Five common mistakes that derail even the best presenter

When it comes to selling an idea or a solution, and convincing others to take action, there are five common presenting mistakes that can derail that outcome. By David Fish.

In my 25+ years leading strategy across a range of advertising and marketing roles, I have sat through thousands of sales presentations and seen great ideas fail to connect when the presenter and the idea gets lost in the slides.

When it comes to landing that idea, selling a solution and convincing others to take action, there are five common presenting mistakes that can derail that outcome, confuse the audience and leave them with more questions than answers.

  1. Basking in the spotlight

The first challenge starts when the presenter doesn’t pause sufficiently to consider who exactly the audience is and what they might need to hear. This self-preoccupation leads to an introspective narrative, and instead of drawing the audience in, the presentation triggers an agitated mindset as they try to make sense of concepts and content – and how it might possibly relate to them.

Every presentation has to be for someone, whether that’s a specific role, type of person or particular need that unites a group of people. This critical starting point should never be overlooked.

  1. Excessive content with no problem to solve

Keeping your audience firmly in mind, your narrative still needs to address one very important topic: how does it help shift the current reality to a better place?

In short, what problem are you here to solve? When this isn’t made clear upfront, your presentation can end up fishing for a problem that might be solved by your ideas. And at the same time, slides get added from around the business with little defence to try and control the now excessive slide count.

Knowing your audience allows you to consider what matters to them, understand how they see their current reality and identify how you can take them on a journey to a better place.

This is about getting absolutely clear on the purpose of your presentation. And like an anchor for a boat, it will hold you steady as you curate both specific and concise content that will bring the audience along with you.

  1. Hoping it all comes together

A dead cert way to lose your audience and leave them utterly confused is to start right in the thick of the detail. Build up excruciatingly slowly towards making a point and after some sixty-odd slides, try to bring it all back together with a clever plot-twisting conclusion that’s worthy of a movie script.

 In this scenario, even the presenter themselves can become a little lost with key points often fumbled or omitted altogether.

Controlling the information flow is key. Start with the most important points in each section and on each slide – and make sure they clearly look like the most important – and then unpack what sits underneath in the most logical and obvious way possible.

Layer the content using signposts at all times to keep the audience with you. The slide headings alone should tell the story. They help you present and enable the audience to follow along. Don’t waste them on pointless content like “our approach” or “about us”. This is precious real estate and should only carry the highlights of your story.

  1. Jargon that doesn’t land

Beware of internal language and jargon creeping into your slides, polluting your content and alienating your audience. You will always know your content and area of expertise better than anyone else. Keep reminding yourself of this as you remember to check in with who your audience is and what they know about this topic.

Your job is to connect, not confuse. Keep a watchful eye out for internal phrases, three-letter acronyms, overtly technical terms and diagrams that might only be known and understood by a few.  

  1. Standing the test of time

One of the often-overlooked roles of presentations that need to help sell a solution, product or idea is that the audience needs not just to understand your content; they have to be able to recall your key points easily, days and weeks later.  

The most effective way to do this is through storytelling. The human brain is wired to store and recall information in this way. Psychologist Professor Jonathan Haidt describes the human mind as a ‘story processor, not a logic processor’. But a presentation doesn’t just become a story; it needs to be designed to be one. And that requires three critical stages.

  • Establish why the audience should care: Start by establishing what this is about, the problem you are solving for them, what could happen without this information and how bad things could get. Make no mistake; this is much more than a setup. This is about creating a real feeling of being in it together to draw your audience in and give them a reason to stay attentive.
  • Navigate through your story: You can then navigate logically through your story with a narrative that must flow seamlessly from each section to the next.
  • Create a resolution: Finally, your audience and your story need a confident and conclusive resolution: We started here, we have seen this, and now what this means is that we have arrived at a much better place.

No matter how good the presenter is, an average set of slides will, at best, make their performance challenging and, at worst, have the potential to destroy confidence and leave the audience wondering what just happened.

A winning presentation is one that supports both you and the audience in delivering a compelling story that has the power to engage, convince and affect change.

David Fish is a strategic communication specialist, founder of No Two Fish and author of What it Takes to Create Winning Presentations (Publish Central, $39.95).






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