Five Things Not to Say During a Presentation

Earlier this year I was speaking at a national construction conference when I made a huge speaking mistake.  At the onset of my presentation, this crowd of more than 200 future leaders in the construction industry was rather quiet. I had to engage them; I had to get them to interact; I had to break the silence.

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I was talking about the importance of “communication” in retaining good employees.  The first question I asked was: “Have any of you been through a merger of two companies?”

The question I asked was simple, but not one person responded.  Not one person had been through a merger.  Not one smile—not one hand raised.  The silence was deafening.  In my attempt to make a connection, I lost all connection to the audience.  Everything I said after those words appeared unimportant.

Later, as I thought about the presentation, I realized that details matter…the small things matter…the polish on the speech matters.  Here are five things that I have learned not to say during a presentation:

  1. “Have you ever….?”  The problem with this type of lead-in is that sometimes not one person in the audience will have experienced your lead-in.  You can still share the story you intend to share, but introduce it a little different.  Rather than on open-ended question, tell the audience about the story and the lesson learned.  Use the story to make the connection; use details they can connect with; use common phrase to which they can relate…even if they have not experienced the same event.
  2. “I was so *^?!@*#~ upset…”  Yes, that is right, you should refrain from colorful words.  You may think that society is now more accepting of four-letter words, but you’ve heard me say it before that words matter!  The chances that you will offend someone (…who may even be your next client…) are far greater than you making a real connection with someone because you added a few vulgarities to your speech.
  3. “I did not have time to prepare, but…”   You should never start a presentation with excuses.  Even if you were just added to the roster, or you are not feeling your best, you should give it your best!  The editorial comments that “explain away” your circumstances detract from your message, no matter how prepared you may be.
  4. “I will keep this short.” I cannot tell you how many presentations I have seen where the speaker starts off with this broken promise.  As a member of the audience, I don’t really care.  I came to learn something, or be inspired, or be informed.  You should pick a different intro, such as, “I am going to change how you look at construction law” or “Today you are going to learn how to grow your business by treating your employees differently.” Don’t make your introduction about the length of your presentation.
  5. “As the slide says, …”  Never, never, never read your slides.  In fact, I am a large proponent of slides that do not contain words, or very little words.  The audience is there to hear you share with them a great speech.  They did not come to hear you read your slides to them. If you spend more time de-cluttering or de-wording your slide presentation, it will pay off in the long run. If you have to include detailed information, provide a hand-out or article at the end of your presentation.

Questions:  What mistakes have you made in a presentation?  What have you learned to “never say” during a speech?

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