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The Five Biggest Content Mistakes Presenters Make

The Five Biggest Content Mistakes Presenters Make

Despite myths to the contrary, audiences really do pay attention to content. Your message matters, especially in a persuasive presentation. Here are the 5 biggest content mistakes presenters make, and how you can avoid making them.

1) The kitchen sink approach.

I know, I know, you want to give the audience as much information as possible. As well-meaning as this is, the effect on the audience is one of diminishing returns. You may be giving them tons of information, but they can only retain so much. Studies conducted in the early 2000s show that most people can remember four separate items, plus or minus one, (side note: in the 1950s the same kind of study was done; then we could remember seven items plus or minus 2). That means we have to be relentless editors, distilling our message down to the few things we decide are most important. Tons and tons of data won’t make our case; it will only cause overwhelm. Another good reason to limit your info: we are often giving presentations in suddenly shortened time frames. Nothing is worse for an audience’s retention than a presenter rushing through his or her presentation. Less is more!

[Related: Want Visuals That Captivate Your Audience? Think Like a Kindergartner]

2) Not organizing your content.

I’m a huge devotee of the rule of threes (I refer to it as the Magic Rule of Threes). Determine the three main points you’ll be making in your presentation and organize your content accordingly. For example: big point number one: your audience’s current situation/problem; big point number 2: your proposal to fix it; big point number three: the result they’ll enjoy if they adopt your proposal. Problem, solution, result is always a great use of threes. Another easy three’s structure: here’s where we were, here’s where we are now, here’s where we’re going. Whatever structure you decide on, stick to it. If you find yourself with content that doesn’t fit into one of your “buckets” – delete it!

3) Smarty-pants talk.

You want your audience to respect what you’re saying, to know that you know your stuff. I get it. The problem is, unless you’re speaking to your peers in your specific industry, you’re only making your audience frustrated and angry. As grown-ups, we assume we should understand everything we hear. When we don’t understand, rather than acknowledging our lack of knowledge and accepting it, we begin to feel stupid. And feeling stupid not only feels bad, it needs a perpetrator. “Who made me feel stupid?” we angrily think to ourselves. Our answer? The presenter did! Now we’re angry at the presenter. Skip the smarty pants lingo. Run your presentation by an eight year old or an eighty-eight year old. If they get it, you’re in good shape.

[Related: Nudge Your Way to Presentation Success]

4) All about us.

How many presentations have you sat through where the presenter spent at least 10 minutes at the beginning telling you all about his or her company? What they do, who their clients are, where they’re located, their org chart, their history, their revenue. Yawn, right? Yes, audiences want to know you’re legit, but they don’t need tons and tons of facts and figures about you. Instead, introduce yourself briefly and get right to what they care about: them. Show them you understand their problems and goals, you know how to solve them and you can clearly illustrate – and prove – the results. Now you’ve got their attention. Now you can back your claims up with your company’s longevity, reach, and financial stability; things that will only matter to them once they feel sure you understand and can solve their problems.

5) Over promising and under delivering. 

Nothing makes us madder than feeling we’ve been had. Do NOT promise an audience you’re going to give them solutions, tips or tools and then spend the presentation teasing them; almost getting to the solutions, never quite giving them what they came for. Think it’ll make them want you back? Think again. Deliver on your promises! Give away some knowledge! Don’t worry, you’ve got more where that came from.

Take a good look at your upcoming presentation. Have you created a presentation with the right amount of information? Is your presentation well organized? Does it have a solid structure? Can you talk about your subject matter in language an eight or eighty-eight year old can understand? Does your presentation deliver on its promises? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no,’ put on your editing hat and go to work.You’ll be glad you did. Why? You and your message will be heard.


Debbie Fay is the founder of bespeak presentation solutions, llc, providing presentations coaching, development and training to individuals and businesses worldwide. Fay is the author of, “Nail it. Create and deliver presentations that connect, compel, and convince.” available on Amazon and from other major booksellers. Follow her on twitter @bespeak, or go to: for more info.

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