If you are in the working world, or even if you haven’t yet taken that step, you will probably be aware of the importance of presentation skills in professional life.

Like, it’s obvious, isn’t it ?

It is one of, if not, the most important soft skills in life and in business – we all agree on that one, don’t we ?

Well, if this is the case, then why do so few companies invest, I mean, really invest in top level corporate communication skills for their people ?

It is a rarity in business or in academia that attention is spared for this type of training that can win or lose contracts worth millions of euros, rupees, pounds or dollars for the company, not to mention the benefits in terms of self-esteem for people in the organisation..

I kid you not, the companies that do invest in their people are few and far between and those that do invest, already have an appreciable edge over their competition and will continue to do so.

The CEO of Boeing is often quoted for his belief in soft skills – saying that “I hire for hard skills and I fire for soft skills (or the lack of them).

Without the ability to present and to communicate skillfully in front of clients, colleagues and peers, other soft skills, like effective teamwork and leadership, become impossible.

So, if you are in the majority, that is, your company do not invest in any corporate communication skills, lets see if you make any of these ten classic presentation mistakes, and as a bonus, I’ll offer some advice for you on how to avoid them.

1.    When asked to do a presentation in front of a client, you feel your stomach sink, your palms become sweaty and you feel an immense sense of dread. You imagine a hostile room, full of unfriendly faces who are out to get you and you know instinctively that you are going to have a hard time, that your throat is going to be dry and your voice almost imperceptible – oh, this is hell on earth…

This is a classic negative self-talk, in fact you are setting the ball inmotion for failure, you know it and you are going to ensure that this happens with this type of frame of mind – it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You know the deal, you are a beginner at skiing, at the top of a steep slope and you know you are going to fall, you just know it, and you confirm this by saying to yourself that you are going to fall. And guess what happens … yes, you got it, you fall and so many people do this when they do a presentation – they fall, or fail – same difference.

So, you need to train yourself in visualising success and it is not so hard as you think, but you need to train yourself in doing it. Let’s look at it lucidly, if you can convince yourself that you are going to fall, then pure logic would tell us that you can convince yourself that you are not going to fall. So why can’t you do this when doing your presentation ?

Well, the answer is that you can, you just need to train yourself (or be trained). Oh, and most audiences are on your side, as long as you have fulfilled your part of the deal, that is, that you have come prepared for the presentation you are about to give. Come unprepared and feel the wrath of the audience descend upon you … deservedly so!

2.    When starting out the planning of your presentation you open Powerpoint or Keynote and start with the slides.

Hey, hold on. This is like Tarantino making a film and thinking of a script afterwards (OK, Tarantino’s scripts maybe are able to go this way, but think of Spielberg, he doesn’t do it this way, and neither should you.

You need to craft your story first then think about building slides to help your audience understand more about what you are presenting.

Start with paper, craft your story then adapt the slides to this, with the clear thought in mind as to how each slide helps the audience understand (more) of your presentation.

3.    Your slides are full of text and bullet points to help break them up, as your subject is quite technical.

Bullets, I am afraid are just for guns and should not be used on slides, although they are acceptable in reports in a Word document for example. We live in a hypertext world, where people read very little at a time, jumping from text-links to images, but who are attracted and can keep their attention to information presented in infographics or in the form of images. Images and infographics are easy to digest, easy to remember and easier on the eye – isn’t that what we are striving for with a presentation ?

You need to approach your information that you are presenting from a design thinking perspective with questions such as, « How can I best get this message across to my audience? » “How can I make things easier to understand and thus easier to present?”

You know who wins here ? Everyone, and your credibility is given a huge boost, which is not a bad thing when standing in front of a client.  Almost everyone I meet tells me that they are not creative. But let me tell you this; creativity is at hands reach of everyone and it is free, it costs nothing, apart from a little effort and sometimes taking a small step backwards to think about what you are trying to do. Try it, you’ll love it and more to the point, so will your audience.

4.    Your slides are a way of keeping you on track with your presentation.

How often do you see this ? The presenter switches from one slide to another and is almost surprised  when a slide is projected on the screen as they remember what they are going to talk about. This smacks of under-preparation and is frankly, unacceptable – if you do this, stop it right now ! If you see this in a presentation, walk out of the room or get you favourite game up on your smartphone, the speaker just doesn’t deserve your attention, even if you are faking it. Oh, and if you write full sentences on a slide you will read them – it’s a kind of natural thing that humans do, and your audience will have read them before you have said them aloud, and you will lose your audience, guaranteed. And, anyway, where is the surprise element here? Exactly, there isn’t any, so why would the audince need to do anything that do what they didn’t come here for – read! Part of the audience’s job is to listen, not to read, and they will let you know, clearly, when they have finished.

