Everyone sells something in business. No matter what your job description or title is.
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.
Whatever the case, on a daily basis you have to inform and persuade those around you to (hopefully) believe in your vision (and more importantly, believe in you) to get more money, notoriety, or internal resources.
Presenting this complex information in an easy-to-digest format isn't easy. And to make matters worse, it's not often taught in any formal schooling either—which means you're left to fend for yourself (and mess up often).
Sure, having a good presentation design is a nice place to start. However, there are a ton of other variables that ultimately determine if your presentation will be a success or failure. It's all to easy to put in a lot of effort, only to end up with a bad presentation.
10 Common Mistakes to Avoid in Business Presentations
Here's ten 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.
Also, if you want to take these tips further, be sure to download our free eBook: The Complete Guide to Making Great Presentations. It will 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 notecards.
First and foremost, if you have 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 smooth 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 speaking in public, 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:
One of the best things about starting with professionally designed, pre-built templates like these are that they get a lot of the 'under the radar' presentation design tips right from the beginning (in addition to those little icons and details that can make a world of difference).
For example, you can often run into problems and mistakes when picking out your own typography and color choices ad hoc.
Your typography choice can scream modern and sophisticated or garish and tacky. The color choices can also subconsciously project confidence, or outdated. You want your slide designs to communicate visually, and fit your points well, as you deliver 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 though, is that there will 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 will keep your delivery streamlined, helping the audience to focus in on your message.
And another added bonus is that it will 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 perfect 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 PowerPoint18 Professional PowerPoint Templates: For Better Business PresentationsSean Hodge
- Microsoft PowerPoint15 Best PowerPoint Presentation Templates—With Great Infographic SlidesSean Hodge
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 will be detailed case study information, while others it will 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 or not the audience is going to pay attention to the entire thing.
However 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
Follow These 10 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; losing the audience the moment you open your mouth.
No audience attention or trust?
No new sales, funding, referrals or write-ups either.
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.
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.
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