As event video production specialists, we’ve recorded thousands of corporate presentations over the years. From local and international conferences, to sales presentations, and training courses, we’ve filmed them all. Unfortunately however, we’ve also witnessed a lot of presentation mistakes!
Now, it’s important to say that public speaking can be terrifying and doesn’t come naturally to most people. We would never want to make anybody feel bad for putting themselves in the spotlight. However, our experience gives us a tremendous amount of insight into what works and what doesn’t. So we thought we’d share some of the most common presentation mistakes that we see.
Some of these may seem obvious, but once you get up on stage it’s very easy to make them, particularly if you’re nervous. However, if you keep these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to giving a memorable and masterful presentation.
1. Presenting to your slides
The majority of presentations are given alongside a slide deck of some kind. One of the biggest mistakes we see is people presenting to their slides instead of the audience. Regardless of whether the slides are on a projector, laptop screen or a print-out, this is a big one to avoid.
In order to hold the room’s attention, don’t spend the entire presentation looking at your own visual aids. Looking at the audience and speaking to them directly is essential for holding their interest.
One of the main reasons why presenters do this is because they’ve overloaded their slides with content. In some cases, they’ve published their entire script for the presentation in the slides and are simply reading from them. This is a huge no-no, and slide content is a separate issue which we’ll address next!
2. Overloading the slides with text
When we’re met with a solid wall of text during a presentation, our hearts sink. In our view, text-heavy slides indicate that the presenter hasn’t rehearsed their presentation, and that they haven’t adapted their presentation material properly.
There are so many reasons why loading your slides with text is a huge presentation mistake, but here are a few:
- Putting text on screen encourages the audience to read your slides instead of listening to you. Yet listening to you is the whole point of giving the presentation!
- If the text is different to what you’re saying, the audience is going to have to decide whether to listen to you or read the text. Your audience can’t multitask.
- If you’re reading from the slide, you’re not delivering an engaging presentation. (See presentation mistake number 1.)
- People read at different speeds so it’s highly likely that you’ll move on before everyone has finished reading the slide. Remember, people read at different speeds based on their proficiency with literacy.
- Not everyone has 20/20 vision. Those at the back – or front, depending on how good their eyes are – may struggle to read the text if there’s a lot there.
- A slide with lots of text isn’t making a clear point.
As politeness to your audience, do the hard work for them and consolidate your info into manageable chunks beforehand, rather than requiring that they squint at a pixelated screen to read the forty-eight lines of text you’ve crammed into each slide.
Smaller chunks of information will retain their interest and be far easier to read, both for you as the presenter, and your participants.
If you want to see an example of world-class presentation design, check out how Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone back in 2007. You can almost count the number of words in his slide deck on your fingers.
3. Lack of rehearsal
You’d be surprised at the number of presenters who get up on stage and fumble around with their presentation because they’ve forgotten how it was put together. Being unsure of what’s coming next or scrolling around through your slides because you forgot to cover something is unprofessional and confuses the audience.
It’s an obvious one, but you should always run through your presentation a few times before you deliver it. Load up the slides and present it as you would on stage – even if it’s just to yourself in the mirror. However, if you really want to nail your presentation, we’d suggest recording the video on your phone or asking a friend or colleague to record it for you. That way you can watch it back and see how each message landed.
The more you rehearse your presentation, the slicker it’ll be when you give the real thing. And, any issues that crop up on the day will be a little easier to manage.
4. Poorly managed audience participation
If your presentation involves audience participation, such as a Q&A, make sure you explain how you want this to work at the start of your presentation.
For example, if you’re going to answer everyone’s questions at the end, state this at the beginning of your presentation to prevent people from raising hands and calling out questions mid-flow. The last thing you want is for your presentation to turn into a free-for-all.
If you want questions to be asked throughout, make sure you state this early on. You’ll need to give the audience permission to interrupt you. Also, remember to regularly encourage questions when you reach a natural pause or change of topic.
You’ll also need to be mindful of how you’ll handle questions that aren’t relevant to the entire room. If you receive an audience question that’s very specific, where the answer is only relevant to the asker, maybe follow up with them privately after the presentation.
Some events will set a format for audience participation. For example, conferences will usually follow a set structure throughout the day. It’s always a good idea to check with the organiser what the format is so that you stick to the schedule.
5. Technical difficulties
We’ve seen so many carefully planned presentations derailed at the last second by uncooperative technology. Before you go on stage, double check that your presentation works, your videos play properly, and any live demos are functional. Don’t just wing it!
