It can be daunting.
You know what I mean.
You're staring at hundreds of faces in the crowd.
Each one waiting for you to captivate them.
Your hands start sweating profusely.
Your mouth tastes like cotton.
Your brain starts fogging up.
All the preparation in the world doesn't calm the nerves.
Public speaking is the number one fear for a large majority of people…even more than death.
Nerves strike even the most confident individuals who are highly skilled and prepared.
Anything can go wrong.
To convey the message you want to get out there you need to be credible in your presentation.
Listed below are 7 mistakes to avoid in order to make your presentation unforgettable.
Although most of my public speaking experience comes from making videos and speaking at my StyleCon convention, these tips are influenced by observations from attending over 50 conferences in the past 5 years.
What are the mistakes the best speakers avoid?
Public Speaking Mistake #1 – Being Unprepared
Preparation is key for an effective presentation.
Prepare for the presentation. Don't try to wing it. It sounds simple but is worth noting that most of us fail to plan.
Jotting down a few bullet points is insufficient preparation. Do your research, write down your thoughts and build a flow to your material.
When time is short, it can be tempting to take shortcuts. Don't be overconfident and assume that you will remember all the key points just because you've given the presentation once before.
Remember, your audience is depending on you to teach them something new – by being unprepared, you're doing a disservice to them.
When should you prepare for a presentation?
Days, if not weeks in advance.
The worst time to prepare is just before the event. Noting down the bullet point version of your presentation moments before stepping up on a stage is a recipe for disaster.
Seasoned speakers use those crucial moments to connect with their audience in person. It puts you at ease and helps your audience engage with your material now that they know you personally.
Advance preparations help you avoid unforeseen circumstances. Weather delays, traffic jams and wardrobe malfunctions can all play havoc with the best-laid plans. Show up early to avoid the situations you cannot control. Don't wait until you're about to step onstage to check the mic, lighting, the slide remote, or your presentation. Do all of that ahead of time.
Dress sharp, sleep well, arrive early. Give yourself a margin for error. If I'm scheduled to give a presentation for a conference, I'll plan to be there a day or two earlier. It allows you to relax and be rested.
Don’t leave your preparation for the last minute.
Public Speaking Mistake #2 – Not Knowing Your Audience
Tailor your presentation for relevance to your audience.
Do your research beforehand. Ask the organizers a few questions about the dynamics of the audience during your preparation phase. Understand their age, culture and expectations before you prepare your presentation material.
Why is this presentation important to your audience?
What is their level of knowledge about the topic?
Are there cultural taboos you should avoid during your presentation?
You may be well prepared with your material, but if your message is irrelevant, your audience will fail to connect with you. Make sure your presentation is relevant and important to your audience.
Gear the information towards your audience and make it relevant to them.
Public Speaking Mistake #3 – Not Having Clear Points
Give your audience a simple take away from your message by breaking it up into smaller points.
The distractions of modern society have shortened our attention span. How do you keep your audience engaged with your presentation?
Have very clear points. Give the audience something they can apply straight away – a few action points.
Break up a presentation into smaller sections. In a 30 minute presentation, keep your message to 3-5 points you can elaborate on.
A presentation is not the same as giving a lecture. Your audience is working their best to keep up with you – especially when they are not forced to be there. Make it easy for them to follow you by breaking your presentation into 5-7 summary sentences.
Repeat your points if you have to, your audience won't mind.
Public Speaking Mistake #4 – Over Dependence On Visuals
Don't let your audience be victims of death by powerpoint!
Don't be the guy who is literally reading material off a powerpoint. Even the most comprehensively researched material is of little use if you are unable to engage with your audience.
The most effective speakers draw energy by making direct eye contact with their audience. Face your audience. Engage with them. Look for signs of their interest waning and immediately change gears if you need to.
A good presentation should elicit a hunger in the people watching. Your words should hit emotional triggers so people want to pay attention to you.
If you are relying on presentation slides, stick to no more than 10-word slides. Keep the words on your slides to a minimum. Have more slides with fewer words if you have to.
Sometimes, the best presentations are the ones where the presenter switches off the powerpoints and instead directly engages with the crowd. Your presentation should be able to stand on its own without a powerpoint.
Public Speaking Mistake #5 – Not Getting Honest Feedback
The simplest method to improve your presentation skills is to ask for feedback.
Let's be clear. There is a difference between constructive criticism and haters. Constructive criticism is given with the intent to make someone better. Haters give criticism for the sole purpose of tearing down.
Critique yourself – that's the least you can do. If you can’t, bring in one of your peers and have them watch your presentation. If you are looking to get paid for your presentation, it’s worth you hiring a coach.
Others are quicker to notice our drawbacks that are hidden in our blind spots.
You'll notice that you tend to use crutch words and fillers (umm, ahh) during your presentation. Some people have the tendency to ramble and run down rabbit trails instead of sticking to the point. These habits are easier for someone else to point out.
When you improve small things, the payoff can be huge!
Bonus Tip #1: Not Having Your Timing Right
Comedians will tell you that the perfect joke relies more on timing than content.
You need to time yourself right. There are two advantages for factoring time during presentations:
- You won't go over the allotted time for your presentation. This ensures that the organizers and the attendees will not be forced to stay longer than expected.
- Timing your statements keeps your message interesting longer. This is true as much for a stand-up comedy night with well-timed jokes as it is to a presentation about …
Break up the lull in your presentations, fill the gaps with stories, jokes and crowd interaction. It will make your presentation more dynamic, opening up the audience to engage with you better.
Bonus Tip #2: Not Having A ‘Plan B'
… your opening line falls flat, the microphone fails, or you are constantly interrupted?
You're well-prepared with your 5-point presentation with the perfect balance of words and slides. You've practiced your spiel once and changed it based on your best friend's feedback. And yet, there are a number of factors beyond your control that could go wrong.
Think of a few scenarios that are likely in the venue chosen for your presentation. Create a contingency plan for a few worst case scenarios.
A notecard to help you remember your main points.
An alternate way of presenting if the slides fail.
A few extra jokes and stories if you are not getting the response you expected from the audience.
Be flexible during your presentation and be quick to adapt if things go wrong.
Public Speaking Summarized
We all have a message to convey.
Don't let your message be muted, avoid making these 7 mistakes, captivate your audience and leave them asking for more.