Eight Things Not To Say During a Presentation

We have all sat through many presentations in our professional lives. Unfortunately far too many of them are, shall we say, “less-than-awesome”. Unfortunately, we see some of the causes for failures over and over. In other words the wrong things get repeated by those who aren’t thinking, or don’t know any better.

With that in mind, here are some things you have likely heard in many presentations, that aren’t worth repeating – and why. So without any further setup, here are eight things not to say in your next (or any) presentation.

“You probably can’t read this but… ” OK, if we can’t read it, why are you showing it to us? Here is usually why – because you didn’t take time to create a slide or image that we could read. Unfortunately this phrase is often followed by the presenter turning toward the screen and fumbling to make their points for the too full, too busy and ineffective slide. If you don’t think we will be able to see it, fix it!

“As you can clearly see… ” Usually when people say this, we can’t “clearly see”. You have provided a chart or graph to make a valuable point, and you are intimately aware of the point, and how the slide shows it. We on the other hand are seeing the slide for the first time. Help us “clearly see” by explaining your art work so we can be moved by the point you want to make.

“I didn’t really have time to prepare but… ” If you tell me that, you have just informed me this is going to be painful, and my time isn’t important to you – and neither of these things set you up to succeed. Maybe you aren’t as well prepared as you should be, and if that is true, do your best, don’t tell us, and remember the pain so that next time you will be prepared.

“Wow – I know I am out of time – but let me go through these last 15 slides quickly.” Really? How much of the rest of this are we going to retain or care about? (and we don’t believe it will be quick either.) The time to realize you are behind isn’t when someone is waving their arms at you or making slashing motions across their throat to get your attention. Again, preparation will solve this in most cases. Knowing how long it takes you will help you adjust on the fly. Questions or conversations might lead you towards running long – and remember it isn’t about your slides, it is about your message. Do everything you can to make sure your key points are made, regardless of how many slides might be left.

“I have a lot of information to cover, so let me get started.” This statement is the kiss of death to your audience. When we hear this as your audience, we are already expecting to be bored, and we know you have your focus in the wrong place. Look up the word “cover” in a thesaurus and you will find synonyms like bury, obscure and hide. When people open with “I have lots to cover”, you can be sure that the information won’t be clear. The next time you feel like you have too much to cover, get out your scalpel. Decide what the audience most needs to be successful and cut everything else out.

“I’m sorry for the technical difficulties.” Yeah, so are we. And usually, though not always, they could have been avoided if you would have done your homework and checked out your equipment before the meeting/presentation started. Why didn’t you? When it truly is unavoidable, rather than getting flustered, immediately focus on your group and how you can get going – even if it is without your technology (and if possible have someone else fix it while you get started).

“Does anyone have a laser pointer?” (or “I’m not sure how this clicker works”). Did you feel your eyes roll when you read those words? Listen – we are in your audience ready to listen to you. The least you can do is be prepared enough to have your pointer or have tried out the clicker ahead of time, right?

“Any questions?” There is nothing truly wrong with this question, except when it is always asked – which is after you are already finished (and everyone knows it). While there is much I could say about this (and will in another post soon), the short answer is – when you ask for questions at the end, you either don’t get any, or the ones you get aren’t focused on the most important points in your talk. You want to close strong, making your most important points in your most persuasive way. That will never happen during a random Q&A. The bottom line is ask for questions early and often, but not as the last thing you do.

Maybe you are thinking some of these are little things, and perhaps they are. But it is the little things that communicate much about us; and if we want our message received by others, we want every possible thing in our favor.

I have tried to make this light, and even a bit humorous. Remember that it is only humorous to you because you have seen all of these things before and you know they don’t help you communicate successfully.

While there may be a place for lightness and humor in your presentations, saying things like these aren’t funny for real and if you want to make a successful presentation, you will do the things necessary that make these statements unnecessary.

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