You've worked hard on researching your pitch--and you know that your idea will make a big difference to your organization if you can only gain approval.
But it's difficult to put together a compelling presentation. After all, you've got a ton of data and a limited amount of time. Plus, even though you're really good at your job, you're not a natural performer.
How to begin? Take a few minutes to review these 17 mistakes that presenters make most often--and then pay attention to the advice on how to avoid these pitfalls:
- Fail to set objectives. Don't plunge into creating slides or you'll end up with a mangled mess. Instead, start with this essential question: "What is the one thing I need this presentation to accomplish?" (Another way of stating it: "What does success look like?")
- Proceed without a plan (also known as an agenda). Whatever you call it, it's a map for your "run of show," the how your session is going to go.
- Cram a multitude of bullets, sidebars and (worst of all) paragraphs of text onto one slide. Not only does this make slides much harder to read, it's also a surefire way to lose an audience's interest. Aim to keep it simple: designate one slide for each thought.
- Rely on just words. PowerPoint is meant to be a visual medium--and the purpose of projecting slides on the screen is to give people something to look at. That's why you need to choose visuals that support your points. Visuals are powerful; studies have shown that 83% of human learning occurs visually. And visuals aren't just limited to photos--consider how infographics, colorful charts and video clips could support your points and bring unique value to your presentation.
- Use only a few slides. Slides are free. And using a lot of slides has three benefits: It keeps your presentation moving. It lets you put less content on each slide. And it continuously gives the audience something new to look at.
- Leave it loose. Remember that old speechwriting advice, "Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them"? The reason it's more than a cliché is because the reasoning is sound. The audience needs to understand the direction you're taking with your talk. And since they don't have the guardrails they get in other forms of communication, the presenter needs to set boundaries. That's why effective presenters say things like, "Today I'm going to talk about the three most important ways to create audience interaction." Free association doesn't work; structure does.
- Don't understand what the audience needs from you. The only way you'll know is if you ask. That's why the best way of beginning your presentation is to ask: "What do you hope to learn/achieve from this meeting?"
- Wing it. Preparation is everything. Unless you're an improv master, you have to figure out what you're going to do, in what order and for how long. And almost everyone needs to practice.
- Forget that you're up there not to promote how wonderful you are, but to provide value to the audience.
- Go on and on (and on and on). I'm sure you're fascinating, but respect the fact that people are busy and need you to be as time-efficient as possible.
- Rush through your presentation. In some ways this is the opposite of Tip #10. But when you have to cram a lot of content in a small amount of time, the problem is you haven't planned well enough.
- Read exactly what's on the slides. If you're not providing context and meaning, next time just email the slides to participants.
- Recite your speaker's notes. Ideally, you've mastered your presentation so well that you don't even need notes. But if you do, they should be boiled-down bullet points that just help you remember key facts, not a full-blown speech.
- Try to be someone you're not. This is your presentation. You should say what you want to say, in a way that fits your style.
- Forget the power of visuals. Words on a slide are okay, but photos, cartoons, drawings and any visuals are better.
- Speak at participants instead of interacting with them. Yes, there's information you need to share. But the real power comes in participation. Make it a two-way experience.
- Provide no immediate, useful action steps. I'll admit I'm a tough audience: When I attend a session, I expect to learn something I can immediately put into practice. That's why the best presentations are clear about at least one of these: What's in it for you, what I need from you and/or what you can do with this information.
Obviously, presenting isn't easy--even for experts. But it's easy to avoid big missteps that cause presentations to fail.