Presentation Skills: Traps For Inexperienced Presenters To Avoid – Part 1

There are a number of traps that inexperienced presenters can fall into when they first begin presenting. Any one of these traps can make your presentation look less professional than it otherwise would. This article is Part 1 in a 3 part series and shares 6 traps for inexperienced presenters to be aware of.

Trap #1 Not understanding the assignment

You do not set yourself up to have a successful presentation if you misunderstand the assignment. Misunderstandings can arise about:

  • The reason why you have been requested to speak.
  • How long you are to speak for.
  • The type of audience you will be speaking to.
  • Whether you are allowed to distribute your own advertising materials during the presentation.
  • Whether you are allowed to obtain the details of attendees.
  • The time of your presentation.
  • The location of your presentation.

It is worth clarifying all these things with the presentation organiser before you begin preparing your speech. It is much easier to sort these matters out early in the process.

Trap #2 Failing to know the audience

The worst example of this I have ever seen was by an Australian Government body which toured the East Coast of Australia to talk about the impacts of a particular change to the law. This law only applied if there was a public car park in the town that charged more than a stipulated amount. The seminar was to run for 3 hours. Ten minutes into the presentation, the audience advised the speakers that none of the towns they were scheduled to speak at for the next 3 days even had a public car park that charged for parking. This failure to adequately research the audience caused quite a lot of embarrassment and wasted a lot of time and money.

The types of things it may be helpful to know about your audience before you begin preparing your talk are:

  • Job level;
  • Salary;
  • Cultural diversity;
  • Age (you may have to pitch things differently if you are talking to teenagers as opposed to people approaching retirement);
  • Educational background;
  • The aim of the presentation/seminar/conference;
  • Whether the audience know each other or are strangers;
  • The other presentations at the same event (particularly the ones before and after yours); and
  • What the audience’s biggest problem is in relation to your topic.

The type of things you will need to know about your audience will vary with your topic. If you are organising the conference or seminar, you can find out some of this information by placing appropriate questions on the enrolment form. If someone else is organising the conference, they may be able to give you some of the information. Some countries, however, have privacy laws which may prohibit the conference organiser from sharing this information with you.

Knowing this information can help you to avoid uncomfortable situations. I once saw a conference organiser for a seminar on greenhouse gas emissions, use polystyrene cups for tea and coffee. The audience members were outraged that something more environmentally friendly had not been used instead. The whole point of the presentation was lost in the outcry about the cups for the tea and coffee! With a little bit of thought about the attitude of the attendees, the conference organisers could have avoided a big headache.

Trap #3 Waiting for latecomers

If you fail to start a presentation at the advertised time, what you effectively do is:

  • Reinforce the message that it is OK for people to arrive late; and
  • Penalize those people who were polite enough to arrive early or on time and who have been sitting there waiting for the presentation to begin.

Trap #4 Offering excuses

The audience turn up expecting a professional presentation. They are interested in what you have to say. They are not generally interested in your personal circumstances; and neither should they be. The focus of the presentation should be them, not you. It is how the audience feels at the end of the presentation that will determine whether they buy your product or services and whether the seminar organiser asks you back to present again.

Do everything you can to arrive early and be organised. That way there should not be any need to apologize to the audience or make excuses for being late or disorganised.

Trap #5 Speaking without a microphone

It can be difficult at first to use a microphone. The key is to hold it closer to your mouth than you think you need to.

Regardless of the difficulty of using the microphone for you; it far outweighs the disadvantage to the audience if they cannot comfortably hear what you are saying. Practice using the microphone before the audience arrives. If you plan to walk around the room while you are presenting; find those parts of the room where the microphone feeds back into the speaker (squeals) and avoid them during your presentation.

Trap #6 Uncomfortable or ill adjusted clothing

There are enough things to feel uncomfortable about when you are presenting without worrying about your clothing. Always dress so that you are slightly better dressed than your audience and always dress comfortably. That way you won’t be worrying about your clothing and can focus upon presenting.

As well as being comfortable, it is helpful to check that everything is in place before you go onto the stage. I have had the very embarrassing experience of a skirt caught up in underwear. It is not an experience I wish to repeat. Before every presentation I now check that all zips, buttons and other things are in place.

I hope that sharing these traps for the inexperienced presenter will help you to avoid some of the mistakes I have made over my many years of presenting.

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