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When Presenting, Here’s What Not To Do

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We’ve seen our share of presentations over the years, which means we’ve seen plenty of cringe-inducing choices by the presenter. Here’s a few things never to say when in front of a crowd.

The inspiration for this post comes from our friends at the Kevin Eikenberry Group, who provided an infographic of 8 Things Not to Say During a Presentation. Rather than restate theirs, we’ve organized them into categories.

Brace yourself. Some of these are bad. Worse, it’s probable that you have done a few of them without realizing it.

Presentation at Conference

© Flickr user Matt Ryall

Category 1: I Really Didn’t Prepare

Far too often a speaker will glance at the tiny writing on the screen, and then say: “You probably can’t read this.”

That’s code for “I didn’t make time to prepare for this presentation” which in truth is “You’re not that important to me.”

It might sound harsh to claim that speakers don’t care that much about their audiences, but showing up with slides that are illegible from even the front row is a lack of preparation. The same is the case for many other statements you’ve probably heard from speakers before:

  • “I didn’t have a chance to get ready for this talk…”
  • “I am running short on time so let me get through these slides quickly…”
  • “You know what, let me skip this one slide…”
  • “Whoops, I don’t have enough handouts…”
  • “Does anybody have a laser pointer I can borrow?”

It’s not possible to anticipate every conceivable issue. But in most cases when a speaker is saying “I apologize for the technical difficulties” they also didn’t try setting up their system a few hours in advance to work out the bugs.

And this isn’t just amateur hour. I once went to a presentation by a world-famous author (whose books you would definitely recognize if I mentioned them.) His slides contained references to the bank he presented to the week before. He apologized and said “Sorry, that was for my last customer—I forgot to take it off.”

Category 2: I’m Making Assumptions About You

Speakers also make decisions about their audiences without asking. Assumptions are dangerous. Here’s what you might hear, or be tempted to say:

  • “Alright, you guys already know this stuff, so I’ll just skim through it…”
  • “To follow up on what I heard in the breakout session this morning…”
  • “As you can clearly see…”

Category 3: I’m Making Things Awkward

The most apparent example comes straight from the post by the Kevin Eikenberry Group. A presenter ends with the phrase: “Any questions?” It’s usually followed by an uncomfortable silence.

Instead, when you make your final point, say “thank you” so the audience knows to applaud. Then you can follow up with: “I know many of you may have questions. We do have a few minutes for public Q&A, but I will also be available after the presentation if you want to ask me anything individually.”

Another trick is to plant a couple of questions in the audience.

Besides the dreaded “any questions” there are lots of other awkward things that can come out of a presenter’s mouth. From foul language to stumbling over words, anything which demonstrates a lack of control is going to make the audience uneasy.

Practice. And then, practice some more.

Plenty of Advice, Plenty of Failure

It’s easy to find articles on this topic, such as this list of 10 things from LinkedIn Pulse, or what LifeHack says not to say or this Entrepreneur Magazine list of six don’ts.

But what’s most important to note is that we all keep making these mistakes. So pay attention to what you don’t like in the next speech you attend, and make sure that you don’t do that.

See you in the audience. See you on stage.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
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