10 deadly presentation mistakes anyone can avoid

Practice makes perfect. Less is more. Audiences love a good story. These tips and more will spare you a deluge of flop sweat.

At some point in your career you’ll probably be asked to make a presentation.

For some, public speaking is an opportunity to shine; for others, it’s a nightmare.

Wherever you fall on that spectrum, understanding these 10 common presentation mistakes—and knowing how to fix them before they happen—can mean the difference between a presentation that’s a career maker or a career breaker.

Too much content

According to presentation expert Paul Vorreiter of ReflectiveSpark.com, your audience should need no more than three seconds to read and understand each slide. If they’re busy reading the slide, they’re not paying attention to what you’re saying.

Too many bullet points

Bullet points don’t tell a story, and a slide with 10 bullet points violates the three-second rule. Instead, break up that one overloaded slide into 10 slides with one idea each.

Relying on facts and figures instead of a story

A crucial mistake is failing to tell a compelling story. Instead of telling your audience that revenue is up 300 percent, detail how revenue was increased or what the company is doing with the profits.

Making it all about you

The audience isn’t there to try to decipher the tiny text on your boring slides. Make the presentation about them. Turn it into an event, something they will want to talk about with others. Know who your audience is, what they care about and what problems keep them up at night.

Too many animations

Animations are fun for the person programming the presentation, but they usually add nothing. Keep things simple. The fewer bells and whistles your presentation has, the less likely things are to go wrong.

Too much text

If you want to create an emotional response in your audience (and yes, you do), use full-screen pictures. Use text for hard facts.

Disorganized presentation

When developing a presentation, most people open up PowerPoint and start programming. Bad idea. Instead, use sticky notes to storyboard your presentation first. It will save you lots of programming time and will help you organize your presentation. Plus, having limited space on a sticky note will help you stick (pun intended) to the three-second rule.

No rehearsal

A grave mistake that speakers and presenters make is neglecting to practice enough. Practice by yourself in front of a mirror; then practice in front of a colleague or friend. Practice more than you think you should. The more times you’ve rehearsed, the more smoothly your presentation will go.

Last-minute changes

It’s tempting to make adjustments right up until you walk on stage, but doing so opens you up to mistakes. Lock down your presentation a day or two beforehand; then don’t change a thing.

Technical difficulties

Most of us know the pain of waiting for a presenter to figure out how to make the projector work-or worse, listening to a presentation without slides because he couldn’t make it work. Be prepared to connect your equipment to anything; a few dollars spent up front to buy all the right connectors will save you tons of embarrassment and headaches. Know beforehand the kind of projector, the size of the screen and the layout of the room so you’re prepared for anything.

Eliminating these 10 common mistakes will set you head and shoulders above your unprepared peers, whether you’re presenting to your peers in a small conference room or giving your seminal TED talk to an international audience.

Bernard Marr is a bestselling business author. You can connect with him via Twitter, Facebook and The Advanced Performance Institute. A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.


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