At our TNW Conferences we see a lot of presentations and I have given a fair share of presentations myself. I often see people making the same mistakes and cringe when I hear the same excuses or basic errors when people get on stage.
The easiest way to lose an audience is to make a mistake in the first minute, and that is exactly where most mistakes are made. Here is my list of 10 things you shouldn’t say during presentations:
1: I’m very jet-lagged/tired/hungover
Not sure where this comes from but one in five presentations at any conference will start with an excuse. ‘They only invited me yesterday’, ‘I’m really tired from my trip’ or another lame excuse that the audience really doesn’t want to hear. We, the audience, just want to see you give it your best. If you feel like shit and can’t give it your best than maybe you should’ve cancelled. Take a pill, drink an espresso and kill it!
2: I’ll get back to that later
If you happen to stumble upon an audience that is eager to learn and interact you should always grab that chance and enjoy it. If someone has a question that you will address in a later slide just skip to it right away! If someone is brave enough to raise their hand and ask you a question you should compliment them and invite the rest of the audience to do the same. Don’t delay anything.
3: Can you hear me? Yes you can!
This is how a lot of people start their talk. They will tap a microphone three times, shout ‘can you all hear me in the back’ and then smile apologetic when it becomes clear that, yes, everybody can hear you but nobody raises their hands.
It isn’t your responsibility to check the audio. There will be people for that. If you speak into the microphone and you get the impression that it’s not working, just relax, count to three, and try again. If you still think the sound isn’t working just calmly walk to the edge of the stage and discreetly ask the moderator to check for you. Smile at the audience and look confident. Assume it all works until the opposite has been proven, then stay calm and wait for a fix.
4: I can’t see you because the lights are too bright
Yes, when you are on stage the lights are bright and hot and it will be difficult to see the audience. But they don’t have to know about all that. Just stare into the dark, smile often and act like you feel right at home on there. Feel free to walk into the audience if you want to see them up close. Don’t cover your eyes to see people but politely ask the lights people to turn on the lights in the room if you plan to count hands or ask the audience a question. Even better, talk to the lights people in advance so they are prepared when you are going to ask them.
5: Can you read this?
The common rule is to make the font size on your slides twice the size of the average age of the audience. Yes, that means that if you expect the audience to be 40 on average you are stuck with a font size of 80 points. You won’t be able to fit a lot of text on the slide that way, which is a good thing, and brings us to the next point.
6: Let me read this out loud for you
Never ever, ever, ever in a million years add so much text on a slide that people will spend time reading it. And if you do, make damn sure you don’t read it out loud for them! The best way to lose your audiences attention is to add text to a slide. Here’s what will happen when you have more than four words on a slide; people will start reading it. And what happens when they read it? They will stop listening to you!
Only use short titles on your presentations and memorize the texts you want them to read. Or, if you MUST include an awesome three-sentence quote, announce that everybody should read the quote, then shut up for six seconds so they can actually read it.
7: Shut off your phone/laptop/tablet
Once upon a time you could ask an audience to shut off their devices. That was a long time ago. Now people tweet the awesome quotes you produce or take notes on their iPads. Or they play solitaire or check Facebook. Times change. You can ask if people turn their phones to silent mode but apart from that you just have to make sure that your talk is so incredibly inspiring people will close their laptops because they don’t want to miss a second of it. Demanding their attention is just not going to work.
8: No need to write anything down or take photos, the presentation will be online later
It is really cool that you will upload your presentation later. But if it’s a good presentation it won’t contain too many words (see point 4) and it won’t be of much use to them. For a lot of people writing something down is just an easy way to memorize something you’ve said. The act of writing down a sentence also embeds it in your brain and who knows, they might be really inspired and come up with something they’ve heard in between your lines that might change their business. Allow people to do whatever they want during your presentations.
9: Let me answer that question right away
Of course it is awesome if you answer a question right away, but you need to do something else first! Very often the question from an audience member will be very clear to you but not to the rest of the audience. So please say “I’ll repeat that question first so everybody hears it and THEN I will answer it”. Make it a habit to repeat questions also because the extra time it takes to repeat it gives you extra time to think about an awesome answer.
10: I’ll keep it short
This is a promise nobody ever keeps. But a lot of presentations are started that way! The audience really doesn’t care if you keep it short or not. They’ve invested their time and just want to be informed and inspired. Tell them “This presentation is going to change your life” or “This presentation is scheduled to take 30 minutes, but I’ll do it in 25 minutes so you can go out and have a coffee earlier than expected.”. Now all you have to do is keep that promise, which brings me to the last point.
Bonus tip: What, I’m out of time? But I have 23 more slides!
If you come unprepared and need more time than you are allowed you’ve screwed up. You need to practice your presentation and make it fit within the allotted time-slot. Even better, end five minutes early and ask if anyone has questions, and if they don’t invite them for a coffee to talk one-on-one. Giving an audience five minutes back will earn their respect and gratitude. Taking an extra five will annoy and alienate them.
Conclusion: come prepared, be yourself and be professional. The audience will love you for being clear, serious and not wasting their time. See you in New York in a few weeks and see if you can catch me making some of these mistakes onstage. :-)