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8 Bad Habits That Ruin Good Presentations

Even the best presentation can flop if you indulge in any of these common but avoidable habits.
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I recently came across a fantastic article by the sales consultant and trainer Colleen Francis about common presentation mistakes that salespeople make in front of customers. As I read it, I realized that much of her advice applied to ALL presentations.

In particular, she identified in the article a set of very common bad habits that can turn even the best presentations into total disasters. Here's my take:

1. Starting with an apology.

The bad habit: You're late, your equipment malfunctions, you don't have your materials, or whatever. You apologize in advance for how this might affect your presentation.

Why it's a mistake: An apology sets a negative tone that may affect the entire meeting and makes you seem like a victim. Nobody wants to do business with a victim.

What to do instead: Start on an upbeat note, as if nothing is wrong.  This communicates that you're cool under pressure--the opposite of being a victim.

2. Asking for extra time.

The bad habit: You feel you don't have sufficient time to communicate your important information, so you request extra time to communicate it.

Why it's a mistake: If there's less time because you're late, you're adding injury to insult. If it's because your presentation is too long, well, your presentation is too long.

What to do instead: Adapt your presentation down so that it fits the allotted time. If you're late, end your presentation when it's scheduled to end.

3. Shooting slide barrages.

The bad habit: "I have 15 minutes left, and I'm through only 20 of my 58 PowerPoint slides, so I'm going to be going through this last bit a little fast."

Why it's a mistake: This usually happens when initial slides spark discussion so you lay a "guilt trip" on your audience members to keep them quiet while you finish up.

What to do instead: Adapt the remainder of your presentation so that it addresses what was discussed, because that's clearly what's important to your audience.

4. Making personal excuses.

The bad habit: You downgrade the audience's expectations by offering an excuse in advance for your poor performance. (E.g., "I'm so tired"; "I got in late last night.")

Why it's a mistake: You're giving yourself an excuse so you won't feel so bad if you fail. Plus, nobody wants to hear you whine about your problems.

What to do instead: Regardless of how you're feeling, show enthusiasm for being there and make your best effort.

5. Reading from your slides.

The bad habit: Your slides reflect your thinking on a subject, so you read your slides aloud to the audience in order to replicate your thought process.

Why it's a mistake: Presumably everyone in your audience can read, so you're not just being boring, you're insulting them.

What to do instead: Use slides as visual signposts for the points you're making rather than a written version or summary of those points.

6. Turning your back.

The bad habit: You keep turning around to read from your slides or staring down to read from your notes.

Why it's a mistake: You're compounding the mistake of reading by being rude and unprofessional.

What to do instead: Face your audience members and look at them while you're presenting. If necessary, take a quick glance, but keep your focus on where it belongs: them.

7. Talking too fast.

The bad habit: You've got a lot of material to cover, so you talk fast to get through all of it.

Why it's a mistake: If you need to talk fast, your presentation is too long. Plus, fast talk makes you sound either nervous or like a stereotypical "fast talkin'" salesperson.

What to do instead: Cut your presentation down so fast talk isn't necessary. If you're talking fast because you're nervous, write "SLOW DOWN!" on each page of your notes.

8. Fidgeting.

The bad habit: You keep fiddling with your papers, fingering your jewelry, scratching yourself, etc.

Why it's a mistake: Anything that distracts your audience from your message is making that message less effective.

What to do instead: As you rehearse your presentation, rehearse how you'll stand and where you'll put your hands. Rehearse enough, and your tics will disappear.

More on giving better presentations:

 

Last updated: Jun 9, 2014

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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