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Anyone who has given a presentation understands that giving a presentation is an art rather than a science. And like all arts, it requires skill and practice.

Preparing to give an important talk to a public or corporate audience can be an intimidating experience, even for old hands. Besides, there are plenty of common mistakes even seasoned presenters make.

So if you want to make sure you get your message across in an intuitive and engaging way, here are four pitfalls to avoid.

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1. Underpreparing

Preparation is the key to success in giving a presentation. If you don’t take the time to familiarize yourself with every aspect of your talk, you’re bound to run into trouble.

This goes far beyond simply rehearsing your talk and making sure you have the timing right. Proper preparation also involves:

  • Researching your audience
  • Cutting out unnecessary points and data
  • Memorizing key figures
  • Having your introduction and conclusion memorized

Even presenters who have been speaking in front of people for years need to give themselves a lot of time to prepare. You need to make sure you have full command of your material when giving a presentation. If you want to give a professional presentation, you need to put the work in.

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2. Reading from the Screen When Giving a Presentation

Audience engagement is the key to delivering a good presentation. The fastest way to make sure your audience tunes out is by keeping your eyes on the screen, rather than on the room.

Maintaining eye contact when you’re giving a presentation can be difficult, especially if you get nervous speaking in front of people. A good way to keep yourself audience-focused is by writing your speech in bullet points. Treat your notes as a memory aid rather than as a text you need to read in its entirety. This will help you stay on track.

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3. Cluttering Your PowerPoint

PowerPoint is still the very best presentation tool available on the market today. But like any tool, you can’t get the most out of it if you aren’t using it correctly when giving a presentation.

When you have cluttered PowerPoint slides dense with graphs, text, and data, your audience loses the forest for the trees. If you don’t have extensive experience with the technology, consider hiring a PowerPoint designer to help you create a streamlined and accessible deck. 

4. Failure to Plan for Contingencies When Giving a Presentation

Nothing ever goes completely to plan when you’re giving a presentation. The difference between a competent presenter and a great presenter often lies in their ability to roll with the punches. This means being prepared for derailing questions, unexpected disruptions, and negative audience response.

Preparation can help you deal with some of these issues. But having a strong sense of your key takeaways and the overall purpose of the talk will ensure that even when things don’t go as you expect them to, you can stay on-message. You can maintain command of the room.  

If you’ve ever seen a presenter who seemed to effortlessly engage the audience from beginning to end, chances are that they developed this skill through long practice of giving presentations. They also likely had plenty of help and support behind the scenes.

The good news is that by being aware of the most common presentation mistakes, you can make your own presentations stronger and more effective.