The 15 Most Common Presentation Mistakes You Should Avoid

Becoming a better presenter should be in your bucket list. With so many real-life benefits to improving your presentation skills, you’re seriously missing out if you think being an ‘okay’ presenter is good enough. Avoid these common presentation mistakes, and be on your way to becoming a popular and highly sought-after speaker in your industry!

Perfection Isn’t Key To A Successful Presentation

aiming for perfection shouldn't be your presentation's goal

Photo by Jonathan Hoxmark on Unsplash

There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ presentation. We’re all bound to make mistakes – rookies and expert presenters alike. And that’s alright. Why? Because we’re not robots. We’re humans. As such, we are inherently error-prone.

Think about the last time you had a ‘perfect’ presentation. Can you remember? No? Maybe that’s because it never happened. No matter how well-prepared you are, you may still occasionally stumble, mispronounce something, or forget to mention some meaningful examples you’ve rehearsed during practice.

Perfection isn’t something that you should aspire to, anyway. You’re just setting yourself up for failure that way. When you’re aiming for perfection, you’re setting the bar far too high and putting a ton of pressure on yourself. The more you make mistakes, the more frustrated you become. Even if you achieve the impossible and do a ‘perfect’ presentation, what’s next for you? What’s comes after ‘perfection,’ anyway?

Perfection is never the right approach. Instead, strive to continuously improve and become a better version of yourself. Even the most successful presenters constantly look for ways to improve themselves. They read up on presentation techniques, observe their competitors in action, and are relentless in their pursuit of knowledge.

Wouldn’t you love to be like these ‘experts’? They’re already at the pinnacle of success, and yet they continue to seek knowledge and growth. Complacency just isn’t part of their vocabulary – and it shouldn’t be in yours, too!

Stop Committing These 15 Most Common Presentation Mistakes

In the beginning, you may find yourself committing these mistakes over and over again. That’s okay. Don’t be frustrated. Take it as a challenge to continue improving. These mistakes are called ‘common’ for a reason. Presenters of all levels make these from time to time. So, don’t be too harsh on yourself if you don’t succeed right away.

1. Not defining your presentation goal

Presenters who don’t define their presentation goal are prone to making a lot of mistakes which translates to a higher risk of failure. Sure, you can try to ‘wing’ it, but what would you say your chances of success are?

Before you even plan out your content, you should know what your presentation’s goal is. Are you looking to inform, educate, persuade, activate, inspire or entertain the audience?

Now, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. One would expect an informative or educational presentation to be a bit more serious than an entertaining one would be. But, if it’s not against the rules, try to liven things up as well. You can say you want to educate and, at the same time, entertain people. Or, you can persuade and inspire your audience simultaneously.

Whatever your goals may be, always have the audience in mind. Meet people’s expectations and plan your presentation in such a way that they will not be disappointed.

2. Not preparing enough for the presentation

Conference Preparation Presentation Checklist - 4. Create a draft of your speech and your presentation slides

It’s so easy to put off preparing for a presentation when you know the topic like the back of your hand. In your mind’s eye, you can see yourself finishing the outline, the speech, and the slides – all in just a few hours.

But, of course, when it comes right down to it, you find yourself panicking because you underestimated the task at hand. So, when you get to your presentation, you’re sweating nervously. And your slides are nothing but a bunch of copied-and-pasted text from the Internet.

Procrastination has destroyed so many reputations and so many careers. Leaving stuff up to the very last minute may give you a rush of adrenaline. It makes you feel powerful when you get lucky and pull a successful presentation off. However, it also makes you think you can pull the same stunt every time you have a presentation coming up. You get complacent and don’t prepare until the very last minute.

The only excuse you can have for not preparing is when you’re not given enough time in the first place. Say you’re doing a client presentation. But your boss only assigned that task at the very last minute, leaving you with literally zero time to prepare. You certainly can’t be blamed in this situation, unless your boss is deliberately trying to get you fired.

3. Not knowing who your audience is

You’re doing your presentation to benefit your audience. So, spending a fair amount of time researching your topic is the right thing to do. But don’t stop there. Learn more about your audience, too.

How can your presentation add value to people’s lives? Why should they listen to you? And why should they care about your presentation?

Getting to know your audience can mean the difference between success and failure. If your message resonates with them, they’re going to pay attention to you. Otherwise, they’ll tune you out – they simply have no reason to listen to you.

Let’s say, for example, you’re giving a presentation on a new product your company is launching. If you know your audience, you can tell stories that they can relate to. You can cite real-life examples that are relevant to your audience.

If you’re presenting in front of a culturally diverse group of people, you don’t want to make an off-putting joke that people will hate you for. Offending your audience is the last thing you want to happen during your presentation.

Getting to know your audience isn’t really as hard as it sounds. This article will give you ideas you can follow to learn more about your listeners.

