Identifying Presentation Faux-pas and How to Fix Them

You walk into a meeting or attend a video conference only to sit through a proposal or presentation that turns into a game of trying to stay awake.  What if you have been the presenter in one of those meetings?!  Nothing is worse than working hard to research and present your information or product, only to see that glazed-over look in the eyes of the audience, especially if that audience contains a client or professional superiors.

So… what went wrong?


First Minute:  You (or your audience) is late!

If you’re early, you’re on time.  If you’re on time, you’re late.  This should be a daily mantra!  It seems obvious, but it is astonishing how often this happens, and it is frustrating for everyone involved.  Don’t be that person.  Nothing is more embarrassing than walking into an 8am meeting AT 8am, then you take another five to ten minutes to setup your presentation and handouts.  No.  Don’t do that.  Ever.  Be at least ten minutes early so you have time to setup your equipment and place handouts where your audience will be sitting.  If you have to travel to your presenting space, give yourself even more time to account for bad traffic.  It will reduce the stress of the room, and start your presentation off on the right foot.  It is hard to maintain respect for someone who doesn’t respect everyone’s time.

Since we’re on the topic of being on time, do your best to ensure that your audience is on time as well.  If you know that a key contributor or audience member for your presentation is always late, you can suggest that they arrive early to get a good seat or to help setup.  If you are presenting to your staff, be sure to emphasize the starting time as well, maybe set a reminder on their calendars.  If one or two people are late for an online presentation, go ahead and start so you don’t inconvenience everyone else.  A late attendee can use a recording to start your presentation once he or she is ready (make sure you’re being recorded if this is the case!).


Second Minute: You didn’t know your audience

Doing research on your topic is fantastic, but did you research your audience?  Do they already have a background on your speaking subject?  Is your information relevant or appropriate for their personalities or background? The last thing you want to do is bore a client, insult your boss, or lose the interest of your employees.  Otherwise the entire room tunes you out to think about their weekend plans.

With that said, please please please know your audience!  Will it be all executives, your employees, a client, or a combination of these?  Is it appropriate to have a funny presentation?  Do they want specific facts and figures?   Sometimes it’s appropriate to use more casual or funny anecdotes, while other times it may be offensive.  For instance, making a joke about older generations in a room where attendees are older may not win you points. If you are going to provide examples, make them relevant to your audience.  Using cheese curds, shoveling snow, or the Packers can be fun local examples if you are presenting here in Madison, but may not go over so well in Miami or Houston.

Most importantly, how well do they already know the subject matter?  Your audience is there to learn about something new or they wouldn’t be there.  Make sure your information is actually educating them without going over their heads.  It should be safe to assume that your audience has a basic working knowledge of your subject.  If you think there may be some that don’t have this knowledge, it is ok to ask.  For instance, it is acceptable to ask, “Before we really dig in, who here is not familiar with ___?”  This way you are verifying that everyone is on the same page, or it gives you a moment to give a very quick rundown.  Be sure this run-through of the basics is brief so you can get to the good stuff.  And bonus: this also engaging your audience by asking about knowledge level (we will talk about later).


Three minutes in: You’re boring

How could you be boing? You’re great! Your information is great!

Unfortunately, not everyone may feel the same way.  Your topic or subject matter may not be very exciting, but you don’t have to be!  This mistake can flow from other things like not knowing your audience, or having a visually boring presentation.  Maybe you aren’t giving enough relevant examples, or you spent five minutes on a tangent that has nothing to do with the presentation.

The first and most obvious is the infamous “um” or “like…”  For the sake of everything good in this world, why??? Don’t.  Just don’t.  Now that this is out of the way…

Speaking of speaking, speak clearly!  We have all experienced “the mumbler” or “the yeller” in a presentation, and it was terrible.  Be sure to speak clearly and project enough for your audience.  If you use a microphone, test out your equipment ahead of time to make sure everyone will be able to hear you (another reason to get there early!).  Hand gestures can also go a long way in getting your point across, just be careful not to flail your arms around too much.  You could take someone’s eye out!

If you have a Presi or PowerPoint, use its potential!  Do not, I repeat DO NOT slap on a paragraph (or two or three) on to each slide and read off of the screen.  You will not only bore your audience, but it gives the impression you don’t know what you’re doing.  Bullet points, large font, videos, and graphics (when used the right way) are your friends!  And something that many people forget: have a third party (friend, peer, etc.) look it over with fresh eyes for any hiccups.

Above all, be memorable (in a good way).  Think back to some of your favorite presentations of others, take elements that you really enjoyed and incorporate them.  Chances are that if you really enjoyed it, others will as well.  If you would like to read more about how to be less boring, this link provides some great information to get you started in the right direction!


Four Minutes in: Talking AT audience members instead of WITH them

This kind of goes along with being boring, but it is so important, I thought it needed a whole minute! Have you ever had to sit through a presentation that felt like a ten-minute run-on sentence?  Of course you have, and it was awful.  Make sure that as you go through the presentation information you are engaging your audience.  Asking questions or at least taking a breath and review so everyone can catch up.  Asking for a show of hands or an example about a shared experience (or “buzz in” during an online presentation) shows that you are relating the information to everyone in a genuine way.

If this is an educational or training presentation, make a game out of it!  Give a “treat” or “point” to those who are engaged and answer your questions.  People are much more engaged if it means an opportunity be competitive.  Plus, who would ignore a prize?


Five minutes… All. Those. Handouts….

Let’s be very clear; handouts are great.  They help keep your audience engaged into your topic and can provide additional information that is relevant, but may not fit into your presentation time-frame.  But be warned!  Not all handouts need to be, well, handed out right away.  Sure it’s easier to set a pile of paper at each seating place before you start.  What happens when your audience is more interested in the booklet you gave them than listening to you?  Could all of that information in one big stack be intimidating to some?

For the presentation itself, try to limit handouts to information that your audience needs in that moment: An article you may be referencing, a case study to review, or a simple game (see minute four!).  Plus, a note pad or notes page (with a pen) is important to allow your audience to take notes as he or she needs.  Beyond that, if there are extra informational packets, booklets, etc., really anything that your audience may want to reference later but has no merit on the immediate presentation, invite them to take a copy at the end.  Even better yet, hand them out yourself (with a helper if needed) so you can make that last point of contact as your audience members file out and process all of the fantastic information that you just shared.


Six (or more) Whole Minutes!  But your audience has left confused….

What exactly was the point of your presentation?  To educate, to highlight or sell a product?  What should our audience DO with the information you have provided?  Before you begin writing your script or outline you must be able to answer that question.  If you can’t answer that question, how will they?

Think back to the best presentations you have seen.  They leave you feeling inspired or motivated to do something fairly specific.  “Yes! Let’s use this new software to help boost productivity!  I can’t wait to show this information to my team and boost morale! Wow! Now I can use this information to do my own job even better, maybe even get a promotion!  I can’t wait to purchase that timeshare!”  This is how you want people to feel when they leave.

Go beyond a generalized call to action of “Use option A if you want to get X done.”  Express how that call to action should be used.  Why is option A better than option B to accomplish X?  This is your last chance to relate to your audience and prove that this amazing information you have presented is worth the 5, 10, 15, or even 20+ minutes of their time.


We hope these tips helped you identify some great opportunities to improve your presentation!  If you are interested in ways to make your presentation even more fantastic, here are a few links that we enjoyed on the subject. Each one has its own value, either with online presentations, even more techniques, or how to build confidence.  Now go on and fly!

10 tips for giving great online presentations

6 Techniques to Dramatically Upgrade the Quality of Your Presentation

3 Tips to Make You Feel Confident When Giving a Presentation