For many of us, just the mention of the word “meeting” makes us roll our eyes and groan. We’ve all had the misfortune of sitting through yet another bad presentation and have cursed the heavens for losing an hour (or longer) of our lives to boredom and frustration.

Fortunately, your time hasn’t been wasted; these experiences are excellent learning tools.

Let’s take a look at 5 of the most common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Bad presentation mistake #1 – is there a point here? 

It’s not your audience’s job to figure out the logic and flow of your talk – that’s your job. It’s also your job to organize it well enough that they don’t get lost or frustrated trying to figure out where you’re going.

So how do you organize your message? Think back to high school English class when you studied the structure of an essay. Organizing your message follows the same format: introduction, body and conclusion. Follow that simple layout and you’ll be well on your way to delivering a clear, logical message.

Bad presentation mistake #2 – packing every possible detail into your 40 minute meeting message

Have you ever wondered why TED talks are limited to 18 minutes only?  Because that time frame, works!  Sitting and listening is an energy drain, and studies have proven there is only a short window of time your audience can absorb information without reaching “cognitive backlog” or too much information.

A good rule of thumb – if the information isn’t ABSOLUTELY critical, leave it out.  Now if you are not the best judge of editing your own work (and few of us are), give your agenda/message to someone you trust who can give you an honest opinion of what to cut – and follow their advice.

It’s far better to give your audience information they can remember and have them wanting for more than overloading them with details they can’t remember.

Bad presentation mistake #3 – not allowing any interaction from your meeting participants

Most meetings are held to inform and engage colleagues in finding solutions and making decisions, but they can’t engage if you’re doing all the talking and creating cognitive backlog.   A technique that works well is to start your meeting with an upbeat round – asking everyone to share something positive for 30 seconds.  This practice accomplishes two objectives; setting an optimistic tone and encouraging an atmosphere of sharing and respect.  Throughout the meeting, set times for discussion and keep the timing of the agenda on track – so that everyone has a chance to interact, which leads nicely into…

Bad presentation mistake #4-allowing one person to monopolize the meeting

As the meeting chair, it is your responsibility to keep the agenda on track and not let one person grab the floor and run amuck. When you see chatty Cathy or boisterous Bob launching in, let them know you’ll have time to socialize at the end of the meeting and out of respect for people’s busy schedules, you’re going to follow the time frame set out on the agenda.  If you’re a little squeamish about being firm, nominate a time keeper for equal input. It may take a few meetings for Cathy and Bob to get the message; however, if you keep at it, they eventually will fall in line.

Bad presentation mistake #5– overuse of PowerPoint

Just because you know how to use it, doesn’t mean you HAVE to use it EVERY time. Use your creativity – could you could just as easily tell a short story, or use a scenario or do a brief interactive demonstration with your team members? Try out something new.   If you do use it – make sure you use lots pictures that tell your story/message and VERY FEW words.  Everyone can read, don’t insult them by posting a busy handout and then reading it to them.  The pictures create a visual memory and experience; the words should come from you, conversationally – not the screen.

I could go on and on about what not to do with PowerPoint, but nobody could possibly explain it better than Doug Zongker in his hilarious PowerPoint parody “Chicken chicken chicken”. Have a look and a good laugh – it’ll show you everything NOT to do.

References:

Doug Zongker’s “Chicken chicken chicken”. Presented at the AAAS humor session, February 16, 2007.http://youtu.be/yL_-1d9OSdk

See http://isotropic.org/papers/chicken.pdf for a PDF