How to Avoid the Presentation from Hell

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Giving a presentation is a big responsibility, and good presentation skills can make or break your career. Perhaps you’re wondering how to deliver your elevator speech, or a powerpoint, or even just an update for your boss. Eliminate these three pitfalls from your pitch, and you’ll avoid some very common presentation mistakes.

Author’s note: these tips originally appeared on 12most.com as part of a larger series on presentation skills.

1. Failure to prepare

Robin WilliamsUnless you are Robin Williams, it’s a good idea to think through your material. Williams was famous for not following the script during his early days in TV, and why should he? He’s Robin Williams! But, abandoning your material (or not having any) is the cardinal sin. If you’re wondering where to start, ask yourself this question: What one piece of information do I want people to remember after this presentation? Start there, and even if your presentation is complex, you know how to point everything back to your theme. The slides, the smiles, the gestures all serve to support that main takeaway. Don’t just ‘wing it’, even if you are a seasoned pro. When the conversation matters, take time to prepare your ideas.

2. Disconnection

If you are saying, “I’m so thrilled to be here”, with the enthusiasm of a turtle after a long nap, you are not going to capture anyone’s attention. Match your mood to your material, and put some energy into the delivery!

3. Apologizing for Things Beyond Your Control

Why do people start with “I’m sorry…” for things like the traffic on Route 53? Or the weather? Or my haircut? None of those things can be helped! Now, if you are late, or the room is 92 degrees, you need to address it – those are legitimate concerns that deserve acknowledgement. But “Sorry for the ______” starters don’t make you appear concerned. These remarks are purely a distraction, and your listener interprets it as:

  • A stalling tactic
  • A propped-up delay for a disconnected speaker
  • Permission not to pay attention, cause you haven’t gotten anywhere near what really matters

Asking for pity, a feeble attempt to connect with an audience on the weakest possible level. (Not where you want to be!)

As Katherine Heburn famously said, “Don’t Complain, don’t explain”.

It’s been said that public speaking is still the number one fear. Having material that you can believe in (combined with the ability to deliver it) is a powerful business asset.

Chris Westfall is the author of “The NEW Elevator Pitch”, to be published by Greenleaf in 2012.

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