Five Common Presentation Shortfalls (And How to Fix Them)

Whether you are an entrepreneur, a business leader, or a professional speaker, presenting is something you'll find yourself doing often, and mistakes are prone to happen.

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By Saad Belda


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Delivering effective presentations is a daunting task that needs a great deal of nerve. The good news though is that nobody is born a great public speaker- it just requires practice! Whether you are an entrepreneur, a business leader, or a professional speaker, presenting is something you'll find yourself doing often, and mistakes are prone to happen. But when presenting, physically or virtually, you are already faced with the challenge of the "natural" syndrome of an audience's hyper-short attention span, and so, you want to avoid running the risk of losing your audience's attention even further with any gaffes. As such, here is a list of the most common presentation shortfalls that you need to be aware of, and what you can do to avoid them:

1. A lack of a clear goal

A presentation without a clearly defined goal translates into a high risk of failure. Too often, presenters omit to define a clear purpose, which makes it hard for the listeners to see the relevance of the presentation, and end up asking themselves: "What was the point of that?" A good starting point is, therefore, to decide on the goal of your presentation. Whether it is informative, persuasive, inspiring, or entertaining, pick one, or a combination of many.

Then, start developing a flow and content in line with your purpose. Whether you are trying to teach a community, or sell a product or service, there is always a goal. Ask yourself: "What does the audience want to hear from me? What should the audience do at the end of my presentation?" These two questions help you shift the focus from you as a presenter, to servicing your audience's expectations, and moving towards that direction.

2. A messy structure

A typical audience's attention span lasts between 5-10 minutes, before you run the risk of losing them. And that is a vexing problem for most presenters. A messy structure will ultimately get your recipient to lose interest from the very beginning of your presentation. How to solve this? A good format will set you free. You've considered the objective, brainstormed, and compiled ideas- now, it's time to put some structure to get your message across. Think of your presentation like a journey from point A (where your audience is now) to point Z (where you want them to be).

Identify the steps they must take to get there. Move your audience smoothly along the path, and tell your story confidently. Any traditional presentation will follow a classic framework- introduction, main body, conclusion, and Q&A. However, stay aware that structures can be different and depend on several factors, such as, who is your audience, how knowledgeable they are, time limitations, etc.

3. Kill the detail

Tell every detail, and your audience will, in most cases, get bored and disconnected. Sometimes, you may feel you need to be as comprehensive as possible to make people understand, but this is a trap many presenters fall into. Your audience doesn't need to know every detail and process. They are probably busy individuals, and you should stay aware of their time. Ever heard the expression, "less is more"? So, cut out, or cut back.

While you might feel too secure about having an incredibly detailed presentation, it might quickly turn into a barrier in building an emotional bond. A brief overview, plus the analysis, will do the trick. Be selective but informative. As a rule of thumb, lead your audience through the essential data, and then show them the importance of it. Ditch your deck until you capture what sets you apart.

4. Avoid using jargon

Although it might portray you as an expert, using too much jargon can leave your audience in the dark. Technical words can be understood by people who have the same profession, or are from the same industry, but don't assume everyone is familiar with your terms. That confuses your audience, and it creates a lack of understanding. It might even cost you an opportunity, as some might see using jargon as snobbery. So, clear up the language, and don't let it add to other communication barriers you may already have to face- think culture, language, time constraints, etc.

Use jargon terms only to simplify a particular concept, and even in this case, make sure you explain further with simpler words. Many technical words go unquestioned during presentations by fear of looking unintelligent. You don't want to embarrass your audience. So, anticipate that, and keep it simple.

5. Dumping information instead of telling stories You can't just throw loads of information on your audience. Any presentation that starts with telling who you are, what you do, and your global turnover just isn't going to work. You can put hours into delivering proven facts, no matter how compelling the logic you use; still, your presentation would struggle to create an emotional breakthrough. Why? Because humans are driven by emotions, and use data only to rationalize their decisions. Here is when storytelling comes into play. So, how to infuse it into your presentations? Here are some great techniques:

  • Sharing a personal story Start your presentation with a personal story. That helps to establish context, and immediately create an emotional hook. As a presenter, you want to get straight into the heart of your audience, and lower their defenses. Your story must be authentic and chosen strategically to generate empathy.
  • Introduce a character Every story needs a hero. Define his challenges, build tension, showcase his evolution, and embark your audience throughout the process until reaching conflict resolution. The bond created between the character and your audience is the emotional driving force that drives people to invest their time and attention into your presentation journey.
  • Create contrast "What is" versus "what could be" is another technique to infuse storytelling in describing the problem you are trying to solve. Explain the difference well, and emphasize the gap between the two scenarios. Your audience is more likely to relate when you show what reality is without your solution, and how it can significantly improve if they hire your product or service.

Related: How To Give An Awesome Presentation With Visual Aids

Saad Belda

Founder and Managing Director, STAGEXX

Saad Belda is a business advisor, writer, and entrepreneur with international experience with global brands in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. He is the founder and Managing Director of STAGEXX, a UAE-based presentation design agency specialized in storytelling, presentation design, digital content, and training services. As a presentation catalyst, his belief is that it takes weeks, months, maybe years to build an opportunity, but only a few only seconds to fall short because of the wrong presentation. He is committed to elevate companies' communication and helps startups, medium, and large organizations deliver creative and memorable presentations, from pitching for investments, internal company meetings to big stage presentations.

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