Giving a presentation can be a pivotal career opportunity. It is an opportunity most business professionals want to maximize. We want to do everything we can to increase our likelihood of success and to avoid those things that can sabotage our success. Giving a presentation is an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and value to your organization.  It can improve visibility, providing exposure to key decision makers and influencers within and without your organization. 

As a keynote speaker and communication skills expert over the last 20 years, I have had the opportunity to conduct numerous presentation skills workshops for organizations around the globe. Here are four things that you might be doing with your presentations that might be limiting your success.  Take a moment to ask yourself, “Am I sabotaging my business presentations?”

  • Starting with creating your slide deck.  This is a mistake.  Slides are visual aids or visual support for the content of your presentation.  They are NOT the presentation.  Many professionals sit down to create a presentation and open up their slide creation software right away. They have NO IDEA what their main points will be. They have NO CONCEPT of the order in which to present those main points.  Expert presenters take the time to outline their presentation before creating slides.  They are then able to use the slides strategically as support for their content.
  • Only reviewing slides on your computer.  This can completely destroy your credibility during a presentation. Take the time to actually project your slides (preferably in the room in which you will be presenting.)  It is amazing how font size that looks perfectly reasonable when you view it from your computer screen is COMPLETELY UNREADABLE when people try to view it sitting around the boardroom table.  Color and contrast that looks reasonable on your computer can completely fail when projected.  Check your slides as they will be viewed, not just on your computer.
  • Too much text on slides. Are your slides so text-heavy that they can’t be read?  Are your slides so jammed with content that nothing stands out? Remember, slides are not the presentation. Not everything you say needs to be on a slide. Slides are support for the presentation. More pictures, less text, is a good guideline.  If you MUST deliver lots of text, data, or information in your slides because your audience expects to have them as reference, consider having a “presentation deck” and a “reference deck.” You can give the audience the reference deck and present from the presentation deck.
  • Confusing review with practice. This is a very common error.  Reviewing your presentation is great, but it doesn’t replace practice. Review happens when you sit at your desk and go over your slides and think about what you will say in your mind. Review happens when you go over your presentation in your head on your commute. Review is helpful. And, review is NOT practice. Practice is when you actually speak, out loud. When you stand up and deliver, out loud, the content you have created and reviewed. The best presenters try to practice in the room (or similar) to where they will be presenting.  Nothing replaces practice. It is during practice that you may realize your presentation is too long or too short. It is during practice that you might discover that some words and phrases that flow when written down are difficult to say out loud. It is during practice that you can become so familiar with your material that you can confidently present it when the time comes. There is no substitute for practice.
  • Winging it. This is often the challenge of the over-confident.  Some professionals will be tasked with giving a “10 minute update” or some other short presentation and will think it is fine to simply wing it.  This is a poor choice. I’ve seen top level executives ramble or go on forever without a focus or a key message in front of several hundred of their employees.  This is the one of the pitfalls of thinking “I don’t need to really prepare – I know what I’m talking about.” Your audience can always tell if you are winging it and often feels like you have wasted their time. Professionals prepare, practice, and present with confidence.
  • Reading from your slides. This sends a message that you are not prepared. That you are not an expert. That you don’t value your audience’s time. Practice and stop being slide-dependent.

Do any of these issues resonate with you? Are you sabotaging your presentations?  What will you do differently in the future? Delivering presentations effectively is a skill that can be improved. Take the time to prepare and practice and you can present like a pro.

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Pamela Jett is a communication skills and leadership expert who knows that words matter! In her keynote presentations, workshops, books and online learning programs, she moves beyond communication theory into practical strategies that can be implemented immediately to create the kind of leadership, teamwork, and employee engagement results her clients want.