Top Ten Presentation Mistakes
When you look down from the podium and notice that your audience has become fidgety or have even nodded off, this is a pretty sure clue that you need to get your presentation skills in order! Incredibly this happens far more frequently than we care to admit. I was at a laborious presentation in Birmingham one hot afternoon and found I was struggling to stay awake. As I tried to remain focussed, I looked around and, to my horror; I noticed that every other delegate was already asleep. Fortunately - or perhaps unfortunately - the audience was seated in the circle of a theatre, hidden by darkness from the speaker. But the speaker was highly experienced and should have known that the presentation he had been making over a number of years was seriously mind-numbing.
Bored audience? Who is to blame?
So, who is to blame when an audience finds a presentation so heavy-going that it sends them to sleep? It would be easy to blame the audience, especially if some had arrived after a long journey or had had a heavy night. But more often an audience's loss of concentration is due to the speaker being out of kilter with their expectations or because the presentation being given is boring and uninspiring.
Too frequently corporations expect staff to make presentations without first ensuring they have the necessary skills to deliver an interesting and worthwhile address. Although to a degree presentation skills can be taught; too often people may be expected to perform with little or no experience so that they are out of their depth and unable to establish a rapport with an audience.
Ten top mistakes
When faced with making a presentation - perhaps for the first time - there are a number of fundamental mistakes that can be easily avoided.
1. The speaker is not familiar with their subject. A lack of preparation or having a clear understanding of the subject being presented will quickly undermine any speaker. Do your homework to ensure you can capably convey your knowledge with professionalism. Good preparation can also help to overcome any nervousness you might have about speaking to an audience.
2. The presenter has not familiarised his/herself with the venue. Sufficient time should always be allowed to investigate the venue before your presentation begins.
3. Failing to check equipment thoroughly. Whether or not you are providing the audio-visual, computers or other equipment, you have a thorough understanding of how everything works. Sod's Law can thrive at even the best prepared presentations and when a projector or a lap-top fails, there is no quicker way for a floundering speaker to lose credibility.
4. Failing to communicate with the audience. Speakers can become so entrenched with their presentation that they forget that are talking to an audience. Establishing eye contact with the audience; speak slowly and clearly; pause between sentences and don't forget to explain the content of your presentation at the start. The audience will need to know the length of your presentation and when to expect breaks to occur.
5. Too many distractions & being over-elaborate. Limit the number of slides or charts by ensuring they are really necessary. You should aim to use no more than 8-10 slides in a thirty minute presentation. When using bullet points, limit these to no more than 4 per slide. Ensure you use clear typefaces (Aerial & Times Roman are good) of a suitable size (30 point) to enable those at the back of a room to read them. Avoid multi-colours; dark text on a light background using no more than two different fonts (one for headlines, one for content) is best.
6. Too much information. Avoid overwhelming your audience with too much information. Remember that the average person's attention span is only 15-20 minutes. Do not try and cram a quart into a pint pot and follow the mantra - KISS (keep it simple, stupid). When preparing your presentation, ask yourself 'Does my audience really need to know this?'
7. Not knowing the audience. Every speaker should identify clearly with their audience and know who they are talking too. Avoid using jargon, technical data or information that they are unlikely to understand.
8. Not being prepared for the unexpected. If your PowerPoint presentation failed during a presentation would you be able to cope? Always ensure you have a contingency plan that enables you to continue in the event of an equipment failure. Similarly, prepare you for any unexpected questions from your audience.
9. Talking down to an audience. It is not unknown for some public speakers to act with an air of superiority in front of an audience. Remember, your audience may have paid for the privilege of hearing you speak; they may expect to learn from you or they may come to be entertained. But, whatever the reason, they will not appreciate being patronised.
10. Lacking personality. Speakers that remain static, half hidden behind a lectern may unintentionally become separated from their audience. A presentation that is lively, enthused and dynamic can inspire an audience. Watch how comedians Michael McIntyre 'work' an audience. Move about the stage if possible, use body language and hand movements to convey a point.
Making any kind of presentation to an audience of any size requires effort and preparation. But, by avoiding the common mistakes above can help you to become more proficient.
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