Making Good Speakers Great

5 Presentation Crimes

I’ve coached hundreds of presentations in my career, and sat through maybe thousands, and too many were just pathetic. Given the amount of attention that’s given to this topic and the volume of resources available for training, it really is a crime to give bad presentations.

And don’t assume bad presentations are victimless crimes. Listeners suffer. Time is wasted and opportunities are squandered. Here are five presentation felonies that will land you on the Most Un-Wanted speaker list before anyone can read you your Miranda Rights.

The crime of not practicing- Thorough preparation is key to effective presentations. Rambling and going overtime are clear signs you haven’t practiced. Understanding the material in your head doesn’t mean you can communicate it clearly. So stand up and say it out loud, and soon you’ll see how prepared you really are.

The crime of a dull opening- Let’s face it. Your listeners are easily distracted. Within thirty seconds, they’ll decide whether you deserve attention or not. You can’t stand up and open with, “Today I’m going to talk about blah, blah, blah.” You have to engage them immediately with a relevant story, a surprising fact or a thought provoking question. It takes work to create a strong opening, but it might be the most important part of your presentation.

The crime of a weak voice- Strong presentations require strong presence, and that calls for a strong, engaging voice. You don’t have to shout, but you do have to fill the room and this might require more than your conversational voice. There has to be energy in your tone that commands attention and projects credibility. Remember, the tone of your voice is twice as influential as the words you use, so find your whole voice.

The crime of no eye contact- Connection is the key to effective presentations, and the quickest way to kill the connection is to focus on your notes, stare at your slides or gaze at the back wall. Avoiding eye contact is a fast way to communicate lack of preparation at best, or lack of confidence and credibility at worst. Presentations are about relationship, not just spewing information, so meeting the gaze of your audience is an obvious first step.

The crime of data dumping- Presentations are successful when you communicate your message clearly, in a way that helps your listeners remember the important information. Swamping them with details, dwelling on statistics, and relying on verbiage alone are sure-fire ways to overwhelm their attention span and get them to disconnect. They’ll only remember twenty percent of your material anyway—if that—so focus on the crucial points and devise creative ways to make those points unforgettable.

Presentations aren’t always easy, and sometimes you face challenges that are beyond your control. But many of the basic laws underlying effective presentations are quite simple and straightforward. They’re not hard to obey; they just require some time and effort. Prepare well. Create compelling openings. Speak with your whole voice. Make eye contact and be concise. Break those five laws, and your presentations will be criminal.

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