7 ways to ruin your presentation

Whether you’re speaking at an in-house meeting or delivering your wisdom at a high-profile conference, keep in mind these pet peeves that can undermine your efforts.

No matter how deep your knowledge of a given subject, you can still botch your presentation of your expertise.

I have an interview series, Inside Voice, in which I ask speakers and speechwriters to share their public speaking insights, lessons learned and best practices. I asked each frequent speaker and speechwriter in the series to share a speaking pet peeve, in their speaking or writing roles and as audience members themselves.

Steer clear of these bad habits, tactics and ideas:

1. “Overreliance on PowerPoint.” That’s his pet peeve as a speechwriter, but TEDMED chief storytelling officer Marcus Webb says that as an audience member, “my pet peeve is speakers who give you a handout, then read it to you…word for word. This is particularly deadly in an office meeting where the audience can’t leave.”

2. “Listener questions that veer into detailed and extensive individual questions for me.” Though conscious of the need for a Q-and-A to help many in the room, psychiatrist and author Candida Fink has that pet peeve as both speaker and audience member. She also dislikes “questions that are more about the questioner showing off their knowledge or expertise rather than genuinely asking a question or creating a dialogue of value to the larger group.”

3. “I absolutely loathe the type of speech that demands audience interaction.” Deloitte’s top speechwriter Caroline Johns says speakers can take that tactic too far. “I don’t mind putting my hand up or being asked to vote on something, but when a speaker starts asking for vocal contributions and, worse, follows it up with ‘come on you can do better than that…’ or some such exhortation, I switch off completely. In fact, I don’t switch off completely, but the little bit that’s left of me that is still switched on will be smoldering with hostility. Not good… I think it’s lazy,” she says.

4. “As a member of the audience, I would throw rotten vegetables at people who go over their time, however good their presentation is.” Speechwriter Brian Jenner, who heads two international networks in his profession, also dislikes “clients who rewrite large chunks.”

5. “Apologizing.” Author and public relations executive Liz O’Donnell adds, “I try not to do it.”

6. “Not paying attention to gender, either on panels or speaking rosters. It’s not that hard to find women speakers.” Speechwriter Amélie Crosson-Gooderham has a long list of pet peeves you should check out, but I couldn’t resist highlighting that one.

7. “The misconception that they can’t speak.” Author and management consultant Gillian Davis adds, “It’s unfortunate that those with really great messages and content don’t have the confidence to speak, and those who have the confidence but lack content do it anyway.”

Denise Graveline is a Washington, D.C.-based speaker coach. A version of this article first appeared on her blog, The Eloquent Woman.

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