Many of us give presentations regularly as part of our work lives. Staff meetings, employee meetings, client meetings, sales meetings. And in your spare time, maybe even PTA meetings.
Whether you’re scheduled to present to 300 caffeinated conference attendees, 20 brand new interns, a grim-looking finance committee, or a single prospective client, the last thing you want is for anyone to feel like their time spent listening to you was wasted.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of ways you can do just that.
Knowing them is half the battle. Avoiding them is the other half. Let’s start with the knowing. Here are some surefire ways to make people regret being in the room.
1. Fail to prepare
Unless you get asked to speak at the last minute, or someone changes your topic right before the meeting, you have no excuse for not being familiar and confident with your material. It doesn’t matter if it’s good news, bad news, or merely informational news, it’s best delivered in an articulate, organized, and coherent manner.
Showing up unprepared tells everyone in the room that your time is more important than theirs. This is not the message you want to send.What not to do:
- Admit that you didn’t prepare
- Look like you didn’t prepare
- Leave out or skim over critical information
- Get your facts wrong
- Fumble around with notes
- Jump back and forth between slides
- Outline the information in a logical way
- Prepare your presentation and any handouts well in advance
- Double (and triple) check for accuracy
- Practice until you’re confident and comfortable
- If you’re using visuals, practice with those so it feels natural
2. Undermine your own credibility
There’s nothing worse than attending a presentation and listening to the speaker apologize for giving you information. Or make excuses for why the presentation isn’t up to par. Or look like they want to just crawl in a hole and hide.
If you don’t think you have anything worthwhile to say, why on earth would anyone else want to listen?
This is a waste of everyone’s time and energy. And if time is money, you’re wasting that, too. Don’t fool yourself into thinking the “free” coffee and cookies will make up for it. Pie and ice cream? Maybe.
Bottom line: If you’re asking for someone’s time, you’d better be sure you’re delivering value.
What not to do:
- Constantly apologize
- Undersell your position and experience
- Speak too quietly or without authority
- Project insecurity with your stance and/or body language
What to do:
- Focus on what you know. You’re the expert at something or you wouldn’t be presenting.
- Deliver information in a way that builds confidence.
- Channel your inner actor or actress. Just because you’re not feeling confident doesn’t mean you can’t appear to be.
3. Rely on your audience to provide content
Interaction is always good, but you can’t assume it’s going to happen. Some audiences are talkative and some aren’t.
If you’re betting on lots of great conversation starters and questions to come flying at you, you could be in for some serious disappointment. And an awkward, painful presentation.
What not to do:
- Bank on an excited, conversational group
- Only have enough material for a portion of your allotted time
- Stand around for long periods of time waiting for people to speak up
- Force reluctant attendees to participate
What to do:
- Prepare a core presentation that includes options for group participation, as well as supplemental material to fill up your time if not
- Have prepared answers to your own questions in case they fall on a silent crowd
- Encourage healthy interaction, but don’t force it
4. Take more time than you are scheduled for
This sounds so basic. And it is! But it’s also one of the most common mistakes presenters make. And one of the most effective ways to make your audience resent you.
Seriously. People are busy! If you are given 30 minutes of someone’s time, don’t drone on for 45 minutes or an hour, oblivious to the clock.
What not to do:
- Be clueless about how long your presentation actually takes
- Assume that people can “just hang around a little longer”
- Ignore signs that your audience is getting restless (watch glances, phone activity, bathroom breaks, seat shifting)
What to do:
- Plan accordingly
- Practice until you know how long you need to cover the material
- Set a timer or ask someone to give you a 5 or 10-minute warning
- Stop at the designated time, even if you’re not finished
There may be times when your presentation is going well and your audience genuinely wants to hear more. In that case, hooray for you! You must have nailed many of the What to Do items listed above.
If and when this happens, you still need to address the time issue directly and openly. Ask if it’s okay to continue. Even if you do get permission, always make sure to give those who need to leave permission to do so.
And if you finish up a little early? Well, you’ll be even more of a hero! Because you just gave everybody the information they needed and a few extra minutes in their day.
Making it work
If you’re putting on a boring webinar, attendees can simply jump off and get back to work, with limited investment and minimal disappointment. But if you’ve got people in room, you need to come through.
Your audience is counting on you to provide information that is useful, and deliver it in a way that is credible. Don’t let them down.
Photo by LightField Studios