The 10 Most Common Presentation Mistakes

Keep it simple, clean, and to the point to keep your audience engaged

Woman presenting to group of people

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What presentation mistakes are sure-fire ways to put your audience to sleep or send them running for the doors? Even the best presentation can be destroyed by a bad presenter — from the person who mumbles, to the one who talks too fast, to the one who just wasn't prepared. But perhaps nothing is as irritating as the person who misuses and abuses presentation software

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You Don't Know Your Topic

Group of people in a meeting looking at graph

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You memorized the content (and it shows, by the way). Someone has a question. Panic sets in. You never prepared for questions and all you know about this topic is what is written on the slides.

Know your material so well, that you could easily do the presentation without an electronic enhancement such as PowerPoint. Nothing will ruin your credibility as a presenter faster than not knowing pertinent information about your topic. Use ​keywords and phrases and include only essential information to keep the audience focused and interested. Anticipate likely questions and be prepared with answers.

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The Slides Are Not Your Presentation

Screen clipping is a portion of the last active window and is inserted on PowerPoint slide

Wendy Russell

An audience member says that she can't read the slides. You graciously tell her you will be reading them and proceed to do so while looking up at the screen. Each of your slides infilled with the text of your speech.

Always remember that you are the presentation. The slideshow should only be used as an accompaniment to your talk. Simplify the content by using bullet points for key information. Keep the most important points near the top of the slide for easy reading in the back rows. Focus on a single topic area for this presentation and use no more than four bullets per slide. Speak to the audience, not to the screen.​

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Too Much Information

Businessman drawing flowchart

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You know so much about the topic that you jump from here to there and back again talking about everything there is to know about your brand new widget, and no one can follow the thread of the presentation.

Use the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Simple Silly) when you're developing your presentation. Stick to three or four points about your topic and expound on them. The audience will be more likely to retain the information.

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Poorly Chosen Design Template or Design Theme

Blue and red DNA

You heard blue was a good color for a design template or design theme. You found a really cool template on the internet with a DNA strand and a powerful red dot. DNA is blue, right? However, your presentation is about some nifty new tools to show at a Woodcarvers’ convention.

Choose a design that is appropriate for the audience. A clean, straightforward layout is best for business presentations. Young children respond to presentations that are full of color and contain a variety of shapes.

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Electrifying Color Choices

Paintbrushes with contrasting paint colors

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Audiences don't like unusual color combinations. Some are unsettling. Red and green combos can't be differentiated by people with color blindness.

Good contrast with the background is essential to make your text easy to read. A dark text on a light background is best. Off-white or light beige is easier on the eyes than the typical white, and dark backgrounds are effective if the text is light for easy reading.

Patterned or textured backgrounds make text hard to read. Also, make sure to keep the color scheme consistent.

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Poor Font Choices

Font Book showing the All Fonts library

Coyote Moon, Inc.

Small, script-type fonts might look great when you are sitting 18 inches away from the monitor. You didn't consider the lady sitting 200 feet away from the screen who can't read them.

Stick to easy to read fonts such as Arial or Times New Roman. Avoid script-type fonts which are hard to read on screen. Use no more than two different fonts — one for headings, another for content and no less than a 30 pt font so that people at the back of the room can read them easily.

And never (not even in presentations for kids) use fonts like Comic Sans, Papyrus, or the dreaded Comic Papyrus. Those typefaces are so reviled that you'll instantly lose credibility.

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Extraneous Photos and Graphs

Office Apps Fiddle Add-in for Graphs and Data Visualization in PowerPoint

Cindy Grigg / Microsoft

You figured no one will notice that you didn't do much research on your topic if you add lots of photos and complicated-looking graphs.

No one wants to waste their time sitting through a presentation with no substance. Use photos, charts, and diagrams only to emphasize the key points of your presentation. They add a nice break to the material, and when used correctly, can only enhance your oral presentation. Illustrate, don't decorate.

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Too Many Slides

You can spice up your company meeting so that employees attending are not bored and watching the clock.
Cultura RM/Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy//Cultura/Getty Images

Your vacation cruise was so fantastic that you took 500 photos, and put them all in a digital photo album to impress your friends. After the first 100 slides, snores were heard in the room.

Ensure your audience stays focused by keeping the number of slides to a minimum. Ten to 12 is plenty. Some concessions can be made for a photo album since most pictures will be on screen for only a short time. Be kind, though. Think how much you enjoy everyone else’s vacation pictures!

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Different Animations on Every Slide

PowerPoint chart shows data animated by category. Plot area is also animated.

Wendy Russell

You found all the really cool animations and sounds and used 85 percent of them in your presentation to impress everyone with your flair. Except — the audience doesn’t know where to look and have therefore lost the message of your presentation.

Animations and sounds, used well, can heighten interest but don't distract the audience with too much of a good thing. Design your presentation with the "less is more” philosophy. Don't let your audience suffer from animation overload,

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Hardware Malfunctions

Cutting Cable TV Cord

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The audience is settled. You are all set to start your presentation and — guess what? The projector doesn't work. You didn’t bother to check it out earlier.

Check all the equipment and rehearse your presentation, using the equipment you'll be using when your presentation starts. Carry an extra projector bulb. If possible, check the lighting in the room you will be presenting in, prior to your time in the limelight. Make sure you know how to dim the lights if the room is too bright.