Over the past 20 years, I've heard more than 10,000 presentations. As with anything, you start to notice patterns after a while.
Here's a list of the most common mistakes I see and hear, and a quick tip to fix each of them.
1. Weak introduction
The introduction is the most important part of your presentation. If you don't get the audience's attention in the first few seconds, you might as well be speaking to an empty room.
Fix: Grab the audience by asking an interesting question, making a controversial statement, or telling a short personal anecdote. (Want more suggestions on introductions? Read this.)
Don't forget to tell them why the information is important to them. It might be interesting, but if it doesn't affect them personally, they won't care.
2. Speaking too fast
When people see recordings of their presentations, they're often surprised at how fast they speak. Speaking too fast reduces the value of the information presented, because the audience can't keep up. Additionally, they'll start to feel tense, which makes you even more nervous.
Fix: Write yourself a note and place it in your line of vision, reminding you to slow down. You can also get a trusted audience member to give you a signal when your pace is too quick.
Why do we speak so fast, anyway? The number one reason:
3. Too much material
Good public speaking means good teaching. And good teaching takes time-time to explain, give examples, answer questions, etc. Using too much material doesn't allow you to do this effectively.
Fix: Cut out everything that's not essential to your talk.
Think about it: How much do you remember from the last presentation you heard? Even if it was great, we can only retain a few key points. Resist the urge to include something just because you think it sounds good-does it relate to your theme and purpose?
When in doubt, leave it out.
4. Reading your slides
Ever heard of "death by PowerPoint"? Many presenters put loads of text on their slides. They then proceed to read that text to the audience, word for word.
The audience doesn't need you to read for them. They need you to explain the details, help them understand how and why, and make it all interesting.
Fix: Severely limit the amount of text on your slides. Each slide should have a max of only a few points, with just a few words per point.
(Steve Jobs and his team, who knew a thing or two about presenting, practiced this religiously. Just take a look at this.)
5. Not pausing
This is one of my pet peeves. So many presenters ask a question and then keep speaking, without giving the audience a chance to think. You've totally missed the purpose of asking a question.
For example, let's say I'm giving a presentation about ... presentations. So I start off like this:
Today we're talking about presentations. Think about it for a moment: What makes a great presentation to you? Here's what some of your peers have said ...
Why did I even ask a question? I don't give anyone time to answer, even mentally. Here's how I should have done it:
Today we're talking about presentations. (Pause for a second or two.) Think about it for a moment: What makes a great presentation to you? (This time, pause for about three to four seconds.)
Here's what some of your peers have said ...
Now I've got the audience thinking.Three to four seconds is just enough time to think of one or two answers to my question. Now they're not just listeners. They're active listeners.
Fix: When you ask a question, transition between points, or want to stress an important concept, make sure to pause and count to three (or four).
It will seem like an eternity to you, but it's perfect for the audience.
6. Getting too complicated
Think of the best professors, teachers, and presenters you've heard. What made them so great? Did they make their topic sound like rocket science?
The best teaching is simpleteaching.
Fix: When refining your presentation, ask yourself, "Would a 12 year old understand this?" If this sounds overboard-believe me, it's not.
7. Not practicing
Would you listen to a concert put on by a musician who never practiced? Or watch a football game with players that never scrimmaged?
You won't have the same amount of time to practice every presentation. But if the audience is important to you, give them the time and effort they deserve.
Fix: Practice your presentation at least two or three times (out loud). Every time you practice, you'll find something you want to change.
8. Trying to be someone else
We are all individuals, and so are our presentation styles. Some of us are more excitable, others more calm. Some are more funny, others more serious.
The key is to be yourself. People are drawn to authenticity.
Fix: Don't try to imitate another person's communication style. Get to know your topic well, and find purpose to it. Your natural enthusiasm will shine through.
Presenting isn't easy, even for the experienced. These tips can help you eliminate some of the most common mistakes.
Do you have a presentation coming up? Did any of these tips help? Let me know via Twitter @justinjbariso.