9 presentation mistakes to avoid

We all need to present frequently and the more you progress with your career the more important the presentations become. Messing these presentations up – especially in front of those responsible for your next promotion – will lead to bad career outcomes.

In today’s episode, Benjamin and I review 9 mistakes we often see during presentations. We’ll talk about:

  1. Start with an introduction of yourself 
  2. Wordy slides 
  3. Monotonous 
  4. Not speaking to the audience 
  5. Hiding on stage
  6. Reading from the slides 
  7. Not creating emotions 
  8. Too much content 
  9. Bad ending 

If you want to learn more about how to strengthen your presentation skills, enrol into the presentation course of The Effective Statistician:

Winning with Words and Graphs: The Effective Statistician presentation and data visualization masterclass

In this online, on-demand program, you will:

  • Learn the fundamentals of preparing and delivering an engaging, impactful presentation, including the five questions you need to answer for ANY presentation (and the one you should avoid)
  • Understand the three keys to creating powerful, clear visuals and be aware of the most common mistakes
  • Hear real industry examples and experiences that demonstrate and reinforce key presentation and visualization concepts
  • Improve one of your own presentations (past or current) that will serve as an application of these tools and concepts

Click here to learn more and enrol.


Alexander: You’re listening to The Effective Statistician podcasts, a weekly podcast with Alexander Schacht and Benjamin Piske, designed to help you reach your potential, lead great sciences and serve patients without becoming overwhelmed by work. Today, we are talking about presentation tips, presentation tips to engage your audience because we have this PSI conference upcoming , there will be lots of presentations there but of course, you will probably do a lot of presentations yourself. So use these to really engage with your audience. Presentations are so important they can help you to boost your career. If you’re giving a presentation to senior management and you impress them, that will help you to build your brand as a really, really good communicator. You will stand out from the crowd because most presenters are actually, at least average, if not worse. So if you are a really good presenter, that makes a huge difference. So stay tuned for this episode, which is my goal for the other episodes sponsored by PSI. Join PSI today to further develop your statistical capabilities with access to the video on demand content library, free registration to all PSI webinars and much much more. The reduced rate is only 20 pounds for non high-income countries and 95 pounds for high-income countries. Head over to psiweb.org to learn more about PSI activities and become a PSI member today.

Welcome to another episode of The Effective Statistician. Hi Benjamin, how are you doing? 

Benjamin: Hi Alex, very well, thanks. It’s slowly getting warmer even though it’s a nice time in the year. I really enjoy it. And how about you?

Alexander: It’s really nice. It’s great to see the garden flourishing and all the flowers. I love the time working in the garden. It’s really one of my favorite things to calm down. 

Benjamin: It’s nice. It’s somehow different birds, if you hear the birds outside and just sun is shining and that’s really some nice counter program to the day-to-day work in the office.

Alexander: Yep. Especially if you have been tortured by bad presentations all day. 

Benjamin: For you and Debbie know more about it. 

Alexander: I don’t who says that there are so many presentation courses. There’s so many books about presentations. There’s so many great examples in terms of how to do great presentations yet the vast majority of business presentations are really, really poor. It’s like bad habits become best practices. It’s weird.

Benjamin: And I know exactly what you mean, and even, you know, if you put aside that there are books and training and whatsoever, I mean everyone who’s actually listening to a presentation or watching a presentation. I mean, if you, if you watch it, you feel, there’s something going wrong. So there, you know, you feel that there’s some I don’t like, it’s like boring or if you’re just reading out loud your slides whatsoever but still as I said people just copy it and do it exactly the same despite they should know better even without reading a book about. 

Alexander: Yeah. So let’s talk through a couple of common mistakes that we see. So, the first one that I especially see at conferences is that people have a really bad start. Say, for example, start by introducing themselves, which usually is anyway done by the moderator or the chair. So there is really no need to introduce yourself. If you really want to introduce yourself, do that little bit later because that’s just not a good start. ‘Hi. My name is Alexander Schacht. I studied Statistics at the University of Gottingen. Thereafter, I spent two years throwing out your life. And blah, blah, blah.

Benjamin: I think it’s more the type of introduction. I mean that is exactly the standard slide that you pull out the kind of your CV and then you just go there. But sometimes there’s a good, you know, like a start, which is eye-catching.So for example, start with the picture, you know, if you just like everyone’s having a pulling out their dogs pictures, right? So put in something which is related and in whatever way you can kind of get a bridge to the topic that you’re talking about. But something that is personal and not side what you’ve already been introduced to. So like if everyone knows your name and where you’re from and the company and where you’re working or the University where you’re working is already on the presentation at the first light. So do something eye-catching. Do something which is outside the things that have been done but build a bridge to where you start off from.

Alexander: Completely agree. Let’s get to the second one. Where do the slides or crowds the slides. I think, you know, I am very often done here. But I want to have these slides as, you know, read out all those people kind of later can read the slides. Well, I think like, ‘yeah, that’s fine’. Then create two versions of your slides. First, create a version where you have all the complete sentences or whatsoever. And then, you can just save that and that out as a pre read, later on. And then you fine tune it. Streamline it, get rid of all the filler words and only keep the most important words.

