Having delivered hundreds of presentation skills courses and assessments since 1999, written over 100 articles and a book on the topic, Trudi and I understand the most common pitfalls that most aspirant presenters plunge into regularly. Many of these pitfalls apply to experienced presenters too. Those who present regularly may think they’re fine, but those that haven’t bothered to critically hone their skills could also be falling short.
The 7 aspects of presentation that I’m about to share with you come up time and again when we deliver delegate assessments and when we watch regular presentations. By addressing any or all of these issues in your presentations, you should be able to fix them easily and encounter rapid improvement in both confidence and results. Here they are:
Objective. There’s no point in presenting unless you have a clear reason for doing so and a clear goal in mind. What is the purpose of your presentation? What will the benefit be to you and to your audience members? What do you plan to do afterwards and what should they do? Unless you have a clear purpose there is really no need to be presenting – an email will save you time.
Targeting. Presenters who speak to audiences are privileged that folk turn up to watch and listen to them. So it’s smart to find out about the audience, where they’re from, what they have in common, why they came and so on. Then target the presentation to that audience. A good way of creating engagement is to invite questions which will soon help you discover what they think.
Contentilitis. What’s this, you may ask? It’s a very contagious presentation disease – the tempting tendency to overload a presentation with content. Folk do this to appear knowledgeable and clever. Actually it makes them look desperate. Your presentation should contain the most important information needed to make your point, persuade or get a result. It should never contain everything you know on the topic. The content dump is often accompanied by…
Aimlessness. Typically, the presenter dives into the content without setting up the context in any way and ends without a measure of conclusion. This leaves the audience with a sense of confusion – “what was that all about?” There are numerous ways of creating context. The purpose is so that within a minute or two people have a clear idea of what the presentation is about. The longer this takes, the greater the chances of losing their attention. The end can be a summary of the main message, perhaps a call to action or even a riveting story. Presentations can be likened to a journey. For example, to join a cruise, you need to embark (otherwise you’re going nowhere). The cruise itself is In the middle – the fun part. What if you don’t grab your bags and disembark at the end? Then you’ll be a stow-away. In a nutshell, your presentation must be packaged – start, middle, end. Structure gives content logical progression and allows you to meet your objective.
Time-out. If a specific duration has been allocated, it’s best respected. Going over time may result in the presentation being cut before the conclusion has been thundered out making the whole exercise a waste of time. If your presentation has started late, it’s best to check if you still have your allocated time or not. Rehearse with your stop-watch handy. You want to finish with your conclusion – within time.
No rehearsing. Apart from getting timing right, rehearsing has other benefits for which adequate time should be allocated. Presenter that rehearse appear prepared. It helps you achieve the desired result. Being prepared creates confidence, which in turn increases persuasiveness. Audiences assume presenters know their content – and so they should. A few rehearsals will polish your content for slick delivery on the day and help you avoid contentilitis.
Slide shame. Yes, loads of boring, cluttered, badly designed slides – and yes, it still happens today. Slides will only enhance your message when they are easy to understand and reinforce your point subtly . They don’t make the point – that you do as the presenter. I’ve seen many a good presenter, trainer or speaker wow an audience with not one single slide. With many presentations now online people can leave or log out without the unknowing presenter – still caught up wrestling with an agonising slideshow being aware! Your delivery needs to remain compelling at all times. So polish up on your slide creation skills or get some help. There’s plenty around. And if you decide to use visuals, that’s fine, but don’t overdo it.
I’ve deliberately not touched on delivery here (use of voice, body language and energy) which is obviously very important. It should be quite obvious that presenters should identify their delivery shortfalls and work on correcting them before they address an audience, since a degree of charisma and clarity will always be a pre-requisite for getting a result.
In summary, you should know why you’re presenting and to whom, use structure properly, cut out the excess (visuals included), rehearse and deliver within time. Each area requires deliberate attention. Taking short cuts is ill-advised. It’s just common sense to be properly organised and well prepared.
When last did you attend a presentation that fulfilled these simple common sense criteria? If recently then I’m pleased. I’m also willing to bet it was memorable. If not, you may well be able to identify which of the 7 mistakes the presenter was guilty of. The chances are it would have been more than one.