You've got to inform and persuade those around you daily. They need to believe in your vision (and more importantly, believe in you) to get more money, notoriety, or internal resources.
Sometimes you're trying to win new customers. Other times, you're trying to get new investors or land press at a conference. And sometimes you're simply providing the quarterly numbers to your boss.
One of the best ways to persuade people is through a presentation.
Presenting complex information in an easy-to-digest format isn't easy. To make matters worse, it's rarely taught in any formal schooling either—which means you're left to fend for yourself (and mess up often).
However, there are a ton of other variables that ultimately determine if your presentation will be a success or failure. It's all too easy to put in a lot of effort, only to end up with a bad presentation.
15 Common Mistakes to Avoid in Business Presentations
Here's 15 of the most important presentation ideas to avoid critical mistakes, along with a few tips to improve each issue. Learn how to address proper presentation writing, quality of design, common speech mistakes, audience engagement, and more.
But first, if you want to take these tips further, be sure to download our free eBook: The Complete Guide to Making Great Presentations. It'll help you master the complete presentation process.
The last thing you want to do is deliver a bad presentation, let's make sure to avoid these poor presentation mistakes:
Mistake 1. Not Scripting Your Presentation
All good presentations and speeches start with a tight script.
Believe it or not, there’s some method to this madness when writing out a professional presentation.
It’s somewhere between an outline and a full document that helps you lay out the foundation or groundwork, before providing supporting materials and finally transitioning into the conclusion.
Don't make the mistake of not writing out your presentation first. There's a reason why CEOs sound so polished giving keynotes and presidents craft their speeches. Learn more about the presentation writing process:
- PresentationsHow to Write a Professional PowerPoint Presentation (Discover the Writing Process)Brad Smith
Note: That’s especially true when you’re going to be giving a more formal, structured presentation like with a business plan.
Mistake 2. Reading, Not Speaking
The goal of the presentation, whether there’s two people you’re meeting with or 100, is to make a connection. You want each person to feel like you’re speaking directly to them; building the audience’s confidence in both you and the information you’re speaking about.
However, all that connection and credibility disappears when your head drops, your eyes look down, and you begin speaking in a monotone voice, reading directly from paper, your slides, or note cards.
First and foremost, if you've got to read the content on the slide, there’s too many words (but we’ll come back to this in a second).
The big sin is the disengagement that happens, as people’s eyes glaze over when they’re hit with a barrage of information. This can lead to a bad presentation that doesn't make an impact.
You should work to avoid that, though, and aim to make a presentation that persuades.
That being said, you’re not expected to memorize the entire thing either. Instead, highlight three to five major talking points and get comfortable speaking off the cuff to add in context and examples.
Mistake 3. Not Practicing Enough
Writing out a basic script or outline for your speech is a nice start. But it won’t come off smoothly until you actually sit down and practice it.
A speaker once told me that you should practice or rehearse around one hour for each minute of a speech. Twenty-minute speech? Twenty hours!
While that seems on the high side, running through your speech with notes (at first), and later without notes, from beginning to end, over-and-over-and-over, will drill the information into your memory and make it become second nature.
With repetition, you also start noticing the little details that can make a big difference in a presentation. For example, the transitions between different sections. The pauses to highlight key points. And even the ‘blocking,’ or getting used to how your stance, movement, and gestures will look on a stage.
If you need more presentation practice and are having some anxiety about public speaking, you should know that's a normal feeling. Lean how to overcome it:
The other benefit of frequent practice is that you should be able to easily spot...
Mistake 4. Going Over (Or Under) Time
Nothing reeks of amateurism more than a speaker who fails to hit their time mark.
In a large setting, being way under time and not having enough material is one of the fastest ways to erode your credibility. And in smaller settings with a client or boss, not respecting their time by trying to hold too them long can be a deal killer.
If you’ve been practicing frequently, you should start using a timer as you get more proficient to see where your material lands.
Sometimes you might have to go in and add a few more examples or stories to illustrate your points (and drag out the time a little). While other times you might have to cut entire slides or sections, and speak a little quicker, to make sure you’ll be under.
The key isn’t to guess. You should know, before you even get to presentation day, exactly how long your presentation will take to deliver (within a minute or two).
