The Biggest Mistakes You're Making During a Presentation

Business.com / Careers / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Business presentations can be tricky, even for professionals that have done it on countless occasions.

Business presentations can be tricky, even for the pros that have done it on countless occasions.

Although you’ve been telling the same pitch for months, there’s still room for error. You could feel uncomfortable in a room of 100 people, or someone may ask an unfamiliar question.

At the very least, the projector may not turn on. Many mistakes can be easily prevented before the actual presentation – but what if something happens DURING this important event? How do you deal with a stressful situation, especially when you’re alone?

Here are five of the biggest and most frequent mistakes people do during a presentation – and how to avoid them.

Related Article: 13 Things to Include in Your Next Powerpoint Presentation

You're Fidgeting

Everything is all set: the slides are in order, the audience appears to be eager, the equipment is running smoothly, and the snacks are served. In the middle of your narrative, you notice someone giving you weird stares. Upon looking at your hands, you see that you had been fidgeting the entire time. Uh-oh. Did anyone else see?

Fidgeting is never a good sign during a presentation. It’s not only distracting to your audience, it shows how nervous you are. Don’t worry though, it’s normal and everybody gets tense  at some point – especially during public speaking events. If this happens in the middle of your pitch:

  • Be aware of your action, smile, calmly compose yourself, and continue.
  • If you have a knack for telling good jokes, you can make one to break the ice.

If you know that you fidget often, strike a “Power Pose” at least 2-3 minutes prior to a presentation. A “Power Pose” is a form of body language that’s relaxed and open. Harvard University researcher Amy Cuddy and her team conducted a study that revealed how these poses increased testosterone (hormones responsible for self-esteem) levels. According to their research, people who did a Power Pose for at least a minute had 20 percent more testosterone than those who had closed, guarded poses.

high and low power position examples

So to make sure you give an outstanding presentation AND prevent yourself from fidgeting, simply strike a pose.

You're Telling Too Much

Whether your aim is to close a sale OR get a new partner onboard, business presentations are still one of the best ways to convince people that you’re a great asset. So you go and rattle on about your gross profits during the last quarter, your vast inventory, your wonderful employee benefits package, not to mention your impressive client database. Hang on – why does your audience look disinterested?

Believe it or not, saying too much – even if this information sounds positive – could actually do more bad than good. According to Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson, associate director for the Motivation Science Center at the Columbia University Business School, this is known to psychologists as the “Presenter’s Paradox”. The principle states that the more positive things we say about ourselves (or our company, our products, etc.), the more negative it’s going to make us look. That’s because people tend to look at the entire picture rather than as single entities.

So if you catch people slowly beginning to doze off in the middle of your presentation:

  • Raise your voice just a little bit and move on to the next slide.
  • Pause, look your audience in the eyes, smile, and ask if they have any questions.
  • Pace yourself. Don’t speak too slowly or too fast. Refer to your notes to make sure you’re still on the right track.

Every business presentation should have an objective. Why are you holding this event in the first place? What are your main points? Did you make a script? If you answered “yes”, then you won’t have any problems working within a 30- to 40-minute time limit. Exceed that period and you could be compromising on your audiences’ attention spans (and that sale!).

ClearRock managing partner, Annie Stevens, says it best with this motto: “Be brief, be brilliant, and be gone”.

You're Not Connecting

A lot of presentations nowadays are aimed at closing a sale. That makes them twice as nerve-wracking for the presenter. You’ve probably practiced dozens of times before a mirror, recorded your performance on video (to catch any mistakes), and even wrote little notes on index cards. But if your presentation doesn’t touch your clients’ hearts – there is NO sale.

Emotions play a vital role in every decision we make, particularly in products and services we end up buying. In an article by Courtney Seiter, researcher, and writer at Buffer, how we feel has a direct correlation to the action we will take afterward. For instance: happy people are more likely to share feel-good posts on social media; whereas folks who felt sad were more likely to empathize and donate money to recipients they don’t know.

Related Article: 3 Keynote Speech Fails and Fixes

So what do you do when you see that your audience is NOT responding emotionally during your presentation?

  • Tell them a story. According to numerous studies done by CEO and author Nancy Duarte, storytelling is the most effective delivery method in presentations, because it makes details easy to recall and there is an emotional connection between the presenter and the audience.

Don’t just prattle on about facts – know how you want your clients to feel so you could direct them towards the action that you want them to take. Why not scare them (in a good way, of course)? This emotion is known to make people cling to familiar brands. If you’re able to harness the power of emotions during your pitches, your presentations will become twice as successful.

You're Not Using The Right Visuals

You already know that pictures are worth a thousand words. So your presentation will undoubtedly have several images of businessmen shaking hands or of a bull’s eye to signify hitting a target. Just as much as there are wrong and right words to say during a presentation, there are also wrong and right visuals for slideshows.

If you suddenly realized that you were using the wrong visuals in the middle of your presentation, not a lot could be done about it. However, if you’re highly creative – and work great under extreme pressure - you could:

  • Improvise. Use existing items as temporary visual aids. Perhaps you brought along the company catalog? Show it to your clients as you tell them your corporate story.
  • Smile and give them handouts (if you prepared any).

Steve Jobs was known not only as a great salesperson but also as a great presenter who uses awesome visuals. Why were his presentations so convincing?

They were a smart combination of the right words, plus elegant, simple pictures. That’s right: nothing fancy. If you were able to watch the unveiling of the first-generation iPhone in 2007, you’ll see that Jobs utilized short, clear words along with icons. As a result, he was able to keep his audience’s attention to himself, while the visuals supported his pitch. Genius.

Try to avoid getting into this situation as much as you can by incorporating the correct visuals into your presentation early on. If you’re unsure, ask advice from an expert or your supervisor. One of the best ways to know which images to pick would be to picture yourself as the client. Ask yourself: if you were the one sitting inside that room, what images would make a good impact on you?

You Didn't Anticipate

You’re nearing the end of your presentation when one of your audiences raises his hand and asks something. It’s as if all the air inside the room suddenly disappeared. You blink once and urge your mind to think. Oh no, were you just asked a question you don’t know?

It could happen to anyone. In fact, no matter how much you prepared for your presentation, you could still be asked a question that you’re not prepared for. That’s alright! Instead of beating yourself up OR coming up with excuses (which aren’t true), here are better ways to handle the circumstances:

  • Pause to give yourself time to think. Even just a few seconds is enough to formulate a good answer. You could even ask the person to repeat the query to allow yourself time to devise a response.
  • Acknowledge the question and assure the audience that you will find the answer as soon as possible. You may say something that goes like this: “Thank you for that question. Let me pass that along to the right department so I could get the information you need. If you have time after this presentation, I could give them a call then.” It shows that you’re humble (because we can’t know everything!) but at the same time, you’re willing to resolve a problem.
  • NEVER say that you don’t know! Remember: your choice of words is very important in business presentations as it could mean the difference between closing a sale and losing a lucrative opportunity.

Often, honesty is more crucial than any PowerPoint presentation. After all, no business would want to deal with a partner who comes up with false stories just because they were under pressure.

Related Article: What Does Your Leadership Style Say About You?

Conclusion

So many things could go wrong during an important business presentation. Most of the time, we’re prepared for it – other times, we’re completely on our own. That’s why quick thinking and problem-solving are valuable skills to develop if you want to grow as a successful presenter. You can’t acquire these talents overnight. But with dedication, hard work, and practice, you’ll soon find yourself more confident in delivering world-class presentations.

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