Sunday 23 March 2014 11:33 pm

Four presentation mistakes to avoid

From token pictures to complex flow-charts, Liam Ward-Proud lists the errors you may not know you’re making

MANY of the classic presentation pitfalls are well-known, and relatively easy to spot – excessive length, overuse of jargon or text-heavy slides, for example. But with a reported 30m PowerPoint presentations given each year worldwide, a whole industry has sprung up dedicated to stripping out some of the more subtle errors. Consultant Dave Paradi estimated that the cost of poor presentations could easily pass £100,000 in some organisations through wasted time. Here are some of the mistakes you might not even know you’re making.

Diagrams, flow-charts, infographics, they’re all supposed to make points easier to digest. But in a survey carried out by website Think Outside the Slide, more than 30 per cent of respondents named “overly complex diagrams” as one of their top three PowerPoint bugbears in 2013.

Blogger and startup adviser Frank Denneman has written about the topic, and identifies inconsistent colour schemes and fonts, and arbitrary spacing between elements of the diagram as some of the most frequent mistakes. He recommends keeping the number of objects to a minimum as a remedy. Show your diagram to someone who knows nothing about the topic – if it doesn’t substantially add to their understanding of the concepts at play, it’s not worth including.

Token pictures can be just as damaging as confusing diagrams. Nancy Duarte, author of The Guide to Persuasive Presentations, argues that obvious, stock pictures (a light bulb to indicate an idea, for example) are a sure-fire way to turn off the audience, and should be avoided at all costs.

Try thinking more creatively – instead of the obvious handshake image to signify an agreement or cooperation, Duarte suggests using a picture of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It will help the slide stand out, and stop people’s eyes from glazing over.

It may sound like a piece of jargon, but emotional engagement is an incredibly important (and all-too-often neglected) aspect of giving a good presentation, according to Martin Soorjoo, who coaches entrepreneurs for pitches and is author of Here’s The Pitch. It’s very easy to be self-absorbed when presenting, especially if you spend lots of time overcoming nerves and mastering the facts and figures. But effective pitches must combine elements of storytelling and conversation. “Facts are never enough,” writes Soorjoo. Make sure you’re answering some of the following questions: why does what you are saying matter to your audience and the business? What can they do to help the project to succeed? You can give the most logical, elegant argument possible, but a lack of emotional engagement could kill the proposal before it’s even born.

As effective as they can be, presentations aren’t always the right choice. It may feel reassuring to stand in front of a series of authoritative-looking slides, script in hand, but companies are increasingly recognising the value of informal discussions and other more reciprocal formats for sharing ideas. Walk into the offices of Google or any other tech firm and you’ll likely see an abundance of beanbag circles. And PwC’s new More London office features multiple “breakout” spaces for more intimate conversations.

App to help with presentations
SlideShark (free) helps get PowerPoint slides onto iPads and iPhones
Struggling to get your stunning PowerPoint slides to display properly on mobile and tablet devices? SlideShark helps you present slides, PDFs, HTML files and web pages on-the-go using your iPad or iPhone. It supports all PowerPoint files and preserves the fonts and the images so you don’t get any nasty surprises.