Don’t kill your presentation with these mistakes

Don’t kill your presentation with too many slides or too much information on them

Have you ever sat through a presentation and wondered why the presenter didn’t just e-mail their document to everyone instead of almost reading the whole thing out to the group? Or didn’t actually hear what a presenter was saying because you were too busy reading all the words on the slide behind him? All that you, and others, remember of such presentations is what an ordeal it was to have to sit through.

And how often have you been at a meeting, seminar, conference, or anywhere people are presenting, and been pleasantly surprised that they finished early or even on time? Usually the opposite is true – either the presenter runs so much over time that they have to rush through their last number of slides without anyone but themselves understanding what they were about; or, where there are a number of presenters, the last one has their time drastically cut because the previous speakers ran so much over time.

And how often was the presenter in any or all of the above scenarios you?

Two of the greatest presentation killers are trying to present too much information and running over time. Neither adds to a presentation and both actually ruin it. Running over time is both rude and disrespectful to both your audience and fellow speakers. Reading your conference paper or document is no better – it tells your audience that you couldn’t be bothered preparing your talk properly. So don’t do either!

When making a presentation to explain a publication (e.g. at a conference) or a proposal of some kind, your purpose should not be to go over the entirety of your paper – your audience can read it if they choose to. Your purpose is to get them to choose to – to have them wanting to know more!

No matter what the subject matter of your presentation is, aim to have only three or so points. Ask yourself: “If I can only make one point in this presentation, what will that point be?” Prepare that point and have a little story about it – make it real, but make it human. Then ask: “If I can make just one more point, what will that point be?” Again, have a story to explain and elaborate the point – your audience will never tire of listening to stories! Check how much time you have now used out of your allocated time. Remember in your timing you need to introduce your talk (tell them what you are going to tell them), and you need to close or conclude (tell them what you have told them!). If you are still well below your allocated time, you have time for one more point, but make it a story – then leave it at that. Leave it with them wanting more – ‘cos everyone wants another story!

Preparing your presentation should never involve PowerPoint – if it does, your slides are a crutch for you and not to help your audience assimilate your points. Slides with lots of information on them are not for your audience – they are for you! If you have lots of words on a slide, your audience is reading the slide and not listening to you. These are the kind of presentations that your audience wished you had sent them the slides and saved them the bother of having to attend. So prepare your presentation before thinking of how slides could augment it. Actually, a little story can usefully replace a number of boring slides. Instead of words on a slide, could a graphic or photograph make or elaborate on your point better?

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