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Bad presentations tend to stick in the memory for all the wrong reasons.
We can probably all recall sitting through dull, lifeless presentations.
Yet when it comes to taking the stage ourselves, many of us struggle to learn from what we have seen before.
So how can this vicious circle be stopped?
In this blog, we look at nine common presentation mistakes and offer some tips from our presentation skills training courses on how they can be avoided.
As shallow as it sounds, when you are presenting the audience will form an almost instant impression of you. It is only when you look and sound like you know what you are talking about that they will actually pay attention.
Yet all too often speakers get off to terribly dull starts. We can probably all, for example, remember a presentation where the speaker starts by tapping the microphone and asking whether people at the back can hear. Not only is it boring, but it also doesn’t create the impression of someone who is going to communicate with confidence, cohesion and clarity.
Similarly, opening with a phrase like ‘I haven’t had a lot of time to prepare’ or ‘I’ll keep it brief’, do not suggest you are taking the opportunity seriously or that the audience will get much out of the presentation.
Reading your slides
One of the easiest ways for a presenter to lose their audience is to read straight from their slides.
There is simply nothing engaging about reading from a screen to a packed room. Reading aloud is not presenting.
It also creates the perception that the presenter is not particularly confident or familiar with the subject they are discussing. It feels pretty lazy.
There’s also an argument that if all you are going to do is read aloud, then it would probably be better for all concerned if you just sent the presentation as an email.
One way to avoid making this mistake is to restrict the amount of text on your slides to a few key words or ideas.
This will remove the temptation to read them. The slides are not the presentation, they are there to support what you say.
I’m sure we can all remember how we felt when we sat through a presentation that overran, or where the presenter realised time was running out and rattled through the remaining part of what they wanted to say.
If you are anything like me, you would not have felt that created a good impression. You feel cheated and wonder what you would have got from the rest of the presentation if it had been given the time it deserved.
If you had another meeting or somewhere else to get to, you probably paid minimal attention to what was said, became restless and did little more than clock watch.
Finishing a presentation considerably early does not create the right impression either. The audience again is likely to feel short-changed and wonder what has been missed out.
Poor timekeeping smacks of a lack of preparation and is something audiences find hugely annoying.
Vague call to action
Business leaders and senior managers give presentations that are professional, articulate and well crafted. The audience dutifully listens and is impressed with the speaker.
So far so good. The problem is that the audience then go out of the room for coffee, perhaps to check their phones, or even when they return to their desks - and they have no idea what they are supposed to do as a result of the presentation they’ve just heard.
They’ve learnt some useful facts and perhaps even been moved emotionally but what are they supposed to do now?
Including a strong, clear call to action is essential in every speech. Tell your audience what you want them to do and then show them how easy it is to take that action.
Jargon and acronyms
Jargon and acronyms are a threat to every presentation.
Every industry has its own phrases and shortcuts which enable colleagues to talk quickly to each other.
But they only work when everyone knows what they mean. That means that when they are used in a presentation they will invariably be meaningless to those who do not work in that sector.
If the audience does not understand these phrases and acronyms, they are going to spend extra time trying to work out what it means and will become distracted and stop following what is being said.
It creates a barrier between the audience and the message you want to get across.
Corporate boardroom jargon, like ‘moving forwards’, ‘blue sky thinking’ and ‘drill down’, also frustrates audiences and creates an element of mistrust.
On our presentation skills training courses, we talk about the importance of speakers using everyday language to ensure that their message resonates.
The question of questions
The question and answer session at the end of a presentation is something many presenters dread.
They tend to fear losing control or being caught out by a question they cannot answer. The nerves kick in and there is plenty of scope here to undo all the good work that has gone before.
But questions are generally a good sign, showing that the audience is interested, has been paying attention and wants to know more.
The key to success is to make sure you have done your research and have spent time anticipating not only the questions which are likely to come up in response to what you have been discussing, but also any broader issues which could be brought into the conversation.
We also bring media training skills into our presentation skills courses to help presenters do just this, and retain control.
Bad stock photos
We’ve all seen them – presentations packed with photos of business people standing around in unnatural poses.
Then, of course, there is the almost obligatory arrow hitting the bullseye, or people giving a thumbs up.
Often, the images have been seen countless times before because they are readily available on the internet. They make slides look lazy, show a lack of creativity and cause audiences to lose interest.
Rather than providing this yawn-inducing material, be imaginative if you want to make an impact. Aim for pictures which are unique and meaningful and will actually help the audience remember the point you are trying to get across.
How many times have you sat down at the start of a presentation and spent the first few minutes flicking through the handouts?
I know I’ve done it plenty of times. But the problem is that while you are reading through this material you are not listening to what the presenter is saying.
By giving out your handouts at the start you are giving your audience a possible distraction. Leave them until the end.
Sometimes technical issues will happen during a presentation. But often these issues could easily have been prevented with the right preparation.
For example, how many times have you heard a presenter say to the audience ‘bear with me’ while they frantically fiddle with a cable? It is not very inspiring.
Running through all the technical parts of a presentation should be a key part of your preparation.
If something still does go wrong, make light of the situation and keep the presentation moving before you lose the audience’s attention.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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