Time to look good: Four presentation pitfalls you need to avoid

What is a great presentation? You know it when you see it, don’t you? But it can be very hard to pinpoint what you’re seeing. Usually we attribute a great presentation to the presenter’s personality, charisma or style. It seems that great presenters have some intangible quality that is just out of reach.

The good news is once you examine what a great presenter is actually doing you realise charisma and personality is not at the heart of great presenting. The ability to create understanding for the audience, to communicate, is fundamentally what great presenters are masters of.

Today, I find presenters are so busy trying to stand out, trying to do something quirky or funny or impactful they are missing the point of presenting. I am a massive fan of a great video, a funny joke or an impactful picture but only as part of a great piece of communication and message. Great presentations are not about the elusive X Factor they are fundamentally about The Communication Factor.

To have The Communication Factor you must avoid these four presentation pitfalls

1. Having the wrong structure
Most people when they structure presentations do so using what is called deductive reasoning. Simply put, this means building up to the strongest point for the audience instead of leading with it. The main reason this is a chosen approach is presenters want to establish themselves and their credibility before they give conclusions. If you are using this presentation structure you must ask yourself if your audience is going to wait until the end to get what they need. Would you wait that long?

Here is the good news. You can transform this presentation structure in one easy step by having confidence in yourself and your message and by leading with your strongest point. You then spend the rest of the presentation building your story and credibility around that opening point.

2. Overloading the audience with too much data
Too often in presentations audiences are overloaded with too many facts and details. This is done for many reasons. The most common are the presenter:
• Feels all the information is important
• Is unable to choose what to take out and leave in so presents everything and hopes the audience gets something
• Is using the data as a crutch to fill time or showcase knowledge and expertise
Ultimately though the main reason for data overloading is the presenter hasn’t focused on the audience and thought about what they actually need and want to hear.

3. Using PowerPoint the wrong way
The point of a PowerPoint slide is not to cram as many words as possible onto it and then stand up and read it to an audience. The idea of a slide is to help the audience visually understand your ideas and concepts.
PowerPoint (or any other brand of slides ) is a very powerful visual aid when used correctly. It really is. Unfortunately many presenters do not use it as a visual aid. Instead they use it as:
• Their notes
• A crutch
• A substitute for preparation
• The handout (given before, during or after the talk)
• The PowerPoint that gets circulated to the people that weren’t at the talk
Using slides in the wrong way will guarantee you are branded a lackluster presenter.

4. Using too much industry jargon
The best presenters speak in plain English. I know you don’t want to be seen to ‘dumb things down’ or speak in what you perceive to be baby talk. Dumbing down and baby talk are very different to being clear, concise and understandable. To be understood you have to stop:
• using concepts, acronyms and jargon without explanation;
• assuming levels of understanding that are simply not there;
• bombarding the audience with too many numbers with no context for those numbers;
• using ten sentences to say what could be said in two;
• talking about what you are going to talk about instead of just talking about it. You need to get to the point.

The purpose of any presentation is to create understanding. If you don’t make your facts understandable you are essentially expecting your audience to:
• take on board a catalogue of data;
• assimilate the data immediately with no real context;
• reach the same conclusion you have reached.

The onus is never on the audience, it is always on the speaker to keep the listener engaged and ensure they understand and leave with the key messages. Great presenters are created, not born. Don’t let yourself down when you stand up to speak.

Emma Ledden is author of The Presentation Book

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