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5 Presentation Traps We Can Easily Avoid

Updated: Aug 19, 2020

The 5 mistakes that can kill your presentation, or even worse….your audience.

Nobody willingly wants to be exposed to a Death-by-PowerPoint presentation, and it is clearly in no way inspiring. When wielded correctly, presentations can be a powerful tool with a wide range of applications, however can easily become a major source of boredom and confusion to your audience.

To create an effective presentation is a process that takes time and skill to develop. But don’t fear - by simply dodging the following 5 major pitfalls, your presentations will run a great deal smoother.

Pitfall 1: Jumping into the details first

Pitfall 2: Not practicing your presentation

Pitfall 3: Covering too much information

Pitfall 4: Too much text

Pitfall 5: Smothering your slide with “stuff”

Pitfall 1: Jumping into the details first

Warning signs: Getting straight into the nitty-gritty, showing tactics before strategy, not enough background information, having to constantly explain slides.

When we have an important point to make, we tend to go straight to the crux of the matter. This often include elements such as the details, the tactics, the plans, the features, the specifics, the applications, etc.

Unfortunately, when you go straight to details you overwhelm your audience. You are throwing them into the deep end and expect them to have the same understanding, meaning, feelings and conclusions as you have.

Solution: Our job as presenters is to find the best way to convey a message by connecting with our audience. The easiest way to do this is to create context. Context is that idea, imagery, story, metaphor, case, or information that helps to bridge the gap between your intention and the audience. What might be the best way to bring them up to speed to your main issue?

You create context by painting a picture. Start off with broad strokes, big picture, strategy, background information and introduce details to create context, or to expand on an idea.

Pitfall 2: Not practicing/timing your presentation

Warning signs: Rushing through slides, running over time, finishing too soon, stumbling over content, noticing and correcting mistakes during the presentation itself.

All presentations will have to adhere to certain restrictions, most commonly time. Think about this - if you have a 30 slide deck and spend 1 minute on each slide will take you 30 minutes to complete. Do you have enough time to do introductions and answer questions afterwards?

Time affects your presentation in three ways: The amount of information you’ll be able to successfully convey; the amount of slides you realistically need; and lastly, how you pace your delivery.

Solution: Although it might feel strange at first, it is a good idea to go through your presentation out loud a few times, preferably in front of a mirror or a trusted friend. By verbally going through your material you start becoming familiar with its contents, you’ll pick up mistakes and incongruities, learn how to pace your delivery, and test the flow of your story. When you do it in front of a friend or mirror it helps you build confidence in the material.

Pitfall 3: Covering too much information

Warning signs: Presentation feels like a cram session, audience seems overwhelmed and confused, audience recall is shockingly low, you get cut short and a leave behind is requested.

Weeks after the presentation, your audience will only have a general impression of what you said, and the last impression you want to leave is how boring the information load was.

Neurologically speaking, your audience can only truly take in a few bits of information at a time. When you go through a big load of information, chances are you are overwhelming your audience. This then cause them to drop bits of data to be able to handle the information load. With a rush of information flow, you don’t allow your message to register fully with the audience.

Solution: You have limited time (and audience capacity, sadly), so ensure that your message doesn’t get lost in a soup of information. Focus on your presentation’s goal, purpose, or intention. That one idea. That one impression you want to leave behind. Use stories, analogies, videos, metaphors to create easy to remember chunks of information. Stick to one concept per slide, and you’ll have a focused (and grateful) audience.

Pitfall 4: Too much text

Warning signs: Having a tendency to read sentences off the screen, loads of bullet points and graphs, audience feels distracted, presentation flows slowly or runs over time.

Many of us rely a great deal on wording in presentations. Maybe you have a gift and love to weave magic with words. Or your topic is complex and needs careful explanation. Or you use your slides as speaking notes for your presentation.

Unfortunately, according to David Paradi’s annual presentation survey, the top three things that annoy audiences the most are: reading off slides, slides with too much text or full sentences, and text that is too small to read. Although banishing bullet points altogether is not always a possibility, they really are a symptom of having too much text on a slide.

Solution: That old adage of ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ comes to mind here. Visuals are not only an effective way to bring your message across, it increases your audience's understanding and retention level. However don’t banish text altogether yet! By combining visuals with text can increase retention from 35% (visuals only) to 65%.

Bonus tip: Instead of using only your presentation as a handout or leave behind, supplement it with a professional handout with all the added details and proof, or you can include additional explanatory information in the ‘Notes’ section of your presentation slides.

Pitfall 5: Smothering your slide with “stuff”

Warning signs: Your design elements distract your audience, time consuming animations and effects are used, it looks like a scrapbook project.

Not everyone has the skill or the eye to apply professional level design. However we all do have the ability to create meaningful and beautiful visual design. Some of us fall in the trap of filling up every single available space on a slide with text, visual design elements and images. Be careful of visual clutter. You definitely don’t want to distract your audience from your message.

The Solution: The secret lies in keeping your design as simple as possible. This is commonly known as the KISS principle - Keep It Simple Stupid. Follow a visual theme and do not over complicate your design by adding unnecessary (and sometimes distracting) colours, fonts, animations, images, shapes, etc. Include plenty of empty (or more commonly known as white) space to allow your content to breathe and to be easier absorbed by your audience.

Be clever with the way you display complex data and information. The easiest form is graphs - however that can create a different pitfall all in itself. Focus on illustrating patterns as people are programmed to recognise and interpret them.

Successful presentations are unquestionably more than just the software that we use. It is a tool that relies on careful consideration on what we hope to achieve, how we connect with our audience and their capacity to take in and process information. An audience member who is not bored or confused will consider your points more favourably, as well as remember your message in the longer run. By these pitfalls and applying a few simple tricks, your presenting journey will run with less snags, and with more grateful, happier audience members.


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