Let's face it, whether at work, university, school or a seminar, most presentations today are dull and predictable. We've fallen into a rut as presenters.
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Funnily enough, the most commonly used presentation format has the most negative impact on an audience. Many presenters follow the format of a 45-minute presentation beginning with an 'about us' section and finishing 40 slides later with a 'questions' slide, accompanied by a clip art question mark or light bulb and an identical handout of the slides. Unsurprisingly, this is an audience's idea of living hell. Below are five simple, yet incredibly common, mistakes presenters make that ultimately let both themselves and their audience down.
1. Generic, dry content
Left wondering why your audience zoned out of your presentation after ten minutes and started to check their phones? The solution is surprisingly simple. In today's workplaces, theatres and lecture halls, people are time-poor and easily distracted. We only pay attention to things we find interesting or can relate to. Audiences are also far more attentive in presentations that are targeted, amusing, unexpected, and evoke emotion. These kinds of presentations will resonate with people and be more memorable. Take the extra time to think about your audience and tailor your presentation to be more interesting and relatable to them. Think of examples and case studies that demonstrate and prove your message. Bonus points if you can shock them or make them laugh. A little presentation planning goes a long way.
2. Lack of visuals
According to developmental molecular biologist John Medina, studies show that 65 percent of the population are visual learners and people are far more likely to remember information that has been taught to them visually. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you'll only remember 10 per cent of it. Add a visual and you'll remember up to 65 percent.
But remember, your visual aid should be used to support your presentation, not to be the presentation. Whether it's a photo, video, diagram, or map, used properly it will bring information to life and reinforce your message. Visuals provide stimuli to the brain that enable your audience to connect the information and the image together, so that in the future they will be able to better recall what you have told them. Forget clip-art, look for simple visual metaphors that support your message at a deeper level. Plan your presentation and sync your visual aid so that you work together to create impact.
The bonus? Apart from helping you to better engage your audience, visual aids will also improve your performance as a presenter. Making use of visuals will allow you to create a more confident, flexible and natural delivery.
3. Bullet point overload
Bullet points are a common starting point for presenters, who turn to the small symbols as a tool to condense information and make ideas easier for their audience to digest. Presenters have been brainwashed by the 90's mantra recommending 2-3 bullet points per slide, and some even feel the need to jot an entire speech down in bullet point form. However, bullet points often leave an audience more confused than enlightened. Unlike visuals, bullet points also force the audience to read and therefore take the audience's attention away from the presenter. Jamming your slides with bulleted text bombards the audience with information and divides their attention. If, on the other hand, your visual narrative guides your message, you'll notice a huge difference to the effectiveness of your presentations.
What's more, the order and layout of bullet points creates a list and hierarchy of information that often doesn't match with the actual importance of the message. Think about this the next time you are being presented to. Are points 1-5 really weighted equally, and in the right order? Often it's the first two or three points that are the most important points and the extra bullets are simply confusing the message.
4. You've placed quantity over quality
The golden, yet often forgotten, rule behind presenting is that less is always more. The best presentations have one key idea and 3-5 groups of information to support that main idea. All too often, presenters feel the need to wow their audience with a lengthy presentation made up of 50+ slides that goes on well beyond the allocated time slot. The less time or slides you can explain an idea in, the better.
I've asked the question: "What do you enjoy in a presentation?" to over 1500 workshop attendees and what word comes up the most? Simple. Audiences crave simplicity. Far too often, presenters bombard their audience with too much information and detail. Audiences often get stressed trying to jot everything down and eventually switch off when they can't keep up. As a presenter, culling the unimportant ideas and speaking in simpler terms will increase the effectiveness of your message.
5. It lacks a narrative and/or a central message
Giving a linear, slide-based presentation is like presenting your ideas in a consecutive series of flashcards and crossing your fingers in hope that your audience will absorb and remember it. Presenters are often stuck in a state of FOMSO (fear of missing something out) and are in a constant state of over explanation. When you approach presentations like this, you often overwhelm the audience with too much disjointed information.
When creating your presentation, think of how your favourite books or movies caught and held your attention. How did they use narrative and structure to convey a memorable message? Always start with a question to yourself: 'what is the most important thing I want my audience to know/believe'? Use that as the basis to create your presentation narrative. This is your big aha and will be the key takeaway from your presentation. After this, structure your content in a flow that builds toward this aha. Make sure that throughout the presentation you relate your groups of content back to the central message. The key thing to remember is context before content.
Tools like Prezi allow you to harness the ability to create a non-linear presentation that creates a more effective way of structuring a compelling narrative whilst keeping things simple.
Ultimately, presentations should be seen as a chance to connect with your audience in the most efficient and effective way possible. Consider the above steps and you'll soon be on your way to creating presentations that not only wow your audience, but resonate with them for days, weeks, months and hopefully years to come.
Kris Flegg spent 10 years as a banker delivering pitches and presentations. He is now an Officially Accredited Prezi expert and with his team has spent the last four years helping individuals and corporations such as Rio Tinto, Zurich and Johnson & Johnson deliver visually pleasing and highly effective presentations that connect powerfully with audiences and win business. Kris uses Prezi — a cloud-based presentation software — which unlike slides, has a zoomable canvas that shows the relationships between the big picture and fine details. You can view a sample of Kris's work here.