Mistake 5. Boring, Unprofessional Design
It only takes people about 50 milliseconds to form a first impression, and incredibly about 94% of that comes down to your design.
In a presentation, that means your slide deck is the obvious starting point.
Chances are, those investors or savvy conference attendees have already seen that same default PowerPoint template hundreds of times over the past few years.
Fortunately, we’ve got you covered with a few simple, modern PowerPoint presentation templates with premium-quality designs:
Case-in-point: look at this creative PowerPoint presentation template, Sparrow. As you can see from the screenshot, the slides have little text and use mostly images and visual elements to illustrate the point.
Using a professionally made PowerPoint template is a great way to ensure you avoid some of the most common presentation mistakes. For example, almost all of the templates on Envato Elements use the best presentation practices and have an attractive design as well as making sure that no slide is overcrowded with text or uses clashing colors.
Another good business presentation template example that'll help you avoid giving a bad presentation is the Oriola template, which uses professional typography that'll enhance the readability of your presentation.
Mistake 6. Not Working Out the Technical Kinks
There are two things you can count on when giving a presentation.
The first, is that you’ll undoubtedly be nervous. That’s only natural, and the good news is that you can harness that nervous energy to help propel your performance.
The second is that there'll be some error or technical miscue.
Professional sports teams will commonly travel a day or two early to a location and take practice on the exact field they’re playing. They’ll even go so far as to use the locker rooms and do a ‘dress rehearsal’ in the location to work out any kinks.
If you're unfamiliar with the venue or location, try to get access to the specific location you’re speaking a day earlier if possible.
That way you can practice a few times in front of all those empty chairs to get a feel for how the audience will be laid out, along with how your positioning a movement should adjust accordingly.
You can also practice with any computer connections, microphones, and other audio/visual equipment.
Ideally, when you show up on the day of the presentation, you should only be thinking about doing a great job (and not stressing over about whether you forgot that HDMI cable).
Mistake 7. Cluttered, Text-Heavy Slides
The best presentation slides are also usually the most simple and straightforward too.
That means no flashy transitions. No overloaded bullet points. And little-to-no extras likes sounds or videos.
One trick is to try and use one slide to deliver only one message or point. That'll keep your delivery streamlined, helping the audience to focus in on your message.
And another added bonus is that it'll help you eliminate using long text paragraphs altogether.
Avoid bad presentation design. Instead, think of each slide as a visual support; aiding or showing an example of what you’re talking about for each point.
A good business presentation example includes relevant graphs or charts that instantly illustrate the key message behind whatever it is you're talking about (like using a green, up-and-to-the-right arrow to equate success).
Discover more professional PowerPoint designs, with numerous slide layout and infographics options:
- Microsoft PowerPoint22+ Professional PowerPoint Templates: For Better Business PPT PresentationsSean Hodge
- Microsoft PowerPoint20 Best Infographic PowerPoint Presentation Templates—With Great PPT Data SlidesSean Hodge
- Microsoft PowerPointHow to Make PPT Slide Layouts in Microsoft PowerPointAndrew Childress
Mistake 8. Neglecting the Audience’s Background
Jargon can be good or bad.
If you’re speaking to people with technical backgrounds, going on and on about GIT is great. It gives you a common bond, and immediately lets those people know that you understand exactly what they do.
However, if not, mentioning a single piece of technical jargon will make sure you lose the audience within a few minutes of opening your mouth.
In an ideal world, your content should be created (or adapted) with the audience’s background and preferences in mind. If it’s a client, ask your internal champion or whoever introduced the two of you. If it’s a larger event, ask the organizer for some details on who the audience is, what their interests and pain points are, and the type or style of content they’re interested in.
Sometimes that'll be detailed case study information, while others it'll be more surface-level actionable tips. Presenting one, to the other, is a common misstep—even if your content is still good!
Mistake 9. Failing to Hold Your Audience’s Attention
The length of your speech can have a huge bearing on whether the audience is going to pay attention to the entire thing.
Your delivery—which includes everything from your volume, pausing, pacing, body language, and more—can also help captivate or bore your audience.
