A successful presentation is an orchestra of great content, strong delivery and pitch-perfect design. When one element is out of tune, it can ruin the entire performance. In order to ensure your upcoming presentation is a success, be sure to avoid these common mistakes:
1. Unnatural Stock Photography
Images where the actors or other elements are posed, fake or abnormal will make your presentation feel inauthentic, and at worst, creepy. Be sure that the people or elements within the images reflect the demographic of your audience, and that they don’t linger into “meme” territory by being nonsensical. For instance, “woman laughing alone with salad” was a common stock photography trope until people caught on to its silliness: Don’t let the images you select suffer the same fate.
2. Bullet Points
Nothing puts people to sleep faster than a slide filled with rows of bullet points. They clutter your core message and drown out visuals. While you might not be able to skip them entirely, consider putting only one main idea on each slide instead of a cluster of points. On top of being more aesthetically pleasing, you may find it easier to move along with the presentation when you aren’t searching for words or reading directly off the slide.
3. Too Many Takeaways
“The Rule of Three” is a written and verbal phrase we see everywhere: “Stop, drop and roll,” “9-1-1” and even “beginning, middle, and end” are such examples. The reason behind it? Audiences tend to start losing focus and memory after any more than three points. Before working on your presentation, decide on three takeaways or less, then be sure to repeat them throughout the delivery to lock-in their importance.
4. The Wrong Kind of Participation
You’re going to have two different kinds of audience members: extroverts and introverts. The extroverts will be happy to participate, while the introverts are going to prefer actively listening and chewing over points. For instance, at least half of your audience will be happy to jump up and introduce themselves, while the other half will be very uncomfortable if asked to make an introduction. Please both personalities by making participation optional, and not asking “pop quiz” questions of the audience at random.
5. Data Overload
It might feel revolutionary or unnatural, but presentations work best when supplemented with stories and not driven by data alone. The best TED speakers utilize this technique regardless of the subject matter, enriching their content through emotional appeal. Even if you’re delivering a presentation about a yearly budget, consider all of the personal stories it took to get to that place. Consider sharing something emotionally meaningful before you work facts into the equation. In the words of Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Be mindful about these common mistakes. When a presentation is done correctly, it can be worthy of a standing ovation.
Scott Schwertly is the author of How to Be a Presentation God and CEO of Ethos3, a Nashville, TN-based presentation boutique providing professional presentation design and training for national and international clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to branded individuals like Guy Kawasaki. If Scott is not working with his team building presentations, you will find him in the pool, on the bike, or on a long run. Scott lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and three dogs. He has a B.A. and M.B.A. from Harding University. Follow the conversation and connect with Scott on LinkedIn or Twitter.