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The Ten Biggest Mistakes Presenters Make

I recently attended a 90 minute presentation by a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent on the topic of Internet security. I was prepared for a dry and possibly boring program, so you can imagine my surprise and delight when the speaker was so EXCELLENT he literally “knocked our socks off.” He was right on and didn’t even come close to making even one of the mistakes presenters tend to make. As I list and discuss what I consider to be the ten biggest MISTAKES, I will use him as an example of ways in which to avoid, combat and overcome the common mistakes we all suffer when attending programs -– especially those programs that deal with computers and technology.

I feel that most presenters prepare for programs, but don’t realize how to do the preparation productively. They have been asked to speak because they are knowledgeable about their topic, but they don’t know how to ORGANIZE all of the information at their fingertips. A good rule to follow is to prepare for at least a half hour for every minute you will be speaking. Set the GOAL for your presentation. Pick the theme and break it into three strong points. Don’t be so wedded, however, to your plan that you can’t change course (which will be easy because of all of the material you have prepared). The agent definitely had a plan, but told us that we were going to lead him in the direction we wanted to go, and we felt that we did -– although I know that it was all pre-planned and prepared in advance.

Yes, PowerPoint is a powerful tool, but we must remember that it is a TOOL and not the be-all and end-all of our presentations. Just because you have created a slick PowerPoint program doesn’t mean that it will CARRY your presentation. I have witnessed so many distracting and meaningless PowerPoint presentations that I almost hate to use the software at all. Our agent, however, had his pertinent information –- not too much –- in PowerPoint. It wasn’t overdone or obtrusive. It was there to help make his points and keep all of us on track. And he didn’t print up a tree-full of handouts with copies of his slides – thank goodness!

We can’t let audience members take over during a presentation, but an excellent speaker like our agent makes the audience feel like PARTICIPANTS. He allotted time for questions while keeping the whole program on track. He always answered a question starting with the phrase, “What a great question,” or, “I am so glad you asked that.” I have actually witnessed speakers who are condescending and make the people who ask questions feel stupid. This doesn’t ENDEAR a speaker to anyone in the audience. As a matter of fact, the participants will turn against the speaker and then no one benefits from the presentation.

If you don’t have enough PASSION for your topic to exhibit some sincere enthusiasm, you shouldn’t be giving a presentation about it. Again, it was obvious that the agent loved his work and was totally enthusiastic. He had been on a case the night before and until 4 a.m. in the morning of the day he came to us. At our early morning meeting, you would never have guessed that he had a tired bone in his body because of all of the excitement and enthusiasm he EXUDED throughout the presentation.

Now you are probably wondering how a government agent can inject humor into a talk about the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He had us laughing with gusto throughout the hour and a half. For example, part way through, after taking his suit coat off and answering a bunch of questions, he said that “now, we have to get back on track in order to finish on time. So, let’s be quiet. You don’t want to argue with a man who has a gun (which we could now see) and a badge.” We were a bit of a rowdy group. Humor isn’t easy, but if we make FUN of OURSELVES the audience will laugh with us and enjoy us thoroughly.

As much as I have raved about the agent, there is no way I would feel comfortable and/or be successful trying to copy his style. When we are impressed with another speaker, we are tempted to EMULATE what turned us on. Just remember that we are all unique and, even though it is good to observe and learn techniques from other presenters, we will never fool an audience by trying to copy a speaker. They will feel our insincerity and we will challenge our own integrity and CREDIBILITY.

No matter how prepared we are or how excellent a speaker we have become, we will never be able to please everyone in the audience. It is said that 25% of the audience will love/like you no matter what you do; 25% will not like you (even before a word comes out of your mouth); and 50% is up for grabs. Yes, we do want the audience to ENJOY and like us, but if we try to hard to please everyone, our presentations will become bland and/or wishy washy. I know successful speakers in demand who feel it is their duty and mission to shake audience members up enough that they are spurred on to action. These presenters may not be loved at the time, but they will be REMEMBERED and thanked in years to come.

I am sure that you have experienced a speaker who says, “I have a voice that carries. I won’t use the mike.” Even with a great voice, a presenter must learn how to use a MICROPHONE effectively. Without amplification and the ability to vary volume by using a sound system, you are compromising the strength of your message. It is always a good idea to arrive early enough to TEST the system and adjust it until it works without a glitch and gives your voice an advantage it wouldn’t have otherwise.

The open and close of a presentation are the only portions I ever suggest MEMORIZING. The open should be strong enough to grab their attention and set the stage for the rest of the presentation and the close should leave them excited and ready to take action and/or remember the important POINTS you were making. These parts of your presentation must be forceful and even emotional at times. Our agent started by introducing himself holding up his badge and saying, “I am Agent # _________ from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” Then, he shared with us (a group of techies) that underneath that guise, he was “really a geek.” We loved him already. When he closed his presentation, we had great feelings about the agency and were ready to join a local security group that he recommended.

It never fails that in a stack of evaluations telling us how great we were, there is usually one that is far from being complimentary. If several of the evaluations mention a habit or technique that we should IMPROVE, we might decide to take the advice. I know speakers who never look at an evaluation. They feel that they are detrimental and we always focus on the one bad one rather than all of the good ones. I refer you back to Mistake #7. Just remember that there are people who won’t like you no matter what, but if they do give CONSTRUCTIVE feedback, take heed.


Chris King loves her "portfolio career" which includes speaking, writing, website design and development, professional storytelling, training, fitness instructing and helping others with their careers, communications and ideas. Visit her website at

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