4. Not checking if the presentation file is working

In most cases, you won’t have a technical team on standby. Whether you’re doing a one-on-one presentation, or presenting in front of a group, it’s important to personally make sure you can access the presentation file.

It doesn’t matter if you’re using PowerPoint, Keynote or Google Slides, or whatever your preferred presentation app is. You may have designed a bunch of impressive-looking slides, but if you can’t access it on presentation day, then your work is all for naught.

This is especially important when the stakes are high. If you’re trying to get people to invest a considerable sum in your business, you need them to trust you. And the thing is, they’re not going to trust you if they witness you panicking because the presentation file is corrupted, or worse, missing!

How can people trust you with their money when you can’t even be bothered to check beforehand if your file is working? Think about it. So, don’t throw a tantrum if people give you negative feedback on your company website or on social media. Own up to your mistakes and do a better job next time.

5. Not scoping out the presentation venue ahead of time

Here’s another very common presentation mistake. You don’t just waltz in to your presentation venue without visiting it earlier in the week (or day), and making sure everything’s in good working condition.

Check the sound system, the projector, the podium, the stage, etc. Go to the very back of the room, and see if you can still read the text on your presentation slides. If not, well, at least you still have time to make the necessary adjustments. Ideally, however, this should have been factored in before you even started working on your slides.

Make sure your voice carries across the room, and everyone can hear you loud and clear. You’ve got an important message and you want it to be heard.

If you’re presenting in a cozy cafe or renting a small meeting room in a very busy establishment like a restaurant, then check the noise levels in the area. Can your guests hear you? Perhaps you can request to be moved to a better, quieter spot.

Scoping out your presentation venue may sound unnecessary, but really, it’s the small things that count. After all, you want your audience to be as comfortable as possible, so they’d be more receptive to your presentation.

6. Too many animations

Subjecting your audience to a presentation with nonstop animations and transitions is akin to torture. Seriously, try watching your presentation yourself and see if you can last till the end without getting dizzy, or worse, throwing up!

Animations, when used sparingly and carefully, can do a lot of good to your presentation. You can get people to re-focus their attention on you. A subtle movement every now and then can emphasize important points in your presentation. Applying animation effects to every single element on your slides is just plain overkill.

For best results, stick to simple animations. The most commonly used slide transition effect is a simple fade animation. For object animations, there are plenty of options to choose from in PowerPoint. Before you apply an animation effect, ask yourself first if it adds any value to your presentation. If the answer is ‘no,’ forget it. If ‘yes,’ then by all means, add that effect to your slide!

7. Not getting straight to the point

One of the most common presentation mistakes is going around in circles, and not getting straight to the point.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Your audience is most likely composed of busy individuals. Respect them by not wasting their time. After briefly introducing yourself, tell them what they can expect to learn from your presentation. Then, go through your points one by one.

Having an outline – and sticking to it – will help prevent you from going around in circles. With an outline, you can structure your presentation, and go from introduction to body to conclusion smoothly. In short, an outline can help you plan how you can make the most impact on your audience.

Remember, people have short attention spans. If you don’t deliver on your promises, and you keep on talking about non-relevant stuff, people will tune you out. You better give them something important to chew on before they turn their attention elsewhere.

8. Too much text or information in slides

This is personally one of my pet peeves in presentations – cramming way too much info on slides. When you lay out everything on your slides, you don’t give your audience any incentive to continue listening to you. They’re just going to read your slide and play on their phones while they wait for you to move on to the next slide. They’ll just repeat this process until the end of your presentation.

The element of surprise or the unknown is important in presentations. Keep your audience’s interest by not sharing everything on your slides. Pique their curiosity by giving hints and clues on your slides. Then deliver a verbal discussion on what those hints mean.

Another benefit of not putting way too much text or information in your slides is that you avoid doing the next mistake.

9. Reading the presentation slides

Trust me when I say you’re disrespecting your audience by reading whatever is on your slides. It’s like you’re assuming they don’t know how to read for themselves!

What’s even worse is when your slides are so crammed with text that the font size becomes reduced to near-infinitesimal levels! So, you end up inadvertently insulting your audience even more. Now they’re stuck listening to you read your slides because they can’t read what’s on there. It’s the double whammy of bad presentations!

To sum up this point, people want to learn from you and they want to listen to you. But they DON’T want to listen to you read your slides.

10. ‘Death by PowerPoint’

Don’t quote me on this, but I don’t think anyone’s literally died yet just by watching a PowerPoint presentation. ‘Death by PowerPoint’ is a phenomenon brought about by the millions of PowerPoint presenters who bore their audiences to tears, or in this case, death.

