Most common presentation mistake

Recently I was asked, “What is the most common mistake people make when giving a presentation?”

After some consideration I decided that “relying on one’s slides” is probably the most common mistake and one of the most deadly.

There are two distinct problems that relying on your slides creates.

The first is, that if you are expecting your slides to remind you what to say during a presentation, when you start to develop the presentation, there is a strong tendency to add lots of bullet points as reminders.

Typically when someone is asked to create a presentation they open up PowerPoint and start typing away. They may borrow a few slides from another presentation but essentially PowerPoint is used to sequence sets of bullet points under headings. In fact the Outline facility in PowerPoint is very easy to use and particularly helpful when creating a set of bullet points and then re-ordering them or changing their level of importance. 

These bullet points are often an excellent set of speaker notes and could easily from the basis of your cue cards, but they should never be shown as presentation slides. After all they are hardly qualify as visual aids.

When you start presenting, the second problem rears its ugly head.  I’m sure you have all witnessed a presentation in which the presenter is relying on the slides to remind him/her what to say next.

Typically it will go something like this:

  • Presenter clicks to bring up first slide.
  • Turns to look at screen and reads slide, then turns to face audience and talks about what the slide says. Often using exactly the same wording as is on the slide, (it’s hard not to!) .
  • When he/she runs out of things to say, he/she takes one final look at the slide and then clicks for the next slide. He/she then reads that slide and starts to tell the audience what it says.
  • And so on and so on.

This is not giving a presentation at all! It is describing what the slides say, which for a knowledgeable audience, or even just an audience who knows how to read, makes the presenter redundant.

What is the alternative?

There are two ways, either learn your presentation so that you don’t need to rely on the slides, or put your bullet point slides on to cue cards. If you are projecting a PowerPoint presentation from a laptop, you can use the “twin screen” facilities of PowerPoint to display your bullet points in the speaker notes.

Then think up some mentally stimulating visual aids to put on the slides, which actually help you to get your message across.

Of course there is one other benefit to not relying on your slides, which is if the bulb goes in the projector, you can still carry on and finish your presentation, and get your well deserved ovation from your audience.

See my presentation training website for more hints and tips.


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