5 common presenting mistakes and how to avoid them

We are often gifted the opportunity to present to a group of people and our first thought is “the nerves”. We think about “what to wear”, the “topic” anything but the basic preparation steps. Often, we completely forget the prep & delivery plan, the key techniques and what our audience wants.

This is common though, so here are our top tips to help you do your best job – you’re the subject expert so how can you prove it?

Be prepared – perception is everything and takes less than a second

The best way to lose your audience instantly is to be “seen as” unprepared. The worst thing to see is the presenter faffing around with paper, fiddling with IT equipment or flipcharts, or asking the audience to “hold on a minute”. 

The audience starts out with inherent “trust” that you’re an expert – so being ill prepared will eat into that trust immediately.

Be totally familiar with your content and make sure you have a backup plan to access the presentation – on your phone, USB stick or email it in advance. Check your flip chart pens and paper – and have your step by step running guide close to hand. 

If delivering virtually, test IT the night before.

Be on time

Simply put, turning up late, or even at the exact time looks unprofessional. Unexpected travel delays, technical glitches (although these might be forgivable) and ‘unforeseen circumstances’ won’t be forgotten, no matter how engaging your presentation. Don’t let being memorable be that you were late or kept people waiting in the virtual world. 

Make sure you know where you’re going, pre-empt traffic issues, parking and need for cash the day before. 

Be ready, relaxed, and waiting, when people arrive.

Take control

Let’s not send the audience to sleep, so watch your tone and pace – particularly when virtual. Notice if people are yawning, slumped or glazing over – they’re not listening so keep on your toes and change it up.

This is the time to WOW the audience and enjoy yourself. Practice your delivery skills and vary the pace to make key points. Use pauses to relax, to look your audience in the eyes and punctuate what you’re saying with breathing. Use your body to move and make appropriate gestures. People will ‘hear’ what you are saying when your delivery sings – using varying tone and pace.

Share valuable information 

A bored audience feeds negative energy to each other – and it won’t be long before it reaches you too. Research your audience in advance, and make sure your content meets their needs or answers their questions.

If your audience is there, it’s safe to assume they have an interest in your subject matter. Keep their attention with bite-sized information surprising links and additional facts using different delivery formats.  Presenting in person using gestures and body language gives you another dimension – however, remember virtual presentations require a different style – more succinct, constant signposting and directly asking for engagement.  

Too much detail – don’t be lazy

Don’t rely on your deck to get the message across. Most audiences can read – remember they are here to listen to YOU and your take on this subject – so your deck should simply highlight the key points or provide a visual image of what you are saying. And…avoid people looking at the back of your head while you read slide content!

Talk freely about your subject matter – using wordy slides means you’re focusing on the slides and not the audience – you’ll risk spiralling into a wobbly mess so keep visual content short and to the point. Finally, never put pressure on yourself to have slides or flip charts as verbatim notes. 

Some top tips

  • Don’t wing it completely but allow a little bit of winging it. It’s about balance, being authentic and not repeating verbatim notes. Certainly, prepare and write things in full initially, get used to talking the content naturally. Trim down the content into smaller sentences and eventually bite-sized prompts. Above all, trust that you are the subject matter expert, rehearse key points and allow the real you to attend.
  • Stop self-criticism. You have been asked to present for a reason, so remind yourself of your achievements so far. Focus on the “can do” and leave all the negative stuff where it belongs. “I do know my stuff, I am prepared, I have it all under control”.
  • Limit paper notes. If you’ve decided on slides, make sure they’re bullet-pointed with visuals. Lines of text on slides is boring, it encourages you to read them so no eye contact with your audience. Consider no slides or visuals at all (scary thought?). If you need to refer to notes, it’s ok, you can still be professional with an occasional check.
  • Practise, practise, practise. Use the mirror, practise with the dog – but make sure you stand up and deliver. Talk the talk, walk the walk and use the skills and techniques you have learned. Make it a REAL dress rehearsal.
  • Freestyle it. The nerves tend to kick off when you start talking and the room goes silent, so allow yourself a couple of minutes before you start to worry. Introduce yourself, thank the audience for coming, talk about the weather, coffee, the window blinds/zoom backgrounds – anything to relax. Get used to talking, breathing and relax into your environment before you start your planned content.

The “top top” tips

  • It starts immediately. On the day of your presentation, ‘switch on’ your energy and delivery style as soon as you arrive or dial-in. If you are greeting people onsite or entering a virtual room, this is your first opportunity to engage. These moments are valuable connections and help you get used to ‘performing’, combating any nerves before they start.
  • All eyes on you. When you start, there’s usually a deafening silence from the audience, and you realise that all eyes are staring at you. Remind yourself that people are simply looking, calmly listening, paying attention and being interested. It’s okay.
  • Curveball Q&A. One of the recurring concerns is; what if they ask me a question and I don’t know the answer? But so what if that happened? Think about 3 possible generic answers that you could pull out of the bag…like “I’d like to think about that and come back to you with a detailed answer”.
  • I am fine. We’ll often tell people beforehand how nervous, or unprepared you feel. Why do we do that? Don’t feed the anxiety, remember that thoughts become reality – what you think about affects how you feel and how you feel affects how you behave. Focus on a positive statement, an affirmation of how this will go, how you will behave and feel. You’ve got this.
Charlotte Green
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Charlotte Green

Charlotte is a leadership and management specialist, offering coaching, training, mentoring, employee and customer insight, along with associated business consultancy. She is driven by a firm belief that harnessing the input of clients, customers and employees, is a super valuable resource for every business. Charlotte is passionate about personal development, leadership resilience and customer experience and believes her clients already have great people, services and products -and it's often small adjustments or adaptations, rather than massive changes that help to realise your targets.