Getting ready for your next presentation? Whether it’s in front of two people, 200 or 2000, it stuns me that we STILL continue to create —and endure—hours of bad presentations.
This has to stop.
Before your next presentation –whether you’re delivering it or working with a team –review these 12 don’ts. Some you know and still don’t do. Some may surprise you. But try them all, and break the cycle of presentation doom. Your next audience will thank you.
12 Things Not to Do in Your Next Presentation
1. Don’t say you’ll “wing it.”
AAAGH!!! Too many leaders think that they’re too busy or they don’t need to prepare for a talk or presentation.
This is not only a recipe for disaster but a sign of arrogance and disrespect.
No matter how many times I have given the same basic talk, I spend hours preparing, rehearsing, refining, and following up. The most effective speakers–and not just the professionals like me–never, ever wing it.
2. Don’t just think about your talk; think about the context.
If you don’t have a clear understanding of what’s surrounding your talk, you’re asking for trouble.
If you aren’t the person leading the entire agenda, it’s okay to be Nosy Ned and ask the organizer or leader about the context they’re walking into. Who’ll be in the room? What are they expecting? What’s happening before and after your presentation?
Professional speakers take this one step deeper. They ask the organizer what they want to gain from having you speak. How can you support their goals? The person who’s asking in advance how their talk can help someone else is a winner before they open their mouth.
3. Don’t ignore what you want.
While it’s a bonus to make sure you’re helping the organizer reach their goals, you want to be clear on your own goals, too.
Why is it valuable for you to share these ideas now? What do you want to gain from it? Being really, really clear upfront helps you make better decisions about what you say and do before, during, and after your next presentation.
4. Do not spend hours tweeking and formatting your slides.
Big. Time. Sucker.
Options? Instead of trying to be a powerpoint or keynote guru, use a single image instead. Or move to the flip chart and draw that thing you’re wasting time trying to create on a slide (practice first, please–go back to #1).
Or, leave it out altogether.
(If the image is super critical to your work and you’re going to use it over and over again, then cough up a few bucks and hire a professional to create just that image. Places like Upwork or Fiverr can help if you don’t have resources in-house.)
5. Do not have more than 7 words on a slide.
Please–do we not know this by now? And yet-the scourge of the word-burdened slides continues . . .
If your presentation makes sense when it’s read, then why do they need you there at all?
6. Do not start with “Thanks! I’m happy to be here!” or “First, some housekeeping . . . “
These filler words signal to the audience that they don’t have to pay attention yet. And once you lose attention, it’s hard to get back.
Dive right in with a story that sets the stage for what you’ll be sharing. In TV, this is called the “cold open.”
Think about Saturday Night Live–there’s always a sketch at the beginning, before the credits and monologue. Would that show be as fun if it started with the host coming out and saying “hey, I’m happy to be here”–long before you’d had a laugh?
(I use cold opens in almost all of my in-person talks as well as my live Facebook broadcasts, like this one on confidence.)
7. Do not darken the room so people can “see the slides.”
We want to see YOU, not your slides. If it’s so important that people see your slides, it’s time to go back and rework your deck so it is meaningless unless accompanied by you.
The dark deadens even the best presentation. If your host has already turned out the lights, turn ’em on. Fight for the light–your audience will thank you for it.
8. Do not hand out your slides in advance.
Just like “seeing the slides,” your audience wants to connect with you, the human being in the room. They didn’t come to read a book.
Don’t give your audience a reason to look at something else. If you’re sharing a complicated topic (like financial reports), deeper dive handouts might be fine, but they’d be better shared in advance.
9. Don’t cop out and use a video.
If I wanted to watch a video, I wouldn’t be in the room watching you.
It’s a cop out to use a video to replace a story you can tell yourself. If your organization has made such an awesome video that you think it HAS to be seen, send it to the participants in advance or as a followup.
10. Don’t complain about the time you have.
If you were invited to a cocktail party from 5:30-7, would you complain to the rest of the guests that you didn’t have enough time to eat all the hors d’oeurve?
No. You knew the party ends at 7. If the cheese puffs weren’t out of the oven until 6:30, so be it–you can be more gracious than that.
Plan and practice your content to fit well under the time you have. (This is also why don’t #1 is important).
No one will ever complain about having extra time or being ahead of schedule. Griping about the time or speeding up to “fit it all in” is a selfish, you-centric move–and you’re classier than that.
11. Don’t fade away at the end.
Ever been in the audience and heard the awkward silence when the speaker says, “So. . . . . that’ s all I have–any questions?”
Then they quietly fade away . . . and even if you loved their ideas, you don’t have the chance to applaud them or acknowledge their effort.
End as you begin–with a strong, impactful story. If you’re asking for action, underline the ask again here. Say “thank you for your time and attention,” and wait.
That’s the official signal for applause. That clearly marks “The End.”
12. Don’t forget to show appreciation to all
Don’t get so caught up in the minutia of your next presentation that you forget to thank your host and your audience. Thank you cards and follow-up emails sharing additional tools and ideas are often a great way to make your talk keep working long after the applause dies down.
Finally, remember to appreciate you. No matter if you speak once a year or once a week, it takes focus, caring and energy. Make sure to take care of yourself, and to give yourself the well-earned pat on the back when you pull off your next presentation without a hitch!
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