If you need to present from your own laptop, check that it’s compatible with the venue’s presentation equipment. If you need an internet connection to play a video from YouTube for example, check that there’s Wi-Fi. And so on.
To avoid being let down by jittery tech, try to do a test run with all your equipment in the venue before the presentation begins. If you have slides to click through, make sure that they’re all formatted correctly and in the right order too.
6. Going off-schedule
One of our biggest presentation bugbears is presenters who don’t keep to time. Every presentation, no matter the context, is given a time slot to keep within. If you don’t keep to this, you’ll impact the schedule for the rest of the day.
This fits hand-in-glove with rehearsing, but you need to make sure that your presentation stays on schedule. For starters, don’t overstuff your presentation. Nobody wants to feel like key information was skipped or left out because you’ve run out of time.
Likewise, make sure you plan enough content for the time you have available. You don’t want to deliver a 30 minute presentation in a 60 minute time slot. While you could potentially fill the remaining time with an audience Q&A, you can’t guarantee that you’ll get any questions – or that they’ll be of good quality. Your audience doesn’t want to feel shortchanged.
To stay on schedule, set a timer at the beginning of your presentation or have a clock in your periphery that you can refer to periodically to check whether you’re on track. Under no circumstances should you eat into a scheduled break (especially lunch) or home time because you couldn’t fit everything in. Even if the audience remains polite, nobody will be very happy with you.
Wrap it up on time, and end on a high!
7. Not considering the venue
Something that a lot of presenters don’t consider is the impact the venue has on their presentation. Although, as a presenter, you can’t choose the venue for most presentations, there are some things you can control when you get there.
How big is the room?
If you’re in a large room you’ll need to project your voice or use a microphone so that people in the back can hear you clearly.
You’ll also need to consider whether people at the back will be able to see your slides properly. If they can’t, and your slide deck is packed full of text and graphics, you should rejig your slides to make certain elements bigger or clearer.
What’s the lighting like?
If the venue has a projector, you might need to turn the lights off to help people see your slides. But does this leave you stood in the dark? And will a dark room send your audience to sleep if your presentation is about a dryer or more information-heavy topic?
Worse, are you stood in front of the projector and casting a big shadow on the wall? Or are you blocking the screen in a way that makes it hard for people to see what you’re showing them?
What’s the layout of the room?
How are your audience seated? Do you have your back to any audience members when you’re talking? If there’s space, you could ask those people to move to a different seat where they’ll be able to see you better. Or, perhaps you could rearrange the seating in the room before your presentation starts. (If you have the time and authority!)
All of these factor into how you come across. If you want to convey charisma and confidence, be aware of your surroundings and use them to your advantage. Stand where the light is most flattering, move around the space you’ve got to work with, and use your body language to show enthusiasm and self-assurance.
8. Forgetting or ignoring the camera (!!)
We’re naturally a bit sensitive about this one, but this is probably the very worst presentation mistake in our book. If your presentation is being recorded, you need to consider that you’ve got two audiences. You have the audience in the room and the audience who will be watching your presentation later on.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you should change the content of your presentation. We often hear from presenters who say that they don’t want their presentation recorded because the content is sensitive or confidential. That blows our minds a little. After all, you’re sharing it with a room full of strangers who all have cameras on their phones and could be recording or photographing this content anyway. If it’s sensitive, don’t share it at all!
What we’re referring to specifically are things like:
- Taking your microphone off because “everyone can hear me anyway”. Unless you have your microphone on, the camera can’t! (Sometimes this is confusing because the microphone might be for the camera only. There might not be speakers in the room. But that doesn’t mean it’s not working!)
- Leaving the presentation space, such as the stage. At conferences in particular, the camera – and microphones and lighting – will be set up for the presentation space. If you leave it, your presentation won’t be captured properly.
- Adding improvisational audience participation which wasn’t planned for. For example, an impromptu audience Q&A. If this isn’t planned, we won’t be able to capture any of the questions and the viewers watching the recording won’t know what you’ve been asked.
So, when being recorded, remember that there’s a camera there and please follow the instructions of the AV team to make sure we capture the best result. No taking your microphone off halfway through your presentation because you don’t think it’s needed. (This has happened too many times to count!)
We’ve seen these presentation mistakes crop up in presentations, time and time again. But thankfully, they’re fairly simple and easy to solve.
Try to keep these pointers in mind for your next delivery, to ensure your future presentations will be slick, efficient, and brimming with confidence. Good luck out there!