You’ve been working for days on a presentation for the C-Suite, or the shareholders. Or perhaps you’ve been honing the text of a speech you hope will result in a standing ovation.
Keep these words in mind, however: “The human brain is a wonderful organ. It starts to work as soon as you are born and doesn’t stop until you get up to deliver a speech.” ~ George Jessel, English Jurist.
No matter the audience, you can kill all the benefits of a good presentation in no time at all. How? By making one of these 5 mistakes:
1—Jargon, acronyms and filler words
Unless you know every single person in your audience and you know what they know, skip the jargon. What’s jargon? In your business domain, there might be terminology that is germane to what you’re trying to communicate. If there is, you should use it. But then there is ‘jargon’, which is meant to make you look smart but can have the opposite effect. For one thing, some of your audience might not understand what you mean. They might also have a different understanding of the words you’re using. Worse still is when you misuse or overuse jargon.
Acronyms are another great way to lose an audience. If there is a long string of a title that you’re going to repeat often in your speech, an acronym is a good idea. But dropping them in throughout your speech again assumes that the audience understands them. If they don’t, by the time they’ve worked it out, they’ve missed the rest of your message.
Pause words like ‘um’ and ‘uh’, if they can even be termed words, are distracting and don’t make you sound like you know your topic or even understand it. Practice your speech on a video: it’s the best way to nail down your pause words/sounds so you can consciously avoid them.
2—Hard to figure or pointless visual aids
If your visual aids, charts, or diagrams need their own chart to decipher them? They’re too complicated. You don’t want your audience spending all of their time working out what your picture is saying and not hearing any of your words.
Worse still, if they’re not coordinated with your speaking notes, they will prove to be a distraction. If you have to jump ahead or backward in your slides, you will look unprepared. Run through your presentation or speech WITH your visual aids, to be sure that it all works together.
Any visual aid has to enhance the presentation. Bad stock images or irrelevant graphs that just ‘look nice’ are a waste of time.
3—Reading your speech
There’s nothing more snore-inducing than a presenter who reads their notes, or worse, reads their slides. In the first case, they’re not engaging with the audience. In the second, the audience will be put off. They can likely read for themselves: they don’t need you to do it for them!
4—Too Much Information (or TMI, if you prefer acronyms!)
Personalizing your speech is a good thing. Making yourself relatable to your audience is a great idea. Sharing an anecdote about your kid’s diaper blow out over the weekend, all over the leather upholstery in your BMW? Not so much. In a business or academic setting, too much personal information is just too much.
Bad jokes are also a no-no. How do you know if your joke is bad? You don’t. But a C-Suite meeting is one of those times when it’s best to assume that any joke is a bad joke.
Another way you can lose your audience with TMI is by giving them irrelevant background information, either your own or the project’s. Even most professional adults have a limit on their attention spans. Don’t lose them from the get-go by giving them what they already know.
Yet another way to lose them is by giving them too much information. If your speech is meant to encourage the use of a new IT system, for example, the audience doesn’t need to know how it was developed, using what methodology and by whom.
5—No call to action or follow up information
If you promised handouts, have them ready at the end of your presentation. If you want your audience to do something when they get back to their desks, tell them. The best presentation in the world can fall flat if the audience doesn’t know what you expect of them in the days and weeks that follow it. If you don’t expect anything, well, that’s easy. But if you are hoping to motivate them to some sort of action, be clear on what it is that you expect.
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