If you’ve ever attended a presentation where the presenter showed a dizzying and confusing array of slides, or droned on and on without caring if anyone’s actually listening, then you’ve personally experienced this phenomenon. I bet you – and everyone else – were thinking you’d rather be anywhere else but there.

Here’s a video from 10 years ago that’s still relevant today:

So, yeah, ‘death by PowerPoint’ is easily one of the most common PowerPoint mistakes you should avoid at all cost!

11. Not speaking clearly

Many rookie presenters are guilty of this common presentation mistake. Who wants to listen to a presenter speak gibberish? Not me. And I’m pretty sure not you, either. You’re attending a presentation because you want to learn something. When the speaker on stage doesn’t speak clearly, frustrations can quickly build up.

So, when you practice your speech, it’s important to make sure you enunciate each word clearly. Don’t use words that your audiences aren’t familiar with. If you’re speaking to a bunch of elderly people, don’t use lingo they may not understand. If you’re with a younger group, try to learn their slang so they’ll feel more comfortable with you.

Also, when using acronyms, make sure you define it first so people don’t end up confused. You want everyone to be on the same page as you, and communication is key to achieving this particular goal.

12. Not making eye contact

Making eye contact is one of the first things you should work on as a presenter. Why? Because avoiding eye contact during presentations make you look dodgy and untrustworthy. You won’t inspire confidence. So, don’t be surprised if no one takes you seriously.

With eye contact, however, you make it easy for people to see that you actually believe in what you’re saying. If you’re trying to persuade them to buy something from you, they’ll look at you for reassurance that you yourself believe in the product you’re selling.

Eye contact helps you build connections with your audience. When you make eye contact for a few seconds, you feel like you’re talking to that person one-on-one. In that moment, you make that audience member feel important and respected. In return, they will be more receptive to the message you’re sharing with them.

If you’re a naturally shy person, you’ll need to take some baby steps in the beginning. Try practicing making eye contact with the people you interact with on a daily basis. Over time, you’ll find yourself making eye contact naturally and you’ll feel your confidence levels rising.

13. Not dressing appropriately

Another common presentation mistake is not dressing appropriately for the occasion.

Photo by Heather Ford on Unsplash

How would you feel if you wore formal attire to someone’s presentation and the speaker shows up wearing street clothes? You’d probably be annoyed that you took the time to dress up. Here you are listening to someone who didn’t even bother to wear a more suitable outfit for his talk.

First impressions are everything. The right clothes can make people warm up to you. You’re selling an image of being a professional, trustworthy speaker. Your clothes can definitely speak volumes on your behalf.

When in doubt, stick to the classics – gray or black business suits look good in presentations. If you’re borrowing someone else’s suit, make sure it at least fits you. You don’t want to look like you’re swimming in your clothes. For best results, invest in your own business suits. Wearing your own clothes will help you feel more comfortable and more confident.

Don’t forget about your hair, too. You want nothing sticking out unless you’re speaking to a bunch of guys with spiky hair. But even then, you’d still want to maintain an air of professionalism.

The bottom line is, make yourself look good so you’ll feel good. Carefully pick out your clothes. Let your audience see that you’re someone they can build a professional relationship with.

14. Insufficient knowledge of presentation topic

As I’ve mentioned earlier in this article, people attend your presentation because they want to learn something new from you. So, if you show up to your presentation without doing your research or your homework, then you’re essentially wasting their time.

It’s important to be prepared for your presentation. But don’t just cover the basics and then gloss over the details. Be prepared to go as in-depth as possible and cover all possible angles. Now, I don’t mean you need to know everything about the subject, but do try to be as well-informed as possible.

Don’t tell people what they already know. Figure out how you can ‘sell’ your ideas and make your presentation engaging and exciting!

15. No clear call to action

Many rookie presenters make the mistake of not adding a call to action (CTA) to their presentations. They think that their job is done just by sharing whatever their message is and that nothing else needs to be done afterwards.

To be fair, however, in informative presentations, the need for a CTA may not be as clear-cut as, say, a sales presentation. But you should definitely still add a call to action to ALL presentations.

Why? Because CTA’s motivate and encourage your audience to take action. You’re letting them know that the ball is in their court now. You’ve laid out what they need to do, so they can apply the information they’ve learned from you.

Don’t let people treat your presentation as something they can just sweep under the rug. Make an impact during your presentation so that people will be more willing to follow your CTA.

Here’s a tip: instead of using a thank you slide, put your CTA in the final slide. This way, people will be more likely to remember – and take action on – your call to action.

Final Words

You don’t need to aim for a perfect presentation. But avoiding these common presentation mistakes will definitely help you become a better presenter. Define your presentation goal and plan out your content before you do anything else. When designing your slides, make your audience’s visual experience a positive one. Create a strong first impression and engage with your audience throughout your presentation. Help them learn from you, and they’ll help you achieve your presentation goals!

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