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Nine classic mistakes when presenting

Over the last ten years I seem to have spent a considerable amount of time helping professionals improve their ability to present – whether at an industry conference, guest speaker at a networking group or an internal firm presentation. Over the last month or so, I’ve had the privilege of being asked to speak myself at several events, as well as listen to other speakers. It never fails to amaze me how many people miss a trick (or several tricks) when presenting:

1. Building your presentation around your slides

When you’re speaking at a seminar or industry conference, your aim is to build your credibility as an expert. In an ideal world you’ll maybe generate some leads or enquiry from people in the audience – however, the key reason for being a speaker at a seminar is to increase your profile and credibility amongst your target market.

To help make the greatest impact you need to be memorable after the event – this means that your audience needs to engage with you as a speaker. If you build your presentation around your slides, you will fail to maximise your engagement with the audience.

2. Not staying around for informal networking before and afterwards

As an ‘expert’ your prime motivation should be to demonstrate you have relevant credibility with your audience. However, you also have a great opportunity to network before and after the presentation with interested members of your audience. If you arrive late or have to run away at the end, you will miss out on a good opportunity to build up potentially lucrative relationships at the event.

3. No prepared introduction

Your credibility as a speaker will be heightened if you get the event organiser to introduce you beforehand. Don’t leave this introduction to chance – remember to send a pre-prepared short punchy introduction about you, which gives your credentials plus any other business interest which you would like to highlight to the audience.

4. Handing out slides/handout before or during session

You want your audience to listen to you, not be involved in reading slides or handout. As soon as you give your audience a handout to read or jot notes down on, you risk losing their interest and attention. After all, if you have all the material in written form, you can catch up on email on your blackberry… I recommend having some printed material, which you give out at the end.

5. Not leaving time for questions

Questions are a great way to increase your credibility as an expert with your audience. If you fail to leave enough time for questions you will lose a great opportunity to answer the questions which really matter to your audience.

6. Too many slides and/or leaving slides on during presentation

At the risk of repeating myself, you’re speaking to be memorable and impactful with your audience. If you let the slides take over, or leave the slides on when you are speaking – then you will start to lose the connection and engagement with your audience. A cardinal sin is to speak to the slides or cram slides with information. Ideally slides should only contain a graphic or minimal text to emphasise a point you are trying to make.

Make sure you blank your slides after showing the graphic, otherwise your audience will be deciding whether to focus on the slides or you. You want them to be focusing on YOU!

7. Not thinking about your audience

Your presentation needs to be written with your audience in mind. The only way you will get the audience to move from being aware of what you do, to talking to you about potential work, is to talk in their language, and showing them how you have helped solve their potential areas of pain. An easy trap to fall into is to put in job jargon and acronyms.

8. No call to action

You want something to happen as a result of your session. So make sure that the audience has your contact details, but also a reason to give you a call. For example, a call to action could look like this “if you would like to know more about how your organisation can …, give me a call on this number”.

9. Going on too long…

Your audience can only concentrate fully for a maximum of 20 minutes. So make if you have a slot over 20 minutes that you throw in some variety or different activities to keep your audience’s interest up.

Heather Townsend, Britain’s queen of networking, is the founder of The Efficiency Coach, a company that helps professionals achieve better business results for less effort. Follow her Joined Up Networking blog for more useful tips and tricks.


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