Top Ten Mistakes Speakers Make
(Excerpt from Knockout Presentations)
By Diane DiResta

Your success today depends on how well you present yourself, present your message, and present your value to the marketplace. Life is a presentation and you’re always on stage.

Whether you’re pitching an idea, selling your service, or presenting at an industry conference, it’s all public speaking. And in today’s highly competitive environment you can no longer avoid this vital skill.

Here are the most common mistakes presenters make:

  1. Lack of preparation/Focus-Most speakers have good content. But if the speech shoots out in all directions you’ll lose your audience. You must take the time to know your topic, focus your message, and rehearse your presentation until you’re comfortable. Practice your speech out loud, time it, and be prepared for questions afterward. To create focus, complete this sentence: At the end of the presentation the audience will__________. Build your points around this desired outcome.
  2. Speaking too long-Starting and ending your presentation late shows a lack of respect for the audience. People have busy schedules. If your presentation is going to be delayed, make sure it’s not because of you. Allow time to get to the presentation early. Create a long and short version of your speech and know how to cut and summarize the presentation if you sense you’re running out of time.
  3. Not knowing the audience-One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a presenter is not meeting the need of your audience. It’s a great way to turn an otherwise receptive group into a hostile one. Don’t talk over people’s heads, but don’t be too simplistic either. If you’re giving the same speech to different groups, tailor it for each audience. Profile the audience before you develop the talk.
  4. Projecting the wrong image-This is an instant credibility killer, and it’s related to mistake No. three. A flashy outfit won’t work if you’re speaking to bankers. A slick, “big city” style doesn’t do it for farmers in Kansas. Study the audience ahead of time and dress and present appropriately.
  5. Using visual aids ineffectively-If you fumble with visual aids, you’ll eventually lose credibility. Visuals should support and enhance the presentation, not take it over. Similarly, equipment that malfunctions can be disastrous to the speech. Check out all of your equipment before you speak, and have a backup plan in case the equipment fails. If you are using a laptop, always have overheads or handouts in case it crashes.
  6. Data Dump/Starting with detail-More is better, right? Not really. You can overwhelm the audience with too much data. Don’t give them soup to nuts if you don’t have enough time. People can’t digest information if you give them too much to chew on, so give them the condensed version. Three or four points are sufficient for most presentations. Your message will be clearer and more memorable.
  7. Using inappropriate humor-This mistake is also related to mistake No. three. The rules concerning humor have changed. Audiences are politically sensitive. All it takes is one questionable joke or statement to turn people off. Never tell off-color jokes. The best bet is to poke fun at yourself—or avoid jokes altogether.
  8. Speaking in a monotone-Audience members will be bored if you’re a monotone speaker. Too many speakers fail to realize the importance the tone of voice plays in the success of their presentation. Get excited about your message or die on the platform!
  9. Speaker-centered/No relationship with the audience-To be effective as a speaker, you must connect with your audience. If you’re self-absorbed and simply recite a speech, you’ll soon be talking in a vacuum. No one will be listening. Too many presenters start with their own agenda and then wonder why they don’t get the desired response from the audience. Surprisingly, many salespeople are speaker-centered. They’re so interested in pushing their product or agenda that they forget about the buyer’s needs. Begin your presentation from the listener’s point of view and continue to address what’s important to them.
  10. Offering weak evidence-Some speakers don’t support their ideas with solid data or evidence They expect the audience to take things on faith. If your presentation is sketchy or lacks substance, flesh it out and fill in the details. It’s not enough to present your points; you must build a case. How? By including statistics, personal stories, examples, analogies, demonstrations, pictures, testimonials, conceptual models, and historical data. Construct a frame, then build the house.

© Diane DiResta 1998
Diane DiResta is president of DiResta Communications, Inc., a New York City consultancy serving business leaders who want to communicate with greater impact — whether face-to-face, in front of a crowd or from an electronic platform. DiResta is the author of Knockout Presentations: How to Deliver Your Message with Power, Punch, and Pizzazz, an category best-seller and widely-used text in college business communication courses.

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