For example, noticeably raising or lowering the volume of words you're saying can not only make a presentation more interesting to listen to, but also add an emphasis to certain words or phrases.
The same goes for speeding up, slowing down, and inserting longer-than-usual pauses to give people an extra second to digest what you just said. A key difference between a good and a bad presentation is hitting your timing and delivery.
Beyond those little tricks and dramatic gestures, your content itself should emotionally hook people too.
For example, don't just launch into the 'solution' or tips. Instead, spend some extra time at the beginning—and throughout—putting this information in a larger context that relates back to the major problems or pain points in your audience's life that can be resolved.
Discover additional techniques on how to deliver an engaging presentation:
Mistake 10. No Takeaways or ‘Next Steps’
Chances are, your audience will hit information overload.
If you’re speaking at a conference in the afternoon or it’s day three, they’re most likely already mentally exhausted.
So, make sure your presentation is easy to follow.
Start with a simple outline of the agenda at the very beginning to give people a step-by-step overview of what you’re going to cover.
If you make a key point, repeat it. Multiple times.
When you’re about to transition into a new section, reiterate what they just learned and give them a preview of what they’re going to find out in the next section.
And last, but certainly not least, give them a key takeaway or ‘next step’ to do after you’re done speaking.
The best business presentations are meant to inspire action. And ending after reciting just the facts, without organizing that information into context or explaining how (and why) they should do something with it, will make your speech fall flat.
Learn more creative techniques on how to inspire your audience to action:
- Presentations10 Creative Presentation Ideas: That Will Inspire Your Audience to ActionJulia Melymbrose
Mistake 11. Avoiding Eye Contact
Feeling nervous before your presentation is normal. However, don’t let that be an excuse for avoiding eye contact with your audience. Avoiding eye contact is one of more common presentation mistakes that happens for a variety of reasons, which include feeling nervous as well as poor preparation.
If you spend most of your time staring at your notes or at the presentation slide, your audience will quickly lose interest not to mention they'll feel like you’re not really familiar with the topic.
Establishing eye contact with your audience, even if it’s just a quick glance, is often enough to keep your audience engaged and creating a personal connection with them.
Take a look at this recording of a presentation about code architecture in WordPress. As you can see, the presenter, Mario Peshev, is not only great at moving around the stage, but also establishes eye contact with the audience ever so often.
If you’re presenting in front of a small audience, try to establish eye contact with each person in the room. If your audience is large, focus on a few key people instead.
Mistake 12. Inappropriate Humor
Using humor is a good way to break the ice and reduce the tension for yourself during a presentation. But if you’re not careful, inappropriate humor could backfire and offend your audience, which then leads to a bad presentation overall.
When it comes to humor, it’s important to remember that humor is very culture-dependent. What's funny in some parts of the world, might be highly offensive in other countries and cultures.
That’s why it’s crucial that you know your audience well before getting on stage and use humor carefully and sparingly. If you’re not that familiar with the audience, using other methods to break the ice is recommended.
Mistake 13. Speaking Incoherently
Another common presentation mistake is speaking incoherently. While you might not have any problems when speaking to your colleagues or friends, keep in mind that speaking to an audience is a whole other ball game. Nerves can get even the best of us, which leads to mumbling or rushing through the presentation to just get it done and over with.
However, neither mumbling nor rushing will help you get more sales. In fact, they'll result in a poor presentation. To avoid this, proper preparation is key as well as remembering to breathe and slow down instead of rushing ahead. If you find yourself rushing, pause for a moment to compose yourself. Take deep breaths, focus on speaking slowly, and don’t forget to enunciate each word for better clarity.
Listen to how Matt Abrahams clearly enunciates each and every word in his presentation Think Fast, Talk Smart:
Mistake 14. Dressing Inappropriately
The star of your presentation should be your topic and your slide deck, not your dress or your suit. The best advice you can apply is to dress conservatively so your audience can focus on what you’re saying.
There's nothing wrong with expressing your individuality through fashion in private. But unless your presentation is in front of a hip, fashionable audience, it’s best to stick to a professional dress code.
Men should avoid wearing flashy shirts and shorts while women should avoid low necklines, flashy jewelry, and short skirts. And no matter what, avoid wacky hairstyles.
