Presentation Mistakes Everyone Makes

Planning a presentation? You should know that public speaking is only partially about speaking. “War and Peace” is a brilliant novel, but if you stood at a podium and read it word for word to an audience, no matter how well you read aloud, you’d soon be reading to yourself. Your content and what you say are certainly important, but how you say it and how you present it demand equal attention.

The most powerful presentations successfully blend four elements: relevant content, a logical organization, compelling visuals, an engaging speaker.

As an audience member, you’ve been to your share of less than stellar presentations. The PowerPoint slides are out of order. The speaker reads her notes. The pacing is off. The visuals are boring. The flow is hard to follow. It’s not a pleasant experience for anyone in the room, including the speaker. How can you prevent this when everyone’s attention is on you?

Whether you’re using PowerPoint or Keynote, speaking in a large auditorium or a small conference room, you can give an effective presentation by avoiding these common presentation mistakes.

1. The deadly distraction

Don’t give audience members handouts to read before your presentation. According to Dave Labno, senior partner at Gatehouse Alliance, only about 18 percent of your audience is actively listening to your presentation. The rest are tuning in and out, and a handout will further distract.

2. The kitchen sink

Admit it. You’re tempted to load each PowerPoint slide with every bit of information it can hold. Resist! Distill your content to the most relevant points and use those points as cues during your presentation.

3. The empty vessel

What was that about? Sometimes we listen to long presentations and can’t summarize what we heard. Don’t waste your time — and your audience’s — creating a long, unmemorable monologue. Begin with an end in mind. Determine exactly what you want to accomplish — and what you want the audience to do. These goals should drive your content. Think motivational speech.

4. The sleeping pill

Please, please, please don’t just stand there reading your slides. Instead, add commentary that reinforces, highlights, or extends what your audience is seeing. Most people speak at 150 words per minute, but can process language at 900 words per minute, says Labno. This means by the time you have words up on the screen, your audience has already read them. (Assuming, of course, your message is interesting and relevant.) Glancing at notes is fine, but if you’re reading aloud, you’re not actively engaging your audience.

5. The ego trip

This isn’t about you. Well, not all of it anyway. Focus on your audience and how you can meet their needs. We’ve all endured endless “let’s talk about me” introductions. Make sure your presentation is written for your audience, not about you.

6. The blank canvas

Appearance counts. Be aware of the visual impact of your presentation and use typography, color, and imagery purposefully and consistently. Color is a powerful signal: use it to mark a new section or highlight key points. Choose fonts judiciously and make sure they’re readable. Also make sure your presentation has a logical beginning, middle, and end, and add a call-to-action, if appropriate.

7. The data dump

Yes, facts, figures, and statistics are important to your presentation, but they can also be as dull as a butter knife. Bring key points to life with relevant stories, anecdotes, and humor. A great story can make even the most complicated presentation engaging and informative.

8. The lethal leave-behind

Don’t print out your presentation as the leave-behind piece, unless someone specifically asks for it. What you can do is create an abridged version of your talk that highlights key messages or, better yet, think ‘value-added’ and have a high-quality brochure available that includes more detailed information about the subject of your presentation.

Delivering powerful presentations relies on more than speaking skills. To make your presentation memorable and persuasive, you need a compelling story organized in a logical manner with strong, pleasing visuals. And not one of the above mistakes.