Presentation Skills – Five Myths That Will Hurt You

Most people dread giving presentations and with good reason. It’s a skill that requires knowledge and practice. Like driving a car, knowing how to drive isn’t the same as having actual driving experience.

Instead of learning and practicing by taking a course or joining an organization like Toastmasters, many people try to “wing it” by relying on several escape clauses. Unfortunately they don’t work and these myths will get you in trouble.

Myth #1 – “I’m Not a Public Speaker”

Many people think that these words will buy them the forgiveness of the audience. This type of excuse should really be replaced with “Visiting your dentist is more pleasant than what I’m about to present.”

A recent advocate for a mental health organization started her presentation with “I’m not a public speaker.” From that point on the presentation became increasingly more painful. She was disorganized, rambling, monotone and spoke twice as long as needed.

The objective of the presentation was to recruit people to join their organization. The organization does fine work, but after this presentation not even the experienced mental health professionals wanted to join.

Myth #2 – “I Don’t Make Presentations”

This is a variation of the first myth. Here people use their profession as an excuse not to be a good presenter. Even if you’re not making formal presentations, you’re probably attending meetings. The ability to present your ideas clearly, concisely and persuasively is invaluable.

Terry Daily, a vice-president with a Fortune 100 company, started his career as an accountant. He felt he wasn’t that good at presenting and wanted to be better, so Terry took the time to learn how to present. Part of his career success he credits to his ability to communicate his ideas successfully.

Myth #3 – “I Can Do That”

These are the words of amateurs. Solid presenters make it look easy; the audience never sees all the hard work put into the presentation. As a result, people feel they should be presenting. While they might do a semi-credible job, they often lack the content and the delivery skills.

At a three-day seminar with many presenters, it was abundantly clear that the notion of copying what someone else did was the fashionable thing to do. Experienced presenters never try to be someone else in either content or delivery.

One speaker talked about SMART goals, a fairly commonly referred to acronym used for goal setting. He proudly displayed smart for the letter S. Unfortunately for him, that’s not what the S represents. At the first break, several people left because they picked up on this rookie mistake. This presenter hadn’t even bothered to look it up on the internet, which would have taken less than a minute.

Myth #4 – My Audience Wants to Know Everything I Know

Inexperienced presenters try to cram everything into their presentations. Audiences quickly become overwhelmed by the information and no longer know what’s important and what is not. It’s your job as the speaker to sort through and present only the relevant information.

If you’re having a conversation with your friends, then changing subjects constantly and going on tangents is fine. It is not when you’re delivering a formal presentation or sharing your ideas in a meeting.

Organization is key and even many experienced presenters fail to deliver this important ingredient in their presentations. It takes discipline and experience to figure out and limit yourself to an interesting opening, three key points with supporting material, and a call to action.

Myth #5 – PowerPointitus

Some people have described this as “death by PowerPoint.” It’s the crack cocaine of presentations everywhere. People are addicted to it.

There are organizations that require people to have their ideas in PowerPoint, even for five minute presentations. It’s a waste of time, energy and effort. If you can’t present your ideas successfully for a five minute presentation, PowerPoint won’t solve the problem.

The addiction to PowerPoint is compounded by the need to have handouts with a copy of every slide. The idea behind this is to make sure “you have it.” It doesn’t seem to matter that often the font size is too small to read. Then the presenter “kills” the presentation by reading out loud every slide word-for-word, while you have it on the screen and in front of you in the handout. At this point there is no need for any presentation. You could just take the materials away and read them.

As one senior manager at a major company points out, “I don’t have time to go through people’s 30 page decks and approve the presentation. It’s just too much detail. People need to figure out to whom they’re presenting and what the audience wants to know.”

Now you know some of the presentation myths that can hurt you. Just by avoiding these traps, you’ll automatically come across as a much better presenter.