Undoubtedly, you’ve sat through conference and/or colleague presentations and seen your fair share of awful mistakes. These errors are common, and yet presenters keep making them time and again. Avoiding these blunders takes constant preparation, a sense of self-awareness and a methodical effort towards the craft of public speaking.
Speaking to Slides and Not Your Audience
How many times have you watched a presenter speak directly to his or her slides and completely forget they have an audience? Hello! Yes, we’re your audience and we’re behind you! This common mistake can be remedied via preparation—knowing the content on slides so as to refer to key points, and not read the text. In addition, too many presenters use the content on slides as a crutch. Better to have more pictures, less text, and key bullets. And remember, your audience is in front of you, be careful not to turn your back to them!
Too Many Non-Fluencies
Most presenters have no idea how many times they use “um”, “and”, “so”, “you know” and other filler words. Unfortunately, it is common for speakers to transition from thought-to-thought or topic with a filler word or two. A quick fix is to take just a second to pause between topic transitions. A breath and its accompanying silence are so much better than a long replacement “ummmmm”, especially 50-100 of them in a typical 30 minute talk. Removing non-fluencies from daily discourse should be a priority for any business professional.
Practice Doesn’t Necessarily Make Perfect
Suppose you had never played the piano, and you decided on a whim to just “pick it up.” And then you practiced every day and into the moonlit hours of the evening, banging away on the keys. What’s the problem with this strategy? Unless you’re the next Mozart, it’s unlikely you’ll have much success playing the piano because you’re missing a teacher, or at least someone that can offer you critical feedback.
In the same way, too often presenters practice in front of a mirror, or give a speech to the family dog. And stating the obvious, neither mirrors nor dogs can offer a compelling critique of content and presentation style. Want success? It’s not necessarily how much you practice your talk, but whether you’re receiving constructive feedback too. Find someone who will offer a candid assessment of your presenter strengths and weaknesses—that’s how you’ll get better at speaking.
You’re Not Born with Great Presentation Skills
Plenty of presenters believe they don’t need to practice. They mistakenly think when the time arises for a speech to colleagues, management, or conference they can just “wing it.” The opposite is true: the best presenters are always honing their speaking skills and at the ready for an ad-hoc talk. In fact, the time and effort put into perfecting content, transitions, pauses, vocal inflection and more won’t be wasted. And the only way to keep presentation skills sharp is to speak often—wherever you can—so that when the time arises, you’re practiced, confident and ready to shine!
Not Staying in Time
When did thirty minutes become an hour? Plenty of presenters have a nasty habit of stretching what should be a thirty minute speaking slot into sixty. What’s even worse is when management or conference organizers let presenters keep going past their allotted time! Here’s the problem: supposing your management meetings have a full agenda, when one presenter goes over his or her timeslot by 10-15 minutes, then it pushes everyone back. And if the meeting must end at 5pm promptly, it’s usually the last speakers that end up adjusting their presentations because previous presenters rudely cut into their time.
Use your allotted time judiciously! Some presentation remotes even can be programmed with time intervals that vibrate when you’re out of time. Don’t be “that person” that makes everyone else frantically juggle their presentations to accommodate your lack of courtesy. Make sure you stay on-time!