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Improve your presentations by avoiding these common mistakes

Improve your presentations

No one ever sets out to deliver a poor presentation, but in the words of Maya Angelou ‘when you know better you do better.’ Bad presentations are all the same – too long, poorly prepared and paced, are overly reliant on slides crammed with text and are delivered in a tone that saps the energy from even the most enthusiastic audience. To avoid being an example of what not to do, here are four pitfalls to avoid.

1. Not engaging the audience at an emotional level

Audiences will forgive a presenter for most things apart from being boring. They will forgive a presenter for being a little nervous or having to check notes, but audiences have little tolerance for a presenter who doesn’t try to create a rapport with them or to relate to them at an emotional level. As the person at the top of the room the audience want to know that you understand where they are coming from.

An audience will forgive a presenter for most things apart from being boring. Click To Tweet
As a presenter you are looking to positively influence your audience and positive influence means emotional influence. If someone at the top of the room is just regurgitating facts, there is little hope that the audience will feel anything (apart from bored) let alone have that positive, feel good factor that is an essential component of positive influencing skills.

So how do you engage an audience emotionally? It means you have to speak to people’s hearts as well as their heads. This means looking for the story behind the facts. What analogies, anecdotes, experiences can you share that will bring your message alive and make your information more meaningful and relatable to your audience. A useful question to ask yourself when preparing is – why is your content important from the audience’s perspective?

2. Having the wrong desired result (or no clear result at all!)

The objective mediocre presenters have when delivering a presentation is often something like – getting through the presentation as quickly as possible, or in one piece! Now this outcome may be unconscious, but if this is what is at the forefront of your mind you will speak too fast (to get it over with) and the audience will find it difficult to relate to you, because your focus is not on them, but on your own well-being.

Remember presentations are always a means to an end. What is the end? What do you want the audience to do with the information you are sharing with them? How will you know when your presentation has been successful? What will be the evidence of your success? When you are clear as to the true purpose of your presentation it’s easier for you to structure it because you know the target you are trying to hit.

Check out this short video for more practical presentation skills tips

3. Over reliance on slides

Presentation preparation is not just about putting whatever slides you can find into a PowerPoint document. PowerPoint is a wonderful tool but it should always add to your presentation not detract from it. People like to have some visuals to aid their learning, but pages of bullets that you are using as a script will only confuse and bore an audience. Over reliance on slides often means you are reading the slides with your back to the audience which makes it very difficult for the audience to relate to you and vice versa.

When preparing remember PowerPoint is a visual tool, MS Word is for text, so use charts, diagrams, graphs and interesting graphics wherever you can and keep the bullet points to a minimum, remembering too that bullet points are not sentences. By all means use what is on the slides as a prompt for your own delivery, but if you are just reading from the slides why not just email them beforehand to the audience and it will save everyone from having to turn up!

A tip I always find useful is to have two versions of your slides. One that you will present and a second, usually more detailed version, that you can give to the audience to take away. It doesn’t take too much effort, just file and save as, but it means you are not depending on one set of slides to serve two purposes.

4. Going over the allotted time

I recently sat through a presentation that was scheduled for thirty minutes that went on for an hour. Irony of ironies was that the topic was time management. If your slot is 10 minutes or 60 minutes, that should be the length of your presentation and part of your preparation is ensuring your timings are right.

People only have a limited attention span, so most presentations will be between ten and forty five minutes. If I’m delivering a longer presentation I make sure I have some form of exercise or break out session at least every hour to punctuate the presentation and keep people’s energy levels up.

Most presenters fear running out of something to say before their time is up, so they cram in content that is probably not really relevant. A useful tip is to ask yourself when preparing what must the audience know and what is nice for them to know. What they must know are the key points of your presentation which should be shared sooner rather than later and emphasised throughout. What is nice for them to know is additional information that you can have in your back pocket to share with them if you have the time.

The best presenters are the best of themselves and they make the fewest words go the furthest. By avoiding the above four pitfalls you are already standing out from the crowd for the right reasons.

You might also enjoy  – How to boost your confidence as a presenter