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The 7 most tragic mistakes you’re making on your presentation

presentation Sep 05, 2022

It was the moment I’ve always feared would come — and it’s a real threat to your next presentation. 

This past May, I hosted a mid-sized event in the US. I sat in on rehearsal day to offer coaching or on-stage speakers. 

Many of those had been through my training and delivered engaging keynotes and panels. But two were from customer companies. They were presenting case studies. 
And those case studies weren’t pretty. They were long. They lacked stories. They waited until the end to share a list of what actions the audience could take. 

The two presentations unfolded back-to-back on show day, just before lunch. I watched the first speaker lose the audience 90-seconds into his droning talk as he shared his personal Myers-Briggs score (nobody cares). 

It got worse.  

15 minutes into his presentation, members of the audience started to trickle out. First one, or two, then five. By the time the presenter had reached the 30-minute mark, half the audience was gone.

Let me repeat that.

HALF OF THE AUDIENCE WALKED OUT of a presentation at a conference they had paid to be at.

This, my friends, is the new reality of events. If you’re boring, focused on yourself, irrelevant or lack value…your audience is fully prepared to walk out on you. If you want to engage, move, sell, inspire or change a mind, you have to up your presentation game — and you need to start with these seven tragic mistakes.

1. You’re thinking about your presentation.

Don’t think about your presentation — think about your audience.

Who are they? What do they want? How do they buy an idea? How do they reject an idea? What do they value? Most importantly, what does it take to win over your audience?

To engage your audience, build your entire presentation around that audience. It’s not what you want to say. It’s what they need to hear.

2. You focus on the logic of the words.  

Conversations are not logic problems. They are jam-packed with emotions, bias, misunderstanding, lack of navigation, triggering, and disengagement.

 Your “words” matter less than how you use those words.

 Instead of simply laying out an argument, think about what moves an audience — things like behavioural economics, associations, triggering, process, repetition, resources, callbacks, and a hundred other tools. These help your presentation become navigable and compelling, consistently surprising and energizing your audience.

3. You’re using PowerPoint the wrong way. 

I rarely see good PowerPoint. I sometimes see pretty PowerPoint, but those nice colours and shapes often exist at the expense of good presentation decks.

In truth, your PowerPoint has one of three jobs.

  1. It is a GPS to your presentation, helping your audience navigate or understand the content.
  2. It is an emotional connector, using imagery to add power to your storytelling or content.
  3. It is a reference tool for the presenter, used to remind them of key points they need to get across.

Pay the closest attention to the first one. Build in great headlines and simple visual cues to help your audience understand where you are and where you’re going. 

The more text you put on your slides, the more your audience will read your slides. As soon as they start reading, you’ve lost them.

4. Your first minute is boring. 

You have four seconds to catch your audience’s attention. Are you going to waste it by saying, “Good morning. It’s great to be here today. It’s nice to be presenting in person again."?

Yawn, and let me just check the notification I just got on my phone.

Say something riveting immediately. “There’s something you’re not thinking about that’s costing you thousands of dollars…” “You know what we don’t talk about enough…” “Here’s three words that could change your life…”

Get interesting fast, and stay interesting with storytelling, analogy, soft interactivity, and the like. Your audience craves things that are interesting.

5. You say too much. 

Too many presentations are disorganized firehoses of content.

You just start talking on a topic and dump as much data as possible before your time is up. “Cognitive Overload” is a problem for audiences. People just can’t remember everything you say. That’s why you need to organize it in a way that is digestible and easy to follow.

That digestibility begins with a “Point’ — a thesis for your presentation. Ask yourself what is the one thing I want my audience to remember. That’s your Point. Your point is easy to remember and makes your presentation about something specific.

 6. Your last minute is a throwaway. 

“So that’s my presentation…thanks.”


If that’s the way you finish up a talk, you have missed the opportunity to move the conversation forward — whether that’s getting the audience to reach out to you or whether you’re trying to close a deal.
The last minute of your presentation is where activation happens. It’s your chance to remind the audience of all the great value you just gave them and why they should keep talking with you. 

Deliver a good summary, reinforce your point, and add something extra like a resource or an extra story. Then ask for the business — whatever that looks like.

7. You write more than you rehearse. 

A friend of mine recently summarized this as “Screw the Script.”

The days of memorizing a word-for-word script are (mostly) over. They seem so formal and out of place for many. Certainly, there are some situations where a formally scripted presentation is a benefit. But there are fewer and fewer of those situations these days — like political rallies and television.

Instead of writing a “script,” create a “blueprint.” It’s a detailed outline that shows where every story or data point goes. Once you’ve got this, just start rehearsing. Do short sprint rehearsals of each section until they sound sharp and authentic.

That output will be so, so, so much better than a traditional script. You’ll feel more confident. You’ll be having a conversation with your audience.

And that conversation? That’s how you flip the script (heh) from a tragic chat that begs the audience to walk out into something that changes the entire world.

If you want to learn more about how to create an incredible presentation, contact SpeakUp Get Results.


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