Presentation Skills: Presentation Preparation, Common Mistakes10 Of The Most Common Mistakes Presenters Make
Starting Out With The Wrong Assumption.
Namely, that successful presenters are born, not made. The plain truth proven repeatedlyis that presentation skills are acquired skills. Great presenters - like great communicatorsdidn't start out that way. They honed their skills over time, through training and practice.
Letting The Facts Speak For Themselves.
A common trap presenters fall into is a disproportionate prejudice in favor of facts, data, raw information, over emotional appeal. It's a mistake - and a dangerous one, at thatto assume that once you've presented all the information you can on a given subject, your audience will understand, remember, and be persuaded by what you've told them. This overlooks your responsibility to your audience and to yourself, to selectively and strategically present what is most relevant and most likely to support your argument.
Failing To Prepare Properly.
Failing to prepare, as the saying goes, is preparing to fail. A cliché perhaps, but still excellent advice. Begin your preparation by being clear about your goals and purpose. What do you most want to accomplish? What response do you want from your audience? If your purpose is to persuade or motivate your listeners, you must first know what their attitudes and interests are, and what is likely to motivate them. (See our article You Talkin' to Me? in this issue.) Give extra thought to how you will open and close your presentation. Consider ways to grab your audience immediately, with a strong opener. And consider how you will end your presentation. In fact, once you've defined your objective, then build your presentation, step by step, making sure it leads to your final objective.
Failing to Rehearse Properly.
Rehearse your presentationrepeatedly. This gives you several advantages. It helps you to internalize your presentation, allowing you to speak from within, thus reducing your dependence on memorization. It also gives you command of your material. You'll be able to speak more spontaneously and with more conviction.
Failing to Use Notes Properly.
Some very good presenters always use notes; others use notes only some of the time. The point is not whether you use notes, but how you use them. Use notes that require no more than a brief glance for comprehensionin effect, notes that amount to visual aids, limited to key words or ideas. Do not create a script that you will feel compelled to read (an audience downer!) at the expense of maintaining eye focus with your audience.
Presenters too often pack their visuals with as much data, statistics, charts and graphs as they can hold. And worse, this is often combined with flashy animations that accomplish little of real value. Why presenters do this is a mystery. The more material that's crammed onto a visual, the longer it takes your listeners to read and understand what you're trying to convey. Dense visuals distract your audience and thus have the opposite effect from what you intended. Instead, use at-a-glance visuals that reinforce your message, while allowing your listeners to stay focused on you. (For an in-depth look at how to create visuals for maximum results, read our article Creating Visual Aids That Really Work.)
Selling Short The Importance of Non-Verbal Communication.
We communicate far more than we know through our body languagethrough our voice, eyes, gestures, posture and facial expressions. When you're presenting, strong, positive body language becomes an essential tool in helping you build credibility with your audience. Knowing how to use these skills goes far toward assuring your success. (To learn more about using body language to your advantage, click here.)
Failing To Check Out The Room.
It's a mistake presenters commonly make. Knowing the room is always important, especially if you're presenting in an unfamiliar setting or to a large audience. You need to check out everythingthe equipment you'll be using, lighting, even seating arrangements, and more. Don't expect a Good Samaritan to come to your rescue should anything fail to function properly.
Failing To Prepare for Q-&-A's.
It ain't over till it's over, goes the old saw. And it ain't over till you've successfully handled whatever questions may follow your presentation. Even if no formal Q-&-A period is on the agenda, prepare anyway. Think ahead to questions you may have prompted by your remarks. It's also a good idea to consider in advance questions that might come up that have nothing to do with your presentation. Your audience analysis, for example, may reveal concerns among your listeners that could lead to questions from them.
Hiding Behind The Lectern.
For the most part, the lectern serves as little more than a barrier between you and your audience. Presenters who are nervous about speaking often tend to use the lectern as a shield, as if they're trying to hide from their audience. There's no need to retreat from your audience if you've taken the necessary steps to prepare properly.