Benjamin: It’s kind of the most common mistake that people who are the presenter try to take the sentences and read them out. Actually having a sentence on the slide is already a mistake. Or something which is close to a sentence, it’s really about bullets. I know it’s usually easier if you have it because it saves or it gives you more security when you present. Nevertheless for the turn around just try to take the side of the listener. And for them, it’s difficult to understand or to take the sentences directly. So if you do a presentation, keywords may be half a sentence and not more than two, maybe three bullet types of things on one slide. 

Alexander: Yeah. If you need more structures and split them up. 

Benjamin: Use the second slide. 

Alexander: Yeah. The third thing is about how you present. And that is especially bad in virtual situations where you people sit at their desks, don’t see the audience and just kind of mumble to themselves in a very monotonic way. ‘I’m going to show you that this is certain, this is that and then we’ll go into these new features and by the way it also the storylines and’, you know, nobody can listen to that. 

Benjamin: Yeah. They’re obviously like one big mistake that people who actually prepare for a presentation, print them out, and then put this on the desk and read it like, take the slide. So actually it’s about the way of presenting even if you’re not seen. Meaning that if you sit at your desk and bend towards the slides on your desk, you present, as if you don’t look at the audience and you hear the sound of it. And that’s why it’s at most important to not put it down and read but maybe to stand up and present or to sit upright and present anything. 

Alexander: Just stand up, you never sit on a stage. 

Benjamin: Yeah, exactly. And that already hurts to get away from this monotonous speech that other people are presenting with. Don’t print it out or maybe hold it in your head and stand while you talk. And everyone has bluetooth headsets and whatsoever so you can easily stand up, walk around and that is exactly prepare and train it but do it as if you were on stage because that enormously for the audience, to actually listen to what you’re saying. 

Alexander: Yeah, that goes to the next point, when you are presenting on stage always talk to the audience. Never, never turn your back to the audience because you need to read the slides. Arrange it in such a way that if you need to have a look at the slides that you have some in front of you,  that you have a screen in front of you. 

Benjamin: You print them out in small pieces of paper like cards or something and do the keywords and then have it in your hands and just open it and look into these slides. But yes, don’t turn around.

Alexander: And if you’re presenting virtually, make sure that your camera setup is correct and that you look into the camera and not that you kind of look sideways or something like this cause that’s where your computer screen is and that’s not where your kind of laptop cameras and things like that. After two years of the pandemic, everybody should have a decent camera setup, it’s just basics I would say.

Benjamin:  Yeah, it should be but usually people tend to have a second screen or three or more but make sure of the presentation they are doing and the audience. So for example, when I present, I sometimes, when I’m in a video conference not and that is about the presentation, I tend to look into my picture because this is always moving because I see myself. So make sure that whatever you’re focusing on, you learn to focus is actually close to the camera. 

Alexander:  Move the window directly below the camera 

Benjamin: Exactly. That goes for everything not only for a proper presentation but also for any video conference because otherwise people tend to look around to the left side to the second screen because this is where the presentation or the video is actually showing while the cameras on the other screen. 

Alexander: Yeah. It gets even worse sometimes and that’s the next mistake when people nearly hide on stage. So of course they don’t even turn on the camera but you know, when they very often there are these kinds of desks or something like this, where you can kind of stand behind, don’t stand behind this. Stand at least next to it. Own the stage. 

Benjamin: No, I agree but still sometimes it’s helpful because of the screen behind it and for people, I understand that they like to maybe hold on to something, right? So that’s why, you know, and I agree that being on the stage is definitely something to prefer. However, if this is at the beginning of the time of presentation, so for yourself or within your career, then just make sure that you are standing high above it so that you’re not hiding behind it. So that your, you know, the most of the body or your upper body is shown above the table. So, that’s you’re not hiding but still be present and have something to, you know, that people see you. 

Alexander: Yeah. Next mistake is not creating emotions. I think this is maybe a weird one when we think about the kind of you know we are technical people and we present facts and things like that. But still you can create emotions, you can tell the story, you can kind of speak about the impact to the patients, you can, if you’re good at it, even use humor. Always great even when something goes wrong to make a laugh about yourself. We only remember things when there’s a connected emotion. And so you will help the audience to retain what you’re talking about if you create some emotions in them. This can be everything from being sad to being happy, from being thrilled, not being bored, that’s not bored,  all the others. 

Benjamin: Yeah. But that shouldn’t be so difficult to be honest because usually, when you present, this is not like, it’s just a pure collection of facts but still there is some enthusiasm about that you should make sure that it comes across. So for example, if this is like a work that you did, because of study results or ever, you know, you’ve been working on this for years, months, whatsoever. So you spend a lot of time, so you put a lot of power, effort into this. And then at the end, you know, for example, there’s the unblinding and, you know, there’s some, I know everyone is busy, so there’s not a lot of room for emotions. Nevertheless, there’s some thrilling excitement about getting the results. I mean, the first time you look into the table and you realize it’s good results, bad results, whatever. So there’s something about it and just try to remember the, you know, when you do a presentation, try to remember your personal development through the face of getting to the results in this example. And when you prepare for this, keep it in mind and that already helps a lot to get it across. So when you present the results, it’s kind of a relief. There’s something and mention it and show it, what you remembered when you present. So the moment when you see it first go there. That’s it. 

