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4 Traps to avoid when presenting

I frequently work with clients who want to enhance their presentation skills. In this article, the first in a series on Presentation Skills, I share with you 4 pitfalls to avoid when delivering a presentation.

Bad presentations are all the same – too long, poorly prepared and paced, are overly reliant on slides crammed with text and are delivered in a tone that saps the energy from even the most enthusiastic audience member. Of course no one purposely sets out to deliver a poor presentation, but delivering effective presentations is a skill. So to avoid being an example of what not to do, here are four common errors presenters make and tips on how to avoid them.

1. Not engaging the audience at an emotional level.I always believe that audiences will forgive a presenter for most things apart from being boring. They will forgive a presenter for being a little nervous or having to check notes, but audiences have little tolerance for a presenter who doesn’t try to relate to them at an emotional level or to create rapport with them. As the person at the top of the room the audience want to know that you understand where they are coming from. Emotional engagement is critical. As a presenter you are looking to positively influence your audience and positive influence means emotional influence. We will buy or buy into something when we feel that our life or work situation will be better by buying the product or buying into the concept being presented. If someone at the top of the room is just regurgitating facts, there is little hope that the audience will feel anything (apart from bored) let alone have that positive, feel good factor that they need to feel in order to be positively influenced. So how do you engage an audience emotionally? It means you have to speak to people’s hearts as well as their heads. This means looking for the story behind the facts. What analogies, anecdotes, experiences can you share that will bring your message alive and make your information more meaningful and relatable to your audience. A useful question to ask yourself when preparing is – why is this (content) important from the audience’s perspective?

2. Having the wrong result (or no clear result at all!)
The objective mediocre presenters have when delivering a presentation is often something like – getting through the presentation as quickly as possible, or in one piece. Now this objective may be unconscious, but if this is what is in your mind you will probably be speaking quickly (to get it over with) and the audience will find it difficult to relate to you, because your focus is not on them, but on your own well-being. Remember presentations are always a means to an end. What is the end? What do you want the audience to do with the information you are sharing with them? How will you know when your presentation has been successful? What will be the evidence of your success? Unless you are clear as to what the purpose of the presentation is, there is little hope the audience will be. Also when you are clearer about the true purpose of your presentation it will be easier for you to structure it because you know the target you are trying to hit.

3. Over reliance on slides Presentation preparation is not just about putting whatever slides you can find into a PowerPoint document. PowerPoint is a wonderful tool but it should always add to your presentation not detract from it. People like to have some visuals to aid their learning, but pages of bullets that you are using as a script will only confuse and bore an audience. Furthermore over reliance on slides often means you are reading the slides with your back to the audience which makes it very difficult for the audience to relate to you and vice versa. When preparing remember PowerPoint is a visual tool, MS Word is for text, so use charts, diagrams, graphs and interesting graphics wherever you can and keep the bullet points to a minimum, remembering too that bullet points are not sentences. By all means use what is on the slides as a prompt for your own delivery, but if you are just reading from the slides why not just email them beforehand to the audience and it will save everyone from having to turn up! A tip I always find useful is to have two versions of your slides. One that you will present and a second, usually more detailed version, that you can give to the audience to take away. It doesn’t take too much effort, just file and save as, but it means you are not depending on one set of slides to serve two purposes.

4 Going over the allotted time
I recently sat through a presentation that was scheduled for thirty minutes that went on for an hour. Irony of ironies was that the topic was time management. If your slot is 10 minutes or 60 minutes, that should be the length of your presentation and part of your preparation is ensuring your timings are right. People only have a limited attention span, so most presentations will be between ten and forty five minutes. If I’m delivering a longer presentation I make sure I have some form of exercise or break out session at least every hour to punctuate the presentation and keep people’s energy levels up. Most presenters fear running out of something to say before their time is up, so they cram in content that is probably not really relevant. A useful tip is to ask yourself when preparing what must the audience know and what is nice for them to know. What they must know are the key points of your presentation which should be shared sooner rather than later and emphasised throughout. What is nice for them to know is additional information that you can have in your back pocket to share with them if you have the time.

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