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The bad news: Although many factors make a presentation great, it only takes one mistake to make it fall apart.
The good news: You can avoid making these mistakes yourself simply by identifying some of the most common missteps that derail presentations and warding against them.
We’ve made it easy for you and put together a list of our top five “deadly sins” presenters commit.
1. Failing to focus on the audience.
We are more likely to remember content that has practical relevance to our lives. If you don’t make it clear from the start why your material will be valuable to your audience, they are not going to pay close attention and will retain very little. Remember that while you may be leading the presentation, it’s not about you—it’s about your audience.
2. Loading slides with too much content.
When you present participants with slides full of content, you are presenting them with a dilemma: whether to read the content or listen to what you’re saying. They can’t do both at once. The most effective strategy is to put only one or two key messages on each slide. The amount of text won’t distract from your presentation but will help to accent your points and solidify learning.
3. Failing to sufficiently involve the audience.
The premise of our participant-centered methods is that people learn better when they are actively involved in the learning process. If you deliver too much content without breaks for involvement, your participants have no opportunity to digest and encode the information in their long-term memory. Intersperse brief segments of content with interactive learning activities.
4. Letting questions sidetrack you.
You spent a lot of time and energy putting together a thoughtful roadmap for where your presentation will go, so don’t let audience questions divert you too far off track. Letting participants ask questions is a great way to get them involved, but take care to either answer the question briefly and tie it back to the main point, or offer to answer in greater detail after the session.
5. Not starting or ending strong.
Openers and closers are two of the most important components of your presentation. They provide context and application for your content that makes it stick. The opener is your opportunity to prepare participants for learning by contextualizing your content and convincing them of its value. In the closer, you should summarize the material and give direction for how to apply it on the job. Including a strong opener and closer gives learning a tangible purpose, increasing retention and on-the-job results.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in August 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.