Alexander: Yeah. That’s a very, very good tip. When we have worked on quite a lot of things. We tend to want to show everything, all the stuff that we have done and all the details. Lots of us are very, very detail focused. I completely get that. But that is not helping the audience and that’s the next mistake, too much content. 

Benjamin: Yeah. I remember formulas and hated slides, people can be maniac about la tech there in the creation of formulas for slides and really nobody is gonna get the you know, any any of what you’re saying if this is overloaded in contents and details and everything. So bring it to the audience, bring it to the key results or whatever it is. 

Alexander: Or if you have 90 slides for a 15 minute presentation, it’s just set up for failure. You need to be able to anticipate how much time you will spend per slide, approximately. And then really cut down what’s really really important. Cut down, cut down, cut down and you can move everything to backup slides if you know, it’s just a Q&A session thereafter and things like that. But there’s nothing worse than having a 15-minute presentation and at minute 13 you’re just halfway through your presentation, it’s you kind of ‘I can skip over this and this and this and you know that just unprofessional. 

Benjamin: Yeah, no, I agree but what also helps me is that when I prepare I usually tend to do a lot like a long story because there’s a story and there’s been an effort and time that you spend and there’s a lot of things to do that. You can start with that and it helps me personally to actually create the slides and make it like a nice flow and for a long time, storing. And they’re especially good to keep these slides as backup slides if it gets to the discussion. So depending on where you present there might be questions on, ‘I didn’t understand this step’, or there’s something ‘how did you get from there to there’, and you know it kind of whatever it is, keep it in the back, and just pull it up in case it’s needed for discussion later on. So, when we really deep dive into details, however, cut them down. So when you got the story, when you get the whole 50 slides on line whatsoever, then bring them to, I don’t know, one slide for every minute and I don’t know, there’s some that usually even say less than it so two minutes for one slide or something, right? 

Alexander: What I usually have is a slide per minute, something like that. For online presentations actually, you can have even more slides per minute, but of course then these slides need to be, you know, trimmed and not full of stuff. Remember, the presentation is about the audience, it’s not about you showing what you all know, it’s about the audience. And its service to the audience to edit everything out. Editing is a kind of a cruel process but like Stephen King said you need to kill your babies. The things that you really love, that you put a lot of things in and just need to kind of get rid of some. 

Benjamin: That’s a cruel one. 

Alexander: Yeah. It just leads to the last mistake. If you have too much content you usually have a bad ending. And endings like starts are so important. The Q and A slide or something like this or thank you slide. Come on, really? That is this last slide that people see and you want to have it a question mark? No. It should be your key takeaway, these are the things that stay on the slide. The call to action. The things that you want the audience to remember. That should be the last thing. 

Benjamin: I agree. It shouldn’t be question marks.

Alexander: But it’s so common. It is so common. 

Benjamin: Yeah. That’s interesting because usually that’s absolutely common is, ‘so for any questions, please contact me or any questions left?’ Anything to the audience but it’s not about the summary, it’s not about the takeaways, it’s not about the key messages and that is what it should be about.

Alexander: Yeah. Second, the goal that you have with this presentation. And your last slide, your last part of the presentation should reinforce this goal.

Benjamin: Something eye-catching is important too. 

Alexander: Yeah. So that people, when they go off into the brakes thereafter that’s , ‘I remember that’. 

Benjamin: Yeah. Could also be that there’s a like loop back to the beginning. So when you have a start maybe something with you know where, like a question or something where you say something unbelievable, anything that comes up, and at the end you can go, bring back the answer like loop it in what you had in the beginning so that there’s an overall storyline towards the end. 

Alexander: Yeah. Closing a loop is a really, really good thing, that you open there’s a beginning. Maybe you started with a story at the beginning and didn’t end it and then kind of  you end at the end. That’s a nice technique to kind of have a little bit of tension for the presentation. Okay. Very good. We talked about lots of different mistakes that you can make. Bad start, where these slides, monotonous speaking, not speaking to the audience, hiding on stage, creating too much content, not having enough emotions and pretty bad ending. Embrace these. And if you want to do more, you can also sign up for the presentation data and visualization course that The Effective Statistician offers. So if you’re interested in that, just head over to the homepage and you will find more information there. So, thanks again Benjamin, great to talk to you again. 

Benjamin: Bye.

Alexander: Bye. Did you like this episode? If yes then maybe head over to theffectivestatistician.com, we have actually a course designed for statisticians, for data scientists to help with their presentations, with presentations and also with data visualization techniques. So very often both come together because we want to present scenarios, we want to present data and then having good data visualization techniques, really makes you stand out from the crowd, don’t just copy and paste over tables, that doesn’t really look good. So head over to The Effective Statistician and learn more about the data visualization and presentation course that we have there. This show was created in association with PSI. Thanks to Reine who works on the show in the background and thank you for listening. Reach your potential, lead great sciences and serve patients. Just be an effective statistician. 

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