It’s game time and you’re out to be a star presenter. Don’t become your own worst enemy! Here are the five worst speaking fouls to avoid in your next presentation.
1) Not Knowing the Plays
Giving a presentation is unnerving. It can be tempting to come equipped with detailed notes to ease your anxiety. What could be better than reading off your notes for the entirety of your presentation? Making an impactful speech.
One of the most detrimental things a presenter can do is read directly from his or her notes. The relationship between the presenter and the audience will be severed, and the audience will quickly lose interest in anything that you have to say. It’s fine to use notes to help you stay on topic with your presentation, but any more than a brief glance will diminish its benefit. Basketball players do not consult the playbook every time they come down the court, and neither should you.
This applies to PowerPoints as well. PowerPoint slides are not for you, but for the audience. Make sure the use of text is sparing on each slide and including interesting visuals. PowerPoint is meant to supplement your own dialogue, not dictate it. Not only will reading a slide make you look as though you are unprepared for your presentation, you will also be turning your own attention away from the audience.
2) Bad Form
This foul covers a variety of poor mannerisms that presenters often exhibit during their presentations, the first being eye contact. If you’re brave enough to not look at your slides or the floor in front of you, try looking at your audience. Eye contact will help establish trust, credibility and confidence in the minds of your audience members. This engagement with your audience will help keep them interested in what you (not your slides) are saying and will actually help you develop a small relationship with each individual you look at. However, don’t stare at anyone for more than a sentence or two. Looking at someone for too long is a great way to make that individual feel uncomfortable.
Another mannerism to avoid is fidgeting. Most people have physical responses when a crowd looks at them. Mine is swaying back and forth and shifting my feet. What’s yours? You may not be able to name yours right now, but keep this foul in the back of your mind when presenting. If you catch yourself fidgeting, tapping a pencil, interlocking your fingers over and over again, etc., try to catch it and adjust. It may not distract you, but that fidget can be very distracting for an audience, and if you’re not sure you have one, ask a (friendly) colleague to observe.
3) Shot Clock Violation
You’ve been here before. It’s now ten minutes past the time when the program was supposed to be over and the presenter is only on slide 18 of 20. Your audience expects you to end on time. Once you go over, the environment is going to change. People will start shifting in their seats, looking around the room or even packing up some of their things. At this point, it’s too late to fully recover. Your audience is now too distracted by the time for your closing to have the same impact it would have had if it were on time. Make sure your presentation is well-timed so you can be respectful of people’s schedules. They will inwardly thank you for it. Don’t rely on overtime to communicate your message.
4) Skipping Practice
No team has played anything more than a pick-up game without practice. Your presentation needs to be well-rehearsed. I’ve seen too many people go into a presentation hoping to wing it and wandering about from topic to topic with no objective. Rehearsing your presentation lets you spot trouble areas and understand the takeaways you want your audience to have when it’s finished.
Practicing also helps you improve on all the other fouls in this blog. Time yourself to make sure you’re not going over. Give your presentation to a group of friends or family to see how you will react to an audience and how they will react to you. Figure out what you are actually going to say versus relying on what you wrote down to say. You will find that they often do not line up very well on your first run-through.
You may be confident in your ability to speak in front of people. You may feel like no one will notice if you don’t rehearse your presentation. But the audience will be able to tell. Trust me.
5) Missing Your Buzzer Beater
You’re sitting on the edge of your seat in suspense. The clock ticks down, three, two, one. Your team puts up a three-point shot, the buzzer blasts and the shot swishes to give your team the win by one point in the fourth quarter. You just experienced a game that you’re going to remember. What makes this game different from others? It ended on a high note.
As I briefly discussed above, many presenters will wander about from topic to topic without a goal. Your presentation needs to have key takeaways for your audience. These takeaways are the climax of your presentation. Everything you say should ultimately lead to these points.
In sports, many athletes know when to quit. Peyton Manning just hopped out of football this year after his second super bowl win. That’s a big reason he will be remembered so fondly. He ended on a high note. Your presentation should do the same. Do not continue dragging out the conversation after what should have been your big closing statement. Identify what you want the end goal of your presentation to be, accomplish it and don’t linger. Your presentation will have a far greater impact on your audience.
Presenting is no easy task. Avoid these five fouls to help make your next presentation great!