Mistake 15. Forgetting to Introduce the Topic
Finally, don’t forget to introduce the topic of your presentation at the beginning. Don’t assume that your audience will know what your presentation is about, even if they know the title. After all, there are so many different ways to present any given topic.
In this presentation example, speech coach and speaker Steve Bustin, clearly explains what the topic of the presentation is:
As such, jumping straight in without explaining who you are, what your presentation is about, and why the topic is important is the best way to confuse your audience. Instead, take time at the beginning to share a few words about your presentation topic. This will not only help you pique your audience’s interest, but it'll also help you have a good business presentation.
Follow These 15 Good Business Presentation Tips - For Better Results
While you may have been taught years ago how to give a basic speech or presentation, an important business presentation with real money on the line is a completely different animal.
The problem is that common mistakes, like reading your cluttered, amateurishly designed slide deck in a boring monotone completely undermines your credibility. You lose the audience the moment you open your mouth.
- Script your presentation beforehand to lay out the foundation for the presentation, which will help come up with supporting materials and decide on the key takeaway and next steps your audience should take.
- Avoid reading directly from the slides. Your presentation will flow more naturally and you'll be able to better connect with your audience.
- Don’t forget that practice makes perfect. So, allow for plenty of time before the presentation. This will help you become super familiar with your topic and your slide deck. It'll also help you be more confident the day of the presentation.
- Be mindful and respectful of your audience’s time. Avoid going over or under the allotted presentation time.
- Consider using a professional PowerPoint template to avoid having to deal with a boring and unprofessional slide design. This common presentation mistake will result in your audience losing interest and having a poor impression of your brand and business.
- Be sure to test your microphone, computer, projector, and any other technical equipment needed for your presentation. Making sure that your equipment works is the best way to avoid any technical issues during your presentation.
- Keep your slides easy to read by keeping the text to a minimum. While you’re at it, use a larger font size and a font that’s easy to read.
- Your content should be created with the audience’s background and preferences in mind. Before the presentation, familiarize yourself with some details on who the audience is, what their interests and pain points are, and the type or style of content they’re interested in.
- On top of making sure your presentation isn't too long or too short, pay attention to your intonation and your body language. Doing so will help you hold your audience’s attention throughout the presentation.
- Once you’re done with the presentation, let your audience know what’s the next logical step. This will help you accomplish the main goals of your presentation and ensure you land that pitch or sell your product.
- Maintain eye contact with your audience throughout the presentation. This will help you establish a personal relationship with the audience.
- Avoid using humor unless you’re very familiar with the audience and their culture. Inappropriate humor can offend your audience, which will have a disastrous effect on your presentation.
- Take deep breaths, pause, and enunciate words carefully and clearly in your presentation.
- Dress appropriately for the venue and the setting of your presentation.
- Always remember to introduce and explain your topic before diving into your presentation.
Fortunately, you can avoid delivering a bad presentation. Start by tackling the ten tips above (and add a whole lotta practice) to make sure your next business presentation goes off without a hitch.
If you're looking for an easy place to start, check out this guide on PowerPoint templates to make sure you've got the design basics down before progressing on to more advanced presentation techniques.
Here are a few more resources and tutorials to help you master your presentation:
Start Making Great Presentations Today
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Disorganized content, unclear design, and poor delivery can hinder even the best presentation ideas. Don't design a bad presentation that fails to deliver.
Instead, learn how to write your presentation, design it like a pro, and prepare it to present powerfully. This 30-page eBook with helpful PDF checklist will walk you through the complete presentation process.
Apply These Tips to Avoid Presentation Mistakes
Now you know some of the most common presentation mistakes and how to avoid making them. The tips in this article will ensure your presentation goes smoothly and you won’t leave a bad impression on your audience.
However, before you start working your presentation, you need to make a beautiful and engaging slide deck first. Start by checking out our beautiful PowerPoint presentation templates over on Envato Elements and if you want to see even more PowerPoint templates, be sure to stop by GraphicRiver.
This tutorial was originally published in September of 2016. It's been comprehensively revised to include new information—with special assistance from Brenda Barron.