Just a couple of words could make or break your presentation. Has this ever happened to you? That moment when you think: ‘Drat, where is the undo button for me to press?’
Or worse yet: ‘Who can quickly teach me that Houdini’s disappearing act, right now?’
I have actually begun making a list of all the awkward things I catch presenters saying (it’s stronger than myself…). Let me share with you the most common ones.
Some of these will make you grin, precisely because you have heard them before. By sharing these phrases with you, I am hoping you will be banning them eternally from your repertoire.
I have grouped them per topic and will also add what is wrong with each of them (in case you don’t see the problem).
- ‘I will have to speed things up.’
- ‘Gee, time flies! In fact, I would need 3 hours to cover everything.’
- ‘I will skip this.’
- ‘I will keep it short…’ (and then not do it)
You as the speaker are responsible for your time. You know how much time you have available and should make sure you get your story across in that exact time frame. Do you have more to share? That’s possible, but try to focus on the essentials. If you have a 5 minute speaker’s slot, it would be rude to go on for a full 15 minutes.
- ‘You can’t read this, but…’
- ‘Is this slide legible?’
The answer to this last question is ‘No!’. Although your text may be perfectly legible on your computer screen, it may not be for those attendees in the back of the room. So how big should the text on your slide be? At least point size 24 (Arial font, for instance). And yes, this also applies to graphs.
- ‘Don’t worry, I won’t read the entire slide to you.’
- ‘I know it’s an elaborate table, but I will just discuss one section.’
Why pack your slides with text? Less is more. Use slides to support your talk. Stick to 20 words or fewer per slide. And leave out the things you won’t be discussing. If necessary, why not create a separate hand-out with additional information.
- ‘I always list 10 items, that makes it easier to process.’
Everyone processes information differently, but no-one can easily remember a list of 10 items. That is too much. Stick to 3 bullet points. Or better yet: just 1.
- ‘Sorry for the awful (slide, image, graph, …)’
- ‘I hardly had any time to prepare this.’
- ‘I wasn’t prepared to present today, but had to fill in for my director.’
Either you present and do it well, or you simply don’t take the stage. Apologizing for presenting a bad talk is another way of saying: ‘Sorry for wasting your time and energy’. Do you have little time to prepare your presentation? Leave out the slides and focus on practicing your talk instead.
And another one:
- ‘This presentation has an important content value, so I will not pay as much attention to communicating it well.’
What this person means to say is that bringing across a clear and convincing message is just fluff, for when there’s extra time left. But precisely those important presentations should be communicated well. After all, you do want your audience to understand and remember your message.
‘Off the record’ utterances
- ‘My English is really bad.’
- ‘I’m so nervous.’
Many speakers, right before starting their talk, will say something along these lines. Remember that your first impression is made the minute you appear, which is often even before you take the stage. A presenter who reveals that he is under-prepared or nervous, or says he doesn’t speak English well gives a bad first impression. To increase your self-confidance, Amy Cuddy suggests striking a ‘power pose’ right before appearing on stage.
- ‘No questions? No-one dares?’
- ‘No questions? That must mean everything was clear!’ (+ big smile on the presenter’s face)
Wrong! The fact that there are no questions mean that the audience either didn’t understand a word of what you presented, or that they were bored to death. Following a clear and fascinating presentation your audience will be dying to learn more. Their hands will be shooting up during the question round.
- ‘I’m sure you all know the tv series (name of series).’
Be careful with ‘I’m sure you all know’-utterances. Much safer to say: ‘Do you all know the tv series (name of the series)?’, after which you briefly recap what it is about, so everyone can follow along.
What other things should you avoid saying during a presentation?
And from now on when presenting: no more excuses!