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Top conference presentation mistakes
by Jay Gutman
2015-01-05 10:56:29
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I’ve been to dozens of conferences and seen thousands of presenters, some put everyone to sleep, others were great. In a world where people are increasingly growing impatient in front of poor presentations, here’s a list of mistakes I’ve seen at conference presentations, and I used to make some of them myself.

The mistakes are in order of the frequency that I see them.

DON’T read. DON’T read from a paper, DON’T read your Powerpoint slides. That’s because people eyes tend to read faster than the human voice can, so reading can be annoying to the audience who reads everything faster than you do.

DON’T write more than 25 words on your slide. Your slides should either be a picture or two, or a simple phrase. More than 25 words will confuse your audience because they won’t know whether they should be looking at your presentation or at you.

DON’T elaborate on irrelevant facts. A lot of presentations I see will start with historical facts or trivial facts that are supposed to be ice-breakers but elaborate on them so much that those facts end up taking up most of the presentation time, meaning presenters have to race through their presentation content.

DON’T try to be provocative. Being provocative will make your audience leave. I know too many presenters who start their presentations with provocative pictures containing nudity, profanity, blasphemy and the likes for no apparent reason. Most will think your being provocative covers up for a poor presentation.

DON’T be personal with the audience, even if you know most people in the audience. DON’T mention something an audience member (or anyone) told you in private, DON’T ask questions to specific members of the audience. If there’s someone you want to participate in your presentation (in a demonstration for example) let them know in advance that you will need them to participate at tell them what to do.

DON’T be angry at your audience. For some reason, there are lots of hecklers who go to presentations and let their anger slip away. Ignore them, keep going with your presentation, then pause when there’s a silence and say “I would appreciate if there was no heckling please” and keep going.

DON’T use technology for a presentation that lasts less than 30 minutes. 30 minutes go by pretty fast so it’s best to give an oral summary of the research or presentation for 15 or 20 minutes before moving on to a Q&A session. Only use technology if the presentation lasts for more than 30 minutes.

DO hold a Q&A session. The audience will usually be disappointed if there is no questions session. Some will have a burning question, others will want clarifications, others just ask questions for ego purposes. Either way, do your best in answering the questions.

DO use a little bit of improvisation. I once had to give a presentation about Korean teachers to an  audience where there were no Koreans. Since most of them were from South East Asia, I often improvised by citing examples I had heard of in South East Asia, anecdotes I had read from teachers who live there, or compared their region to Korea.

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