The 5 biggest mistakes you can make when presenting or speaking in public
I run workshops on presentation skills for lawyers, fund raisers, sales people and all manner of people who need to pitch or present to clients and customers. Sometimes, I also get asked to help individual executives to polish how they come across.
Here are the 5 commonest mistakes that I see people making when giving presentations:
Mistake 1. Throwing too many facts at an audience
Just because you know your topic inside and out doesn’t mean that your audience understand it anywhere near as well as you do. Remember that they are probably hearing your ideas for the very first time.
So think about introducing fewer ideas to your audience and doing it more slowly. I call this idea decompression – giving your audience points one at a time and sharing example to illustrate them.
It’s generally better to share a small number of ideas that your audience will actually remember than try to bombard them with too much information. So be sure to provide your audience with enough space between points so that they have time to digest and take everything on board properly.
Mistake 2. Focusing too much on logic and rational arguments
Very few audience members make up their minds purely on the basis of facts and logic. Just look at national elections or even just the voting on TV talent shows and you’ll see audiences being swayed by their hearts more than their heads.
So figure out the one emotion you want your audience to feel. Do you want them to feel pride in their organization? Shame that they are not doing more to help their colleagues? Or excitement that they can do something to benefit a good cause?
Once you have figured out the key emotion you wish people to feel, you can figure out the best story or stories to tell to engender that feeling. What would make you genuinely feel that same emotion?
Mistake 3. Not doing enough practice
How many times do you rehearse before giving a big presentation? I work with some executives who practise as many as eight times before important presentations.
I coach quite a few executives who give great presentations. They come across as charismatic, calm and professional. But hardly anyone in their audiences would be able to guess the number of hours that these executives put in beforehand.
Many speakers and presenters play down the amount of practice that they do before presenting. It takes hours of practice to speak in a way that appears effortless, relaxed and off-the-cuff. If you want to appear equally polished and relaxed, be sure to put in the hours too.
Mistake 4. Looking at slides/notes rather than your audience
I remember watching one speaker giving a presentation who spent more time looking behind him at his slides than at the audience. As a result, he had his back turned to his audience for too long – and we simply couldn’t hear him a lot of the time.
Whether you are reading from notes on sheets of paper or talking about slides being projected behind you, be sure to look at your audience as often as you can. Eye contact conveys trust and openness. And you want your audience to feel that you are open and trustworthy, right?
Mistake 5. Not managing the time
It may seem like a minor thing, but there will always be at least some people in your audience who hate, hate, hate it when speakers run over time. So be sure to do at least one full timed rehearsal of your presentation.
As a rule of thumb, it’s better to finish a little early rather than run late. If you finish your presentation early, you can always allow more time for questions. Or, even if people run out of questions, they will be glad of the opportunity to claw back some time for everything else they need to do that day.