in spending time in preparation.
Careful preparation is essential and the key to success. The amount of time you spend on planning depends on your situation,however you can never be too well-prepared.
Mistake 2: Not setting up and checking the Venue and Equipment
You arrive at the venue 30 minutes before the scheduled start time and, to your horror, the projector does not work. You cannot connect to the internet to show the film you planned to show. The sun is shine through the windows, the air conditioning does not seem to make an impact, as the room feels more like a sauna than a boardroom.
Often, the sort of problems that can jeopardize your presentation will be situations beyond your control, but this doesn’t mean that you are helpless. Conduct a risk analysis to identify potential issues, and come up with some contingencies.
Mistake 3: Ignoring Your Audience
Sometimes, speakers can get so wrapped up in delivering their presentations that they forget about the needs and expectations of their audience.
Start your presentation by telling your audience what to expect. Let them know what you will cover first, your timings, how you will deal with questions during the presentation, and I think the most important thing – what they stand to gain from listening to you – from their perspective, the presentations benefits.
What I call ‘signposting’ will give your audience a clear idea of what to expect, so that they can relax and concentrate on your presentation.
Mistake 4: Using Inappropriate Content
One of the main purposes of any presentation is to share information with others, so it’s important to consider the level you choose.
Do some research on your audience. Why are they here? How much do they already know about your topic, and what do they most want to learn from you? It’s no use giving a presentation that is so full of jargon that no one understands you. But don’t patronize people, either.
Try to put yourself in people’s shoes, to get a clearer idea about their needs and motivations. You can also greet individuals as they arrive on the day, and ask questions toget a feel for their level of knowledge. This will also help you to personalize your presentation and make a connection with each person in your audience, so that they’ll be more attentive to what you say.
Mistake 5: Speaking too much
Short, concise presentations are almost always more powerful than longer ones. Try to limit yourself to a few main points, probably three points. If you take too long getting to your point, you risk losing your audience’s attention.
The average adult has a 15- to 20-minute attention span, so, if you want to keep your audience engaged, stick to the point! During the planning phase, make a note of the themes you want to cover and how you want to get them across. Then, when you start filling out the details, ask yourself: “Does my audience really need to know this?”
Mistake 6: Using Ineffective Slides and other Visuals
Badly designed slides can spoil a good presentation, so it’s worth spending time getting them right.
I often see slides with bad choice ofcolours, unnecessary animation, overloaded, or fonts that are too small to read. The most effective presentation visuals aren’t flashy – they’re concise and consistent.
Choose your pictures carefully, too. High-quality graphics can clarify complex information and lift an otherwise plain screen, but low-quality images can make your presentation appear unprofessional. Unless an image is contributing something, embrace the white (or negative) space – less clutter means greater understanding. Use animation sparingly, too – a dancing logo or words will only distract your audience.
Mistake 7: Overcrowding Text
The best rule of thumb for text is to keep it simple. Don’t try to cram too much information into your slides. I recommend moving away from the boring bullet point approach. Do not confuse a slide with a document. The slide should just support your spoken message and should not be the message itself. Avoid ‘redundancy’ that is do not write on the slide the words you are going to speak. Just put a few key words (or often better a visual) that supportsyour message.
Mistake 8: Speaking Incoherently
Even though we spend a large part of the day talking to other people, speaking to an audience is a surprisingly difficult skill, and it’s one that we need to practice.
If nerves make you rush through a presentation, your audience could miss your most important points. Use centringor deep breathing techniques to suppress the urge to rush. If you do begin to ‘waffle’, take a moment to collect yourself. Breathe deeply, and pronounce each word clearly, while you focus on speaking more slowly.
Mistake 9: Showing a Lack of Dynamism
I remember the key point a sales trainer made during a sales training I attended almost 30 years ago. He said that you can never ‘bore people in to buying from you’. This is still very true today.
You need to communicate your excitement and passion for your subject. Pay attention to what your hands are doing – they’re important for communicating emotion. But only use gestures if they feel natural, and avoid being too flamboyant with your arms, unless you want to make your audience laugh!
Body language is clearly important and often works on the audience at a subconscious level. This is however one area that with practice can be improved and will support and help you to get your message across and lead to you achieve the result you want from your presentation.
Mistake 10: Avoiding Eye Contact
Have you ever been to a presentation where the speaker spent all his time looking at his notes, the screen, the floor, or even at the ceiling? How did this make you feel?
Meeting a person’s eyes establishes a personal connection, and even a quick glance can keep people engaged. If your audience is small enough, try to make eye contact with everyone at least once.
If the audience is too large for this, divide the audience into sections (I like the W shape) and choose one person in each section. The others will think you are looking also at them.
It takes practice and effort to deliver a good presentation. But, if you know how to avoid the mistakes, your presentations will be great.
Common presentation mistakes include not preparing properly, delivering inappropriate content, and speaking poorly.
Time spent on careful planning always pays dividends. Check the venue out, and familiarize yourself with equipment in advance to avoid possible problems.
Keep your content clear and concise, with visual aids to match. And make sure that you pitch it at the right level for your audience’s understanding, so that your presentation doesn’t patronize or bewilder.
Remember, public speaking is a performance. Practice speaking clearly with a slower pace than your normal speech to avoid “rapid-fire” delivery. Use eye contact, body language, and gestures that complement your message to keep your audience engaged.
Next time you speak, avoid the mistakes outlined in this blog post – you’ll find you can present with confidence and a clear sense of purpose.