Of course theory doesn’t cut it when it comes to presentation. Yet knowing what the most common mistakes are that presenters make can help working against them.
Talking too fast
If we’re nervous, we tend to forget all about breathing. A presenter is no exception. But talking too fast in order to bridge potential “hangers” is a mistake obvious to the audience. It is much better and more effective to use silence as a stylistic device. Why not follow up a meaningful phrase (“Only 12% of founders in Europe are women”) by a moment of silence? Lack of words can actually add weight, rekindle people’s attention and signal that there’s a message worth pondering.
Moving too little
Good presenters are in motion. They move around on stage, they point and use their arms to illustrate what they’re saying. Also remember: your feet aren’t fixed. A presenter walking around on stage strikes members of the audience as much more energetic and in turn boosts their energy level. However, this is something you should exercise – balancing focus and movement is your best bet.
Not preparing enough
Sadly, poor preparation can kill any good presentation. You may have all the information on your charts – but if you don’t appear fluent and confident presenting it, it will be lost on your audience. In case someone still wonders why presenters earn as much as they do for half an hour worth of talking: preparation takes about 20 times as long if you want it to be really good. If you’re not an expert presenter yet, don’t hesitate to rehearse in front of partners, friends and colleagues. A good structure can decide whether you convince or lose your listeners.
Not familiarising yourself with the venue
You are going to be presenting in a place you’ve never visited before? Then make sure to get there early and familiarise yourself with the setting. How is the lighting? How are the acoustics? Bring an assistant or ask someone from the team to figure out if your voice is audible from everywhere in the room. How does this change as you move around on stage? How visible is your presentation? And definitely do a double-check on all technical equipment. You don’t want your USB drive or laser pointer to let you down in the moment of truth.
Unleashing the text flood
While you should also try not to drown people in spoken words, this is directed at your visible presentation. How much text is on your charts? And do you really need all of it? Remember that PowerPoint & Co. support your speech, not the other way around. By screening charts with paragraphs worth of written text, your audience will be distracted big time. Most of us are conditioned to read whatever text appears in front of us, and will find it all the harder to listen to you.
It’s easier said than done not to be insecure on stage. But if you already know you might find it hard to present, it’s helpful to keep a couple of facts in mind. First, try to avoid body language that signals insecurity – such as hands in your pockets, arms folded in front of your chest or repeatedly running a hand through your hair. Second, deliberately make eye contact. Pick out a few people in the audience that have a friendly or interested look on their faces and, while speaking, maintain eye contact with each of them for about 3 seconds. Not only does it give you an air of confidence, but it also helps you to keep your listeners focused.
Not reacting to your audience
You’re doing it for them – so you’ll want to know whether you’re reaching your audience at all. Are they bored? Are they having trouble understanding you? Unfortunately, these things can suck the life out of your presentation. And only on rare occasions will people speak up and let you know. So it’s all the more important for you to pay close attention, to look at your listeners’ faces and check their reaction to what you say. Is half the auditorium on their mobile phones or talking under their breath? Then odds are you’re not informing or entertaining them enough. If uncertain, just ask: Are you telling them something they already know? What issues would they rather discuss? Just involve your audience and don’t get too stuck on following your prepared course.
Wherever you are presenting, and for whichever cause, prepare well, keep a couple of rules in mind and try to leave an impression. Even if you have nothing new to tell – just ask for people’s input! By engaging your audience and keeping them entertained, you can only win.