The 10 Most Common Presentation Mistakes

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

Businesswoman in front of screen leading conference presentation

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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 watching man present a graph

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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 Your Spoken Script

Female designers with microphone and digital tablet leading conference meeting

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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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Keep the presentation simple. 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

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. Ensure that thematic elements match your target audience—for example, a medical or nature theme probably isn't ideal for a finance presentation.

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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, keep the color scheme consistent.

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Poor Font Choices

Mac All Fonts library

Coyote Moon, Inc.

Stick to easy-to-read fonts such as Arial or Times New Roman. Avoid script-type fonts which are hard to read onscreen. 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

Lots of thumbails of graphs in PowerPoint

Cindy Grigg / Microsoft

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.

In particular, learn to love white space. There's no need to fill gaps with clipart.

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Too Many Slides

Bored businesswoman at a conference

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Ensure your audience stays focused by keeping the number of slides to a minimum. A good rule of thumb is to practice your presentation before you deliver it. If you run out of time before you run out of slides, or you flip through slides so rapidly that no one can really digest them, then you've got too many.

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Different Animations on Every Slide

Wendy Russell

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. Animations, especially random ones, emphasize the motion and not the content.

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Hardware Malfunctions

Cutting cable TV cord

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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, and who's on deck for tech support should you run into an emergent glitch.

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