Preparing for an internal presentation is often about what you should do—what you should wear, what you should talk about and how you should deliver your message. But, often, delivering a great presentation is also about what not to do. Here’s a list of don’ts for the big day.
1. Don’t toot your own horn
Your purpose is to provide value to participants—not brag about yourself and your accomplishments. Remember: show (your expertise), don’t tell (about yourself). Keep your bio and achievements to a brief introduction.
One valuable way to communicate your expertise is through storytelling. Describe a challenge you faced related to the topic and how you overcame it. Share lessons learned. Or, point participants to helpful tools, best practices, or other experts and industry leaders. This keeps your presentation on track while also demonstrating that you know what you’re talking about—without listing the points on your resume.
Zoom tip: Hosting a meeting online can feel impersonal. Telling a brief anecdote about yourself during the introduction can help you make an early connection with participants.
2. Don’t veer off course
Don’t wing it, jump from point to point in a disorganized way, or ramble. Everyone’s busy, including the people attending your presentation. Make it worth their while by setting objectives, sticking to an agenda and sharing the agenda with participants. This helps them follow along, understand the flow of the presentation and keep the goals for the session in mind.
But what if you get the sense that participants need you to veer from your agenda, even a little bit? True experts understand it’s OK to be flexible. Answer questions, but return to where you left off. If a productive (but unplanned) discussion breaks out—great, as long as it is providing value and is on topic. Consider this your permission to let go of an agenda item if the group is getting better value out of a deeper dive into a finer point or question.
Whether you stick religiously to your agenda or not, the key is to stay in control. Stay focused on the big picture and stay on time.
Zoom tip: Every now and then, allow participants to ask questions. Or, turn the tables: Ask participants a question. This will give you a sense of whether you’re meeting your objectives throughout the presentation.
3. Don’t hide your personality
It’s a big no-no to read directly from the slide or your speaker’s notes. Instead, infuse your personality and even your sense of humor into the presentation, when appropriate. Harnessing your energy and enthusiasm for the topic will enhance your presentation, and the audience will respond to your passion!
Of course, don’t try to be someone you’re not. It’s very hard to be funny and get a raucous laugh from participants. It’s also not your purpose. Instead of trying to be funny, keep it light and have fun with it. My tip? Telling personal stories related to your topic is a great way to be authentic and approachable without appearing that you’re trying too hard. It breaks the ice and can infuse personality into your presentation.
Zoom tip: Look at what’s behind you when you present—it can be distracting. Choose a simple background like a bookcase or blank wall to keep the focus on you.
4. Don’t underestimate the value of slides
Slides are free! Using a lot of slides keeps the presentation moving, allows for less content on each slide (cutting down on visual clutter) and keeps participants’ attention by giving them something new to look at often. I like to have between 30 and 50 slides for a 30-minute presentation. The best slides use visuals like photos, cartoons, maps, graphs and drawings instead of too many words.
If you must use words on your slide, follow the 6x6 guideline: limit your text to six bullets with six words each. The point of the slide is to reinforce what you’re talking about, not replace you. If you’re doing it right, your slides will tell a progressive story that builds as you go.
Zoom tip: According to Prezi, Zoom presentations with visual aids are 43% more persuasive than those without. So, keep the text to a minimum and opt for visuals.
5. Don’t speak “at” participants
Consider the presentation an opportunity to interact with your audience. Yes, there’s information to share, but making your meeting a two-way experience holds participants’ attention and acknowledges everyone has something of value to provide.
I like to break my participants into groups and challenge them to solve real-world scenarios with the lessons learned in the presentation. If you’re conducting the presentation in person and can arrange the room, seat participants at small round tables. This setup encourages group work and discussion better than traditional classroom-style seating. Not possible? Even with over 100 people sitting in a lecture-style room, you can guide participants to work with their neighbors, write down solutions and pass them to the end of the row, so that you can collect and read a few to the room. You could also call on several people to share.
The goal is to encourage interaction. Asking open-ended questions gets participants thinking outside the box and talking.
Zoom tip: Use digital tools like polls, word clouds and live discussion threads to your advantage. These tools will help you get real-time feedback about what resonates with your participants.
Knowing how to avoid these five presentation traps will help you deliver an engaging presentation that includes helpful content and advice.