5.    You have worked your slides together and have added a « Thank you » and an « Any Questions? » slide.

No, no, no, oh dear ! This is a waste of slides and time. If we take the rule of thumb (for the purpose of planning) that each slide lasts roughly 90 seconds each (some less and some a little longer). Then what are you thinking when including these two useless slides in your corporate presentation.  Of course we do thank our audience for their presence and their attention as we are always polite, gracious and professional, but the audience is not so stupid that you need to have a slide to understand that it’s time for questions or that you are thanking them, do they ? Of course not, so stop this now ! When questions come up, go to a blank screen, press the ‘B’ button whilst Powerpoint or Keynote is open, no distractions and definitely no little clipart guy scratching his head with a question mark above his head.

6.    Too many slides that give little or no value.

We have all been in an audience (and perhaps have done it ourselves) when a presenter has a deck of 50 slides for a 30 minute speech, and as they realise that time is running out, they start speeding up, flipping through the slides at lightning pace and speaking quicker to get everything in. What is actually the point? All this tells me is that the presenter has not prepared the presentation and has definitely not rehearsed, so I’m off, why should I stay concentrated when the presenter has done little more than just turned up for the presentation? One way of testing if you need a slide or not is to think of your presentation as a conversation in a café, where you are explaining things to a client / colleague etc., think about at what point you would need to take out a pen and sketch something on a paper serviette. It is at this point that you will absolutely need a slide in your presentation, no sketch, no slide – as simple as. Remember that a presentation is often a case of ‘less-is-more’.

7.    You have a presentation slot of 15 minutes and at 30 minutes, you are not quite finished … just a bit more time please … 

Let me tell you that once again you are illustrating to your audience just how little preparation you have put in for the presentation and this is just unacceptable. Let me tell you that there has never, ever, ever been complaints about a presentation finishing before time, but lots of irrate people who have been late for lunch, dinner, meetings, weddings and funerals all because of an under-prepared presenter. Unprepared presenters are the scourge of the Earth and need to be eliminated. In Powerpoint and Keynote you have a tool called ‘rehearsal’ complete with timing – use it and get prepared, otherwise, just stay at home as you are telling lots of negative things about you and your company that you would be advised not to.

8.    Poor slides and media.

Not only are your slides full of text and bullet points, but the tables and diagrams are virtually impossible to read and when they are lisible, they are virtually impossible to decode. Get your media right – one notion / idea per slide and use the whole slide, make a positive impact as the collateral damage will be on your credibility. Just remember that good slides go to heaven and bad slides go everywhere ! Think about colours, contrasts, diagrams and images that speak volumes, not that confuse or distract. Design, innovate and get creative – you’ll love it, I promise.

9.    Not considering the audience in front of you.

OK, you have a service, a product or an idea to sell, so you are obviously going to be focused heavily on this, aren’t you. But, if you do not tailor your message to your specific audience that are in front of you, then there is no way that they are going to buy anything that you are selling. Neither knowledge nor information can be pushed into a brain, it has to be pulled in, and for an audience to want to pull in knowledge or information, then the message needs to be carefully crafted to them, their situation, their knowledge level, to their state of mind and to their realities. Miss this and you miss everything. So start planning with the audience as your N°1 priority. Think about who they are, ages, gender, knowledge level, the effect and benefits that your message has for them and craft your message accordingly.

10. You focus on the middle of your presentation as this is where the important things are. Well, if you do this your audience may not even still be with you by the middle part of your presentation. If you don’t grab the audience’s attention in the first three seconds of your presentation they could be lost forever, there is just you, casting seeds into the desert and none, as you well know, will ever sprout. A presentation is a story, with a Start, a Middle and an End. If you start badly, as many do (and some even tell the audience obvious things that they already know,  such as, « I’m stressed »), then you risk losing the audience forever. Your middle may be great, some are, but if you don’t have a positive, actionable, uplifting or motivating call to action at the end, then what do you want your audience to remember ? Your bad start ? A middle that they didn’t even connect with ? A simple, “I’m finished” (because you may be … in more ways than one) at the end ?

A presentation is crafted and prepared and rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed again. You know the theory of Primacy and Recency ?

Primacy tells us that we remember the first impressions of people, places, experiences, presentations, books etc.

Recency, on the other hand, tells us that we remember the last impressions, those things that leave lingering assets in our memories.

Now you could say that Primacy and Recency do not exist, but consider the times that you have loved or hated certain people on meeting them at first and then how after time your feelings may have changed. Think about reading a book or magazine that has a compelling story, only to find that someone has ripped the last page out. How do you feel ? Cheated ? Upset ? Undersold ? Well that my friends, is how many people leave their audiences feeling during their presentations – not nice is it !

Don’t be a nasty person – prepare, rehearse and craft messages that stand out, that heighten the credibility or yourself and your company and start enjoying what you do – it’s amazing how this enthusiasm and enjoyment rubs off onto your audience.

If you doubt any of these points, then just look at any presentation on TED, have you seen a « Questions » or a « Thank you slide » ? How many bullet points have you seen ? How many times have you seen the presenter reading full sentences off of the screen? How many bad slides have you seen? How often do you see a TED talk go over 18 minutes?

If you want to see how many clients you can lose through bad presentations, then continue doing all of the above. Alternatively you could get in touch and I’ll help you become an awesome presenter. What do you say ?

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