Common Presentation Mistakes to Avoid

Presentation NervesI have seen hundreds of presentations during my time as a student and my former years as a competitive speaker in the National FFA Organization. During that time, I have found a range of nervous habits and distracting mistakes people make throughout presentations. With a little practice, these common errors can be avoided.

Here are some frequent mistakes I have observed during class presentations, along with ways to avoid them:

Filler words
So..during presentations…um…filler words are, like, distracting…you know? There are people who make a game of counting how many “likes” a person uses during a presentation. Don’t let them win. If you have a problem with excessive filler language, it won’t matter how amazing your content is. The audience will be too distracted with your inability to construct smooth sentences.

How to avoid them
Be conscious of how you use these words during casual conversation. Once you’re aware that you frequently say “um,” “like” or some other unnecessary word, it will be easier to stop. Practice conversing without these words. The more you avoid them in casual conversation, the easier it will be in a more formal setting.

Nervous mannerisms
Are you a knee jiggler? Do you play with your hair or jewelry? Look at the floor? These actions may occur because you’re nervous and need to perform some action to distract your focus from the nerves.

How to avoid them
Try to identify the underlying issue. What are you really nervous about? Once you’ve discovered your real fear, you may realize speaking isn’t the problem at all. Focus on presenting the best you can, and remember you’re not the only one who is nervous. Another solution is practice. The more you do it, the easier it should become. You can start in front of the mirror, but a live audience will help the most.

If that doesn’t work, here’s one more thing to try: Use honesty and humor. Tell the audience how you feel at the start of your speech. If you’re a leg jiggler, begin with something along the lines of, “Before I begin my presentation, I would like to warn you I am a nervous knee jiggler. Perhaps it’s my caffeine addiction, or maybe a mild case of restless leg syndrome. Regardless, I hope what I have to say can still be of use to you.”

Reading from the slides
A top sign of an unprepared speaker is reading from the presentation slides. By doing this, you fail to engage the audience. A good speaker looks at the audience and limits slide content.

How to avoid it
Do not put the entire presentation content in your slides. Have key ideas on the slides to elaborate upon when speaking. If you have rehearsed even a few times, you shouldn’t need to give each slide more than a quick glance. Memorize your key talking points. If you have trouble with memorization, it is better to use notecards than to read from slides. Notecards allow you to face the audience, while reading from slides points your body away from them. Whatever you do, never look at notecards when introducing yourself and your topic. You should know those by heart.

Lackluster conclusions
It may seem obvious that you need to end with a conclusion, but unpracticed speakers frequently do not have one prepared. You want to end on a memorable note. Hasty wrap-ups such as, “So, that’s all I have,” will not achieve that.

How to avoid them
Write out your conclusion before you present. Memorize it. Your final words should not be a repeat of something you’ve already said. Make eye contact with the audience, and say something that will resonate.

You may not love presenting, but that doesn’t mean you have to be bad at it. If you avoid these common mistakes, your presentations can improve immensely. Practice is the best way to eliminate minor presentation issues. You should never deliver a presentation without practicing. On a final note, don’t forget to smile. If you look miserable, the audience will probably feel the same way.


One thought on “Common Presentation Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Great tips, Heather. For the first point about filler words and the second point about nervous mannerisms, I also find it helpful to videotape yourself presenting and watch (painful thought it might be!) because you often don’t realize your actions while presenting. Also, some people fidget while presenting, not because they are nervous, but because they have extra energy that they don’t know what to do with. If standing still while presenting is not your thing, walk around the room, use hand gestures, or find another creative outlet for your energy that also contributes to the speech and makes it more engaging.

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