8 things never to say during your presentation

Many of these apologies and disclaimers tie in with the cardinal sins of presenting. Solid, thoughtful preparation is your best ally.

We have all sat through many presentations in our professional lives. Unfortunately, far too many of them are “less than awesome.”

Unfortunately, we see some specific failures over and over. In other words, the wrong things are repeated by those who aren’t thinking or don’t know any better.

Here are eight things that you have probably heard in many presentations, and which aren’t worth repeating:

“You probably can’t read this but…” OK, if we can’t read it, why are you showing it to us? Usually because you didn’t take time to create a legible slide or image. Unfortunately, this phrase is often followed by the presenter turning toward the screen and fumbling to make a point for the too full, too busy, ineffective slide. If you don’t think we will be able to see it, fix it.

“As you can clearly see…” Usually when people say this, we can’t “clearly see.” You have provided a chart or graph to make a valuable point, and you are intimately aware of the point, and how the slide shows it. We are seeing the slide for the first time. Help us “clearly see” by explaining your artwork so we can be moved by your point.

“I didn’t really have time to prepare but…” If you tell me that, you have just informed me this is going to be painful, and my time isn’t important to you—and neither of these things set you up to succeed. Maybe you aren’t as well prepared as you should be. If that is true, do your best, don’t tell us, and remember the pain so that next time you will be prepared.

“Wow, I know I am out of time, but let me go through these last 15 slides quickly.” Really? How much of the rest of this are we going to retain or care about? (And we don’t believe it will be quick, either.) The time to realize you are behind isn’t when someone is waving their arms at you or making slashing motions across their throat to get your attention. Again, preparation will prevent this in most cases. Knowing how long it takes you will help you adjust on the fly. Questions or conversations might have you running long—and remember it isn’t about your slides; it is about your message. Do everything you can to make sure your key points are made, regardless of how many slides might be left.

“I have a lot of information to cover, so let me get started.” This is the kiss of death. When we hear this as your audience, we are expecting to be bored, and we know you have your focus in the wrong place. Look up the word “cover” in a thesaurus and you will find synonyms like bury, obscure, and hide. When people open with, “I have lots to cover,” you can be sure that the information won’t be clear. The next time you feel like you have too much to cover, get out your scalpel. Decide what the audience most needs to be successful, and cut everything else out.

“I’m sorry for the technical difficulties.” Yeah, so are we. Usually, though not always, they could have been avoided if you would have done your homework and checked out your equipment before the meeting/presentation started. Why didn’t you? When it truly is unavoidable, rather than getting flustered, immediately focus on your group and how you can get going—even if it is without your technology. (If possible, have someone else fix it while you get started.)

“Does anyone have a laser pointer?” (Or, “I’m not sure how this clicker works. “) Did you feel your eyes roll when you read those words? We are in your audience, ready to listen to you. The least you can do is be prepared enough to have your pointer or have tried out the clicker ahead of time.

“Any questions?” There is nothing truly wrong with this question, except when it is always asked—which is after you are already finished (and everyone knows it). Though there is much I could say about this (and will in another post), the short answer is this: When you ask for questions at the end, you either don’t get any, or the ones you get aren’t focused on the most important points in your talk. You want to close strong, making your most important points in your most persuasive way. That will never happen during a random Q&A. Ask for questions early and often, and not only as the last thing you do.

Maybe these are little things, and perhaps they are, but it is the little things that communicate much about us; and if we want our message received by others, we want every possible thing in our favor.

I have tried to keep this light, and even a bit humorous. Remember that it is only humorous to you because you’ve seen these things before and you know they don’t make for successful communication.

A version of this article first appeared on Kevin Eikenberry.


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