I have running joke with my family that each of us have a pull string like the Woody doll from Toy Story (“There’s a snake in my boot!”). My least favorite is “What’s for dinner?” said every dang night from a beloved family member that shall remain unnamed.
In my role as speaker coach, I have developed my own pull-string phrases; authenticity over perfection being my favorite. But I also tirelessly warn of common presentation mistakes.
Do you struggle with any of these?
- Assuming people care
Ouch. Sometimes we are so heads-down into our own work that we forget that presentations are to serve our audience with information, data, story, or vision. Consider starting with a statement about why or how your information will help them.
- Trying to say too much in too short of time
The number one reason why I see presenters fail at delivering confidently and clearly is because they are in a hurry. And you’ll always be in a hurry when you have too much to say. Be realistic. Time out your content. Which brings us to the next mistake.
- Not practicing out loud
One way to know if you’ve planned too much content is by saying it out loud. Practice a slide or two out loud and notice how long it took. While you gauge your timing, you should also be practicing a good pace, pauses instead of filler words, and strong eye contact. Pro tip: practice talking to objects in your room as if they were people. Then heed the next warning.
- Not scaling content
If you are long winded or have too much content, you should scale your content. Make the opening story the 2-minute version, not the 5-minute version. Another reason we scale is because of the audience. Perhaps your technical deep dive for 7 minutes should be scaled to 3 minutes because of who is in the room. Scale your content or lose your audience.
- Talking faster when running out of time
If you don’t scale, if you have too much to say, you’ll be tempted to race through your ideas at the end. You may leave the meeting relieved that you got through all your information, but that is not the same as your audience getting your information. Instead, edit as you near the end of your time. Prioritize: sacrifice the good ideas to elevate the great ones. Close strong.
- Using slides as handouts, pre-reads, or scripts
The #1 pushback I get about creating simple, crisp slides is that they are used as handouts, pre-reads, or scripts – they need to contain all the talking points/data. Try putting the paragraphs of information in the notes section or as appendix slides but keep the projected visual simple. (Number one pet peeve of audiences is a presenter reading busy slides verbatim.)
- Poor transitions (or none at all)
Make sure your audience doesn’t feel lost or confused because you don’t verbally transition between your talking points or slides. Keep your message fluid and clear by crafting one-liners that connect Idea One to Idea Two. “Now that we understand the conditions of the market, let’s talk about our Q2 strategy.” Pro tip: Keep your transitions to one sentence.
- Relying on either charisma or data
Don’t assume either charisma or data will do the heavy lifting. Audience’s need relevant, well-organized information from charismatic speakers. They also need energy and passion in data-heavy presentations. You may naturally gravitate to one side of the spectrum, but strong communicators strive for an engaging presence with solid content. Both.
- Letting emotions evaluate success
People tend to evaluate their presentations based on whether it felt bad or felt good. Unfortunately, I’ve seen presenters feel good but present horribly (over confidence) or feel bad but present well (under confidence). Don’t trust your feelings as your feedback mechanism. Which is why you should avoid the next mistake.
- Not preemptivelyasking for feedback
To evaluate your presentation skills, you’ll need to solicit external feedback. But if you ask for feedback from a peer or manager after the meeting, it may not be specific or helpful. Instead, ask beforehand and be specific: “I’m trying to slow down. Can you give me feedback?” or “I’m working on smooth transitions between my main ideas. Can you listen for clarity?”
I’ve heard it said that we don’t accidentally drift towards excellence. It’s true of being a great communicator too. Roll up your sleeves. Make small adjustments. Establish best practices.
Be worthy of people’s most precious asset: their time.