Here, David Letterman style, are what I consider to be the Top 10 most common mistakes presenters make when organizing and preparing their content:
10) Not setting the stage.
An introduction should be more than just “Hello. Today we’ll be discussing _____.” If you just jump into the content without setting up the presentation, it can get you off to a jumpy, disjointed start. An introduction should give the audience a sense of who you are, what you’re there to do, and what’s in it for them to listen.
9) Using ineffective notes.
It’s almost always wise to have some notes handy to make sure you don’t forget anything important, but if your notes are hard to follow or are distracting for the audience, they defeat the purpose. Trying to read from a crowded page of word-for-word narrative is a killer because you look down and have trouble looking up for fear that you’ll never find your place again. Disorganized papers or cards can be cumbersome and messy. Keep clear, concise, key-word-or-key-phrase-only notes handy to simply jog your memory, not serve as an unnecessary crutch.
Using jargon or acronyms that leave the audience bewildered.
When a listener hears a word or phrase he/she is not familiar with it causes what I call a “cerebral derailment”. The listener’s mind is chugging along happily with you until he/she hears an unfamiliar term and suddenly the mind jumps the tracks to wonder, “What does that mean?” Always define acronyms (even if you’re sure they know what the letters stand for) and, when in doubt, define any terms that could possibly be unfamiliar.
7) Planning backwards.
Many people begin to prepare a presentation by thinking, “What do I have that’s cool?” (meaning visual aids, support points, stories, examples, etc.) Then they ask themselves, “How can I work it in?” This is backwards. Decide on what you want to accomplish and then ask “What do I have in the way of support that would help me meet that objective?” If you plan backwards you may very well end up with a bunch of interesting information that is of no value to the listeners.
6) Not knowing your objective and/or not sharing it.
In addition to being clear on the point you want to make, you should also be clear on the objective you wish to achieve. Do you want the audience to make a decision? Show them the options and ask for a decision. If you need their cooperation, make sure you explain why you need them and how they can help you. If your goal is to familiarize them with a topic, make that clear so you don’t get bogged down in excess detail. Both you and your audience should be clear on what you’re there to accomplish.
5) Not providing “signposts”.
Imagine that you can get a new set of information two ways: 1) you can read it in a report or 2) you can listen to it in a presentation. What advantages do you have when you’re reading that you don’t have when you’re listening?
- You can go at your own pace
- You can re-read things that you found confusing
- You can skip sections that don’t interest you
- You can see when a new topic begins (because of section titles or white space)
- You can make notes
- You can file it away for future reference.
None of these options are available to your listeners. To the audience, your ideas are just sounds in the ether, so to make up for the lack of these advantages, you need to provide signposts to let us know where you are. Visual aids can help, but remember to include phrases like “Now, let’s move on to point #2″, “That’s all for the background, now let’s move on to the current status,” or “Let me just wrap up.” These little phrases take very little time but do wonders for helping your audience stay with you.
4) Having complex, hard-to-read visual aids.
Your visual aids should be just that–aids. They should HELP you get your message across. Complicated, crowded, hard-to-read visual aids compete with you for your audience’s attention. Keep them simple enough that listeners have a reason to stick around and listen to YOU.
3) Not having an obvious, logical structure.
Meandering from point to point can be very frustrating to a listener. Have your information laid out in a logical structure and share that structure with the listeners up front so they know where you’re headed.
2) Not making the POINT clear up front.
There’s nothing more frustrating to a listener than to sit there thinking, “OK, so what’s your point?!” Remember, you know your material cold. The listeners don’t. Sometimes you have to smack them between the eyes with the point, as in, “If you only remember one thing from my presentation, I want it to be __________________.” Don’t wait until the end to present your point with a dramatic flourish. Make your point right up front and spend the rest of the time supporting that point.
And the #1 content management mistake. . .
1) Including too much information.
It’s tempting to want to cram all the information possible into the heads of your listeners, but ironically, it’s possible that the more information you include, the less they learn. Think of a rainstorm. When rain is pouring down, much of it runs off before it can soak into the soil. The water is wasted because there was simply too much of it to take in. Whereas, a slow, steady rain has a chance to soak in thoroughly. It’s far better to include half as much information and have them retain most of it, than to squeeze in every imaginable tidbit and have 90% of the information wind up as runoff.
All of these problems are common. Luckily, with awareness and a few simple adjustments, they are easily overcome.