Tips for Better Presentations: What Not to Do

calendar September 6, 2018

Many of us give presentations regularly as part of our work lives. We deliver them in staff meetings, employee meetings, client meetings, sales meetings, and in your spare time, maybe even PTA meetings.

Whether you’re in front of 150 conference attendees, a group of brand new interns, or a single prospective client, the last thing you want is for someone to feel like their time spent listening to you was wasted.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of ways you can do just that. Knowing them is half the battle. Avoiding them is the other half.

Let’s start with the knowing. Here are 4 surefire ways to make people regret being in the room. And how to avoid them in the future.

What not to do: Go in unprepared

Unless you get asked to speak at the last minute, or someone changes your topic right before your session, you have no excuse for not being familiar and confident with your material.

Showing up unprepared tells everyone in the room that your time is more important than theirs. This is not the message you want to send.

What to do:

  • Outline your information in a logical way
  • Prepare your presentation and materials well in advance
  • Double (and triple) check for accuracy
  • Practice until you’re confident and comfortable
  • If you’re using visuals, practice with those so it feels natural

What not to do: Be unsure of yourself

There’s nothing worse than attending a presentation and listening to the speaker apologize for giving you information. Or make excuses for why the presentation isn’t up to par. Or look like they want to crawl in a hole and hide.

If you don’t think you have anything worthwhile to say, why on earth would anyone else want to listen?

This is a waste of time and energy. And if time equals money, you’re wasting that, too. If you’re asking for someone’s time, you’d better be sure you’re delivering value.

What to do:

  • Focus on what you know. You’re the expert at something or you wouldn’t be presenting.
  • Deliver information in a way that builds confidence.
  • Channel your inner actor or actress. Just because you’re not feeling confident doesn’t mean you can’t appear to be.
  • Practice with someone you trust beforehand. Ask for feedback and make adjustments as needed.

What not to do: Count on audience participation

Interaction is a definite plus, but you can’t assume it’s going to happen. Some audiences are open to it and some aren’t.

If you’re betting on lots of great conversation starters and questions to come flying at you, you could be in for some serious disappointment— and an awkward, painful presentation.

What to do:

  • Encourage healthy interaction, but don’t force it.
  • Prepare a core presentation that includes options for group participation, as well as supplemental material to fill up your time if not.
  • Have prepared answers to your own questions in case they fall on a silent crowd.

What not to do: Take more time than you are scheduled for

This sounds so basic. And it is! But it’s also one of the most common mistakes presenters make, and one of the most effective ways to get your audience to resent you.

People have limited amounts of time and patience. If someone gives you 30 minutes of their time, don’t drone on for 45 minutes or an hour, oblivious to the clock.

What to do:

  • Know how long your presentation actually takes
  • Build in a cushion for comments, questions, and distractions
  • Practice until you’ve got it to a consistent length of time
  • Set a timer when you start or ask someone to give you a 5 or 10-minute warning
  • Stop at the designated time, even if you’re not finished

There may be times when your presentation is going well and your audience genuinely wants to hear more. In that case, hooray for you! You must have nailed many of the What to Do items above. If and when this happens, you still need to address the overtime issue directly and openly. Ask if it’s okay to continue beyond your time. And even if you do get permission, always make sure to give those who need to leave permission to do so.

And if you finish up a little early? Well, you’ll be even more of a hero. Because you just gave everybody the information they needed and a few extra minutes in their day.

Think like an audience member

If you’re putting on a boring or ineffective webinar, your attendees can simply jump offline and get back to work, with limited investment and minimal disappointment. But if you’ve got people in the room, you need to come through.

Your audience is counting on you to provide information that’s useful, and to deliver it in a way that is credible. Don’t let them down.

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