Avoid Common Presentation Errors

by Speaking Tips | November 24, 2003

If you've been to a conference, seminar or other business presentation recently, then you have likely been exposed to the reality that there are good speakers and then there are bad speakers. If we can be excused for mangling a nursery rhyme, when a speaker is "good they are very, very good and when they are bad they are horrid". It does seem to be a case of the extremes being the norm.

Here are some errors that speakers at the wrong end of the spectrum frequently make and some tips on how you can avoid them.

  1. Speaking in a monotone.  A good speaker should be animated and demonstrate genuine enthusiasm for their topic.  Avoid the trap of reading exclusively from notes with your head down.
  2. Avoiding eye contact with the audience.  Try to maintain as much direct eye contact with your audience as possible. Refer to notes breifly where necessary. If you are using slides, avoid turning your back on the audience to read from them.
  3. Obscuring slides and visual aids by standing in front of them. Stand to the side of your slides or visual aids. With large audiences, be aware of the angles since a sideways and slightly forward position can still obscure the vision of people seated at the extreme ends of the front rows.
  4. Creating slides that are cluttered and difficult to read. Try to use a single font that is large enough that it can be read clearly from the rear of the room. Ensure that legends and other information on charts and graphs is similarly legible.
  5. Packing in as much text on each slide as possible. Try to use single words, short phrases and simple graphics wherever possible.  This requires thought to ensure that your ideas can be conveyed as concisely as possible without losing meaning. Judicious use of whitespace can make important data stand out and will enhance your audience's ability to absorb the data you are presenting.
  6. Using color combinations with low contrast. Choose color combinations for your background and text that make the text stand out clearly. Obviously, contrast is not the only criteria, you also need to consider how the colors you select look together. Avoid color combinations that people with impaired visoin may have difficulty distinguishing.
  7. Using clip art to fill in blank space on slides.  The function of graphics is to communicate and not to embellish. Make sure that every graphic you use makes a point that enhances the delivery of your message. Of course, if you are trying to illustrate how not to prepare a slide, then you can have a field day!
  8. Keeping the audience guessing as to what the objective is. Begin by communicating your objectives and and how you are going to approach your topic. Let the audience know your point of view and where you are coming from.
  9. Organizing information around personal interests rather than what the audience wants to know.  Plan for the audience's knowledge level and interests and actively encourage audience interaction.
  10. Failing to test equipment beforehand. Ensure that you test all your equipment and props before you begin. Arrive at the venue sufficiently early to allow time for this. If you have already tested something at home, test it again anyway.
  11. Not providing a handout or omitting important information from it. Be sure to provide the audience with a handout summarizing and enhancing your presentation. Include significant information such as web site addresses, legal citations, financial data, numerical trends, etc.
  12. Ignoring time limits. Practice berforehand so that you can keep to your alloted time. If you plan on a question and answer session, ensure that you leave sufficient time for it. In the event that you get a late start, ensure that you still finish at the scheduled time. It's a good idea to plan portions of your material that can be omitted under such circumstances.

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