How come some presenters look so relaxed, while others are all sweaty and shaky?
Can stressed presenters become zen presenters?
The good news is that most relaxed presenters are not born that way, they learn how to become good presenters.
Here, we are going to teach you how to deliver excellent presentations in English.
One of the best ways to learn something is to make mistakes and then understand how to avoid them. The strategies we have for you here will help you practice independently, make mistakes without becoming embarrassed, feel more relaxed and speak like a true professional.
Business presentations in English are often very challenging to people who are learning a new language. When you are still learning, you are often scared of making mistakes. After all, who wouldn’t be scared with so many people looking at you and listening to you, right?
If you are learning English and you also have to do business presentations in English right now, you probably want to learn as fast as possible and get rid of that fear. We understand.
To prepare yourself quickly and improve your overall speaking skills, you may have already done a lot of reading on how to handle meetings in English and other similar topics. But presentations come with some specific challenges.
Have a look at the following mistakes that presenters—including both native speakers and students of English—tend to make.
The first step is to really understand why people make these mistakes, so that you identify your weaknesses and avoid making any mistakes of your own.
6 Mistakes You Can Easily Avoid When Making Business Presentations in English
1. Not Preparing Carefully
Most people who do not prepare carefully make this mistake because of two reasons:
- They think preparation is not important.
- They do not have the time to prepare.
We have all seen so many great presentations in which the speakers talk so effortlessly, like they are telling a story to a friend. They look so comfortable and confident, it seems like it would be impossible to be as good as them.
Guess what? It did not come naturally to them, either. It takes a lot of preparation to be able to look like you have not prepared at all.
If you have seen a bad presentation, there is a good chance that the person was not prepared. So, to instantly improve your presentation skills, simply make time to prepare!
You may be tempted to rush preparation. You may think words will just come to you naturally. Perhaps you think that you only need to know the topic, and that you do not need to know the words, phrases and sentences you are going to use. Trust me—you need to know exactly what you are going to say! You will not plan every single word, but you will come close to doing that.
The problem with speaking in public is that we become nervous and stressed so we may forget everything.
Fix the mistake!
The best way to avoid this mistake is to know how to prepare properly. Here is a list of steps to take when preparing for any presentation:
- Have a clear goal in mind to help you stay on track and be logical. Whenever you feel lost during the presentation, just remember this clear, main goal. An example of a goal could be to convince potential clients to work with you. Whenever you don’t know what to say next, remember to focus on the advantages you want to present and on examples of what you did in the past to deserve their trust. Encourage them to ask you questions related to this goal.
- Research content. If you know your facts, you already have the core of your presentation prepared. Write these facts down on topic cards, give out handouts (papers) with important information or include them on your PowerPoint slides.
- Prepare the delivery. Rehearse giving the presentation several times. Some people like recording themselves, others prefer practicing in front of a mirror or having friends listen to them while presenting. Choose the method that works best for you.
- Decide whether you are going to read or speak freely. Reading can sound unnatural, but you can use certain tricks to avoid this. You can underline important sentences which you can memorize, so that from time to time you can stop reading, say your memorized lines and look at the audience. In this way, reading can be made more natural. Make sure you slow down so that the audience can follow you.
Speaking freely is much better if you can remember everything you want to say, because you will seem more knowledgeable, prepared and confident. However, this can be more stressful.
2. Not Caring About the Audience
Some presenters are so stressed about the big day that they totally forget what this is about. A presentation should be about talking to the audience so that they understand your points. It is not about you, it is about them.
Fix the mistake!
- Try putting yourself in their shoes. Get to know them in advance if possible, engage with them personally by making the presentation interactive. Ask them questions or ask them to share experiences if relevant to your goal. Think: If you were in the audience, what would grab your attention? What would get you interested in the topic?
- Make a little joke at the beginning. This will make the audience feel more connected to you, and hearing a few laughs might even make you feel more relaxed. Have fun with this! Try to choose a joke that is related to your topic, industry or working life.
- Instead of just showing them the next slide, ask them a question to introduce the information. If, for example, your next slide is about ways to improve customer service, ask them first: “What do you think are the best ways to improve customer service?” This kind of open question works with smaller audiences where people feel safe to speak up. With larger audiences, you can give them two options and ask people in the room to vote by a show of hands.
3. Using Ineffective Visuals
Have you been to a presentation that did not use PowerPoint lately? If you have, you are probably in minority. PowerPoint is so common that it is actually becoming overused, as people think they are expected to use it.
Truth be told, not all presentations need PowerPoint.
If you need to present many facts, figures, diagrams or pictures, then yes, use PowerPoint, but watch out for crowded slides! Many presenters put everything they are going to say on the slides and then audiences are confused. They wonder, should they be reading or listening? If you are just telling a story and your aim is more to impress or entertain the audience, then you do not need PowerPoint slides.
Fix the mistake!
- Decide whether you need a PowerPoint presentation or not. Do you have graphs, results or other things like this to show? Then yes, you need one. Are you just telling a story? Then you probably do not.
- Do not fill your slides with too much information. Use a maximum of seven short lines of text—even seven can be too many. Highlight key words so the audience can see the main ideas right away. Use bullet points rather than full sentences.
- If you are presenting graphs or charts, give the audience time to read them. Do not show a huge table of data if they audience will not have time to read and understand it. Make sure you try reading each slide while timing yourself to see how long it takes, so you do not jump to the next slide too early during your presentation.
4. Being Unstructured
This mistake generally happens when people do not prepare well. The presenter will just start speaking without a clear goal in mind and suddenly realize their allotted speaking time has ended, or that the audience is bored because they are not following what is being said.
Fix the mistake!
- Decide on three main points (or less) that you want to make. Audiences can’t usually focus on more than three points.
- Tell them from the beginning what points you will be making. Audiences like to know what to expect. Tell them the main goals of your presentation directly in the introduction.
- Use connectors to make transitions from one point to another and to present details within certain points. Here are some examples of connectors for different situations:
- Presenting main points: firstly, secondly, last but not least
- Making additions: moreover, furthermore, in addition, besides, what’s more
- Making purposes clear: in order to, so as to
- Presenting reasons and causes: on account of, due to, since, seeing that
- Presenting consequences: consequently, as a result, therefore
- Expressing contrast: in spite of, despite, although, even though, however, nevertheless, in contrast, on the contrary
5. Being Scared of Questions
Some presenters are scared of questions. “What if they ask me something I don’t know the answer to?” is what they usually think.
But there are other more common problems you should think about, like people interrupting to ask questions at bad times during the presentation or having too many questions at the end and going beyond the given time frame.
Fix the mistake!
If you have prepared well, done your research and know your topic well, then the chance of you not knowing how to answer a question is really really low.
People generally do not ask difficult questions so that they can trick you. They usually ask questions to see your interpretation of a situation, or to get more information. After all, you have researched the topic and you are probably the one person in that room who knows the most about it. So, follow this quick plan to make sure you handle questions well.
- Research your topic well. If you happen to not know the answer to a question, tell the person you are going to find out the answer and get back to them. Do not make excuses, nobody is expected to know quite everything and people appreciate honesty. Ask for their business card, their email or to connect on LinkedIn after the presentation is over, so that you can contact them with the question later.
- At the beginning of your presentation, tell people that there will be question time at the end. This will help you to avoid interruptions. However, if you are at