Here, David Letterman style, are what I
consider to be the Top 10 most common mistakes presenters make when
organizing and preparing their content:
10) Not setting the stage.
An introduction should be more than just "Hello.
Today we'll be discussing _____." If you just jump
into the content without setting up the
presentation, it can get you off to a jumpy,
disjointed start. An introduction should give the
audience a sense of who you are, what you're there
to do and what's in it for them to listen.
9) Using ineffective notes.
It's almost always wise to have some notes handy to
make sure you don't forget anything important, but
if your notes are hard to follow or are distracting
for the audience, they defeat the purpose. Trying to
read from a crowded page of word-for-word narrative is
a killer because once you look down, you'll have trouble looking
up for fear that you'll never find your place again.
Disorganized papers or cards can be cumbersome and messy.
Keep clear, concise key-word-or-key-phrase-only notes
handy to simply to jog your memory, not serve as an
8) Using jargon or acronyms that leave the audience bewildered.
When a listener hears a word or phrase he/she is not
familiar with it causes what I call a "cerebral
derailment". The listener's mind is chugging
along happily with you until he/she hears an
unfamiliar term and suddenly the mind jumps the
tracks to wonder, "What does that mean?" Always
define acronyms (even if you're sure they know
what the letters stand for) and, when in doubt,
define any terms that could possibly be unfamiliar.
7) Planning backwards.
Many people begin to prepare a presentation by
thinking, "What do I have that's cool?" (meaning
visual aids, support points, stories, examples,
etc.) Then they ask themselves, "How can I work it
in?" This is backwards. Decide on what you want
to accomplish and then ask "What do I have in the
way of support that would help me meet that
objective?" If you plan backwards you may very
well end up with a bunch of interesting information
that is of no value to the listeners.
6) Not knowing your objective and/or not sharing it.
In addition to being clear on the point you want to
make, you should also be clear on the objective you
wish to achieve. Do you want the audience to make a
decision? Show them the options and ask for a
decision. Do you need their cooperation? Make sure
you explain why you need them and how they can help
you. Do you want to familiarize them with a
topic? Make that objective clear so you don't get bogged down
in excess detail. Both you and your audience
should be clear on what you're there to accomplish.
5) Not providing "signposts".
Imagine that you can get a new set of information
two ways: 1) you can read it in a report or 2) you
can listen to it in a presentation. What advantages
do you have when you're reading that you don't have
when you're listening?
You can go at your own pace
You can re-read things that you found confusing
You can skip sections that don't interest you
You can see when a new topic begins (because of section titles or white space)
You can make notes
You can file it away for future reference.
None of these options are available to your
listeners. To the audience, your ideas are
just sounds in the ether, so to make up for the
lack of these advantages, you need to provide
signposts to let us know where you are. Visual
aids can help, but remember to include phrases
like "Now, let's move on to point #2", "That's
all for the background, now let's move on to
the current status," or "Let me just wrap up."
These little phrases take very little time but
do wonders for helping your audience stay with you.
4) Having complex, hard-to-read visual aids.
Your visual aids should be just that--aids. They
should HELP you get your message across. Complicated,
crowded, hard-to-read visual aids compete with
you for your audience's attention. Keep them simple
enough that listeners have a reason to stick around
and listen to YOU.
3) Not having an obvious, logical structure.
Meandering from point to point can be very
frustrating to a listener. Have your information
laid out in a logical structure and share that
structure with the listeners up front so they
know where you're headed.
2) Not making the POINT clear up front.
There's nothing more frustrating to a listener
than to sit there thinking, "OK, so what's your
point?!" Remember, you know your material cold.
The listeners don't. Sometimes you have to smack
them between the eyes with the point, as in,
"If you only remember one thing from my presentation,
I want it to be __________________." Don't wait
until the end to present your point with a
dramatic flourish. Make your point right up
front and spend the rest of the time supporting
And the #1 content management mistake. . .
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