Deadly mistakes #s 5 to 7

Here are the final three mistakes in the Seven Deadly Mistakes Presenters Make series:

Mistake #5. Presenting your information in the order that makes most sense to you.
Typically, presenters put their material into some kind of logical order, an order that makes sense—to them. For example: background, opportunity, strategic imperative, competitive environment, financial implications, human resource implications, etc., etc. Boring. Begin your presentation with a pressing problem that your audience has (see Mistake #2) and then tell them your proposed solution. Here’s the important part: to decide where to go next, ask yourself: “If I were to stop right here, what is the first question that would come from the audience?” That will tell you what your next slide should say. Design that slide, and then repeat the question. This way you will progressively design a presentation sequenced in the way your audience wants to hear it, not in some arbitrary order that seems to make sense to you.

Mistake #6. Using color, sound, and clipart to make your presentation look professional.
Adding all the embellishment that PowerPoint allows you to may make you feel more professional, but it harms your communication. The research is unambiguous here also: any added color, sound, or image that does not directly reinforce the specific message on your slide will distract your audience from that message. Animated slide transitions, in particular, are almost universally destructive.

Mistake #7. Using your slides as prompts
Perhaps the very worst example of developing a presentation for the benefit of the presenter rather than for the audience is the use of slides to prompt the speaker. You’ve seen this kind of presentation: slide after slide of bullet points, so that the poor presenter won’t forget what he intended to say. Yet extensive research confirms that when you project slides filled with bullet points while speaking at the same time, your bullets and your voice compete with each other, with the result that your communication effectiveness is worse than either if you projected your slides and asked your audience to read them (while you keep quiet) or if you spoke without any slides at all. If you are going to use visuals, make sure that they support, rather that vie with, your spoken comments. One way to do this is to use more graphics and less text (several research studies conclude that while voice and text compete with each other, voice and graphics reinforce each other). Another way is to ensure that every slide you design passes the “squint test”: if you squint at the slide, so that none of the text is legible, the layout of the slide alone should communicate or at least reinforce the main point of the slide.

If you want your audience to listen to you and act on what you say, then every aspect of your presentation should focus on them and serve their needs.

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