Leadership

The 5 worst mistakes you need to avoid in your presentations

Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope Parks and Recreation season 7
NBC | Getty Images
Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope Parks and Recreation season 7

For most people, public speaking is daunting.

Leadership development and executive coaching expert Jeff Black says a good presentation is a bit like a stage production.

"You have to have all the elements: You've got to have a great opening act, you've got to have something in the middle to pull it through and you've got to have a great curtain's finale at the end," Black says.

To make sure your presentation is compelling, make sure to avoid these five major mistakes.

Starting on a weak note

You have to quickly capture your audience's attention, and you have to do it authentically, Black says. This applies whether you're going to your boss's office to ask for a resource or you are presenting to a team of 12 on a conference call.

"If you don't get the audience's attention today in the first three to five seconds, it's very hard to pull people in because of the crazy world we live in," Black says.

Forty percent of American workers admit to doing something else — texting, checking email, surfing the internet — during other people's presentations, a recent survey shows.

To get people's attention in the beginning, Black recommends asking an interesting question, opening with surprising statistics or mentioning a compelling news item.

Reading straight off a PowerPoint

By letting PowerPoint slides be the messenger, you forfeit an emotional or personal connection to your audience.

Late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs managed to get people to treat his keynote speeches like rock concerts in part by ditching PowerPoint.

While presentation slides are still important, Black says you should avoid reading directly from them.

"What Steve Jobs did brilliantly is he just put pictures [or] a word, and it was just enough to ignite what he wanted to say," he says.

Black also emphasizes not overloading presentations with more information than an audience can take in at once.

"At the end of the week they will never remember all that data on a PowerPoint slide," he says. "But they will never forget a compelling story they heard from one of their leaders. So get back to good old-fashioned storytelling."

Hurrying to start and finish

You might do this because you are nervous and just want to get your presentation over with, Black says, but it hurts your image.

"When it's their turn to start a presentation, I see some people who — as they are walking in front of the group, whether it's in a boardroom or up on a stage — they start talking as soon as they start walking," Black says. "It looks rushed and unprepared."

Whatever you do, do not start delivering your presentation as you are walking.

One of Black's golden rules is to "slow down by 10 percent," which means to slow down how you walk, speak and think. This will help you take a moment to gather your thoughts and provide clearer, more confident responses.

"You need to walk to that space with confidence, hit your mark and then open your mouth and deliver the first line out," Black says.

Avoiding eye contact with people

Making eye contact with people is key to looking confident, he says.

But when you look at only one person during the entire presentation, the other people in the room sit there and become bored, Black says. Even if one person has asked you a question, you need to involve the entire audience in your answer.

"So I start [by making eye contact] with you, the questioner. I work the room with my eyes and give them part of the answer, and then I come back and wrap the answer up with you. It's very powerful."

Ending on a weak note

Without having a powerful close, you miss the chance for a leadership moment.

"A good presenter always has a powerful open," Black says, "and a powerful close."

The last minute of your presentation is when you assert and reaffirm your message, so you should avoid ending on an open-ended question, he says. Without this, you "miss an opportunity to have a really powerful close, something that sets the stage for what's coming next."

"It's almost like putting a bow around the presentation package."

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