11 Rookie Mistakes Presenters Make

Can you spot a first-time presenter a mile away? If not, you might be presenting like one. Need to bring your presentation game up a level? Or simply trying to not look like a noob at your next meeting? Read on to get out of the “rookie” zone and into presentation mastery. Eliminate the following mistakes, and you’ll be well on your way.

1. Neglecting to identify your audience to tailor your content

One of the gravest sins of any presenter is to think that they can create one presentation for any audience. Before delivering any presentation, it’s important to know your audiences’ wants, needs, and potential pain points. The more you prepare your content based on your audience, the better it arms you with leverage to persuade them.

Solution: You can determine who your audience is by asking your event organizer or meeting coordinator the following questions:

  • Who is going to be in the crowd?
  • When and where are you presenting?
  • What’s the main thing the audience desires from you?
  • What experiences can you share that would resonate with your audience?
  • What do you have to say to positively challenge the audience’s way of thinking?


2. Delivering data that isn’t relatable to the audience

Jargon, acronyms, and data dumping: the fast track to overwhelming your audience and bringing on a snoozefest. When giving presentations, always ask, “so what” after delivering a data point. Why does this data matter to the audience? Can we humanize this data to become more relatable? For example, when the Apple iPod came out, Steve Jobs listed all the specs and storage space info for the engineers in the room. The engineers were amazed but it really didn’t move the marketers. It wasn’t until he announced the amount of songs the iPod could hold that the room truly came alive with excitement. By highlighting specs of the device by conveying the possibilities, Jobs knew that he could enchant everyone in the room.

Solution: It’s important to understand who your audience is when delivering data points. Once you know who your audience is, find ways to make your points interesting by explaining how this data impacts them. You can do this by:

  • Translating the impact of the data in a way that’s relevant to the audience (see iPod example)
  • Giving an analogy (it’s X miles, that’s like going to Los Angeles to New York City X times and back)
  • Breaking down the data metric (it costs X, which means if you save X amount of dollars you can buy this product in X amount of time).


3. Reading off your slides

This is self-explanatory: you don’t know your material and you have to rely on your slides. The minimal damage is that your audience loses faith in your competency of your information. The worst is that if the slides don’t work due to a technical malfunction the show doesn’t happen. Great presenters always make sure the show goes on.

Advice: Be so prepared that you don’t need your slides.


4. Using verbal disfluencies like “umm”, “aah”, and “you know what I’m saying”

It is very frustrating when you hear a presenter trip over their words constantly with verbal tics. The “umm” or “aah” grates against your ears after hearing it over and over and begins distracting you from hearing the presenter’s message.

Advice: Record yourself when you rehearse. You’ll be able to catch your verbal disfluencies much easier and see which parts of your presentation trip you up.


5. Ignoring the room structure in which you’re presenting

Have you ever designed a presentation that looked strange due to the projector in the room? Ever present in a room that’s totally different from what you’re expecting? Both of these scenarios can throw even the most seasoned presenter off her game.

Advice: Try to get a look at the room beforehand or get information on the room layout. Knowing ahead if you’re presenting in a conference room, on a stage, or dinner-style can help you plan ahead on how you want to pace the room and engage with the audience. If you’re able, test out the equipment beforehand! Keep in mind that if anything goes wrong with the presentation and you can’t go on, it’s still your fault.


6. Losing control over your tone

Presenters that cannot control their energy level might make the audience feel like they are either indifferent about the subject or that they are disingenuous. If you’ve ever heard a presenter who was speeding, monotone, or dragging on, you know what we’re talking about.

Advice: Record and watch yourself present. At the parts you feel like you’re speeding up, breathe and input pauses. To the audience this can seem like you are emphasizing certain points of your content. If you are too slow and monotone, speed up and raise your voice slightly when emphasizing critical points in your presentation. This all of course takes practice and heavy self-awareness. The usual gut check is if you can stand watching your own recorded presentations. In our 10 commandments of presentations, we always encourage presenters never to give a presentation they wouldn’t want to deliver themselves.


7. Conveying insincere body language

Crossing legs. Lack of eye contact. No smile. Closed arms. All these things make you appear either disingenuous to the audience or extremely nervous. Regardless, the minimal result is distraction.

Advice: Get a friend or test audience to watch you practice a presentation. Give them criteria to judge your body language. Did you smile? Did you have an open posture? How about maintaining eye contact? Body language can never be underestimated in giving great presentations and it’s a critical factor in winning the trust of others. See here for our blog on five tips for good body language.


8. Forgetting your presentation’s focus and structure

A presentation that has a clear big idea and structure helps guide the audience.

Advice: Mind map your presentation. Identifying your central argument, your call to action, main takeaways, and your opener helps you write your presentation with the end in mind. Check this post out here on the Big Fish Presentation mind map presentation process. It can be used for any type of presentation!


9. Opening your presentation without a relevant attention-getter

Opening your presentation powerfully is a great way to hook your audience, facilitate bonding, and build rapport. While we recommend working with your presentation opener last, we strongly suggest you put significant time into its development as it’s your presentation’s first impression.

Advice: We find that there are five typical ways you can open your presenter. Choose the opener that resonates best with your audience based on the information you gathered about them. Our rule of thumb on this? When in doubt, tell a story.


10. Forgetting the call to action

It’s truly a sad thing when you experience a great presentation and have no clear next steps from the presenter. If consider yourself a great speaker, but frequently neglect telling your audience the next step, we’ve got news for you: you’re still a rookie.

Advice: Always have a call to action in your presentation that moves your audience beyond your presentation. We discuss the three different types of call to actions in our Slideshare, The Importance of A Call to Action: the demand, offer, and the ask.


11. Exceeding your allotted time

Going over your time can say many things about a presenter. Are they underprepared? Are they overloading the audience with information? Or are they simply blind to the audience cues of fidgeting? Either way, you can tell that neither answer leads to positive impressions. Always rehearse and work towards delivering your presentation underneath your allotted time (I find 5-10 minutes early works). On game day, you’re more likely able to recover from distractions, extra requested content and/or tangents if you’re prepared to deliver your presentation in a shorter amount of time than expected.

Advice: Keep things short. No one is going to get mad if you finish your talk early as long as you delivered on what you came to do. It’s better if audiences want more of you, than less of you.


Now your on the road to presenting like a pro! Do you have any thoughts about rookie mistakes presenters commonly make? Let us know in the comments! And don’t forget to subscribe to our blog to keep posted for our future writings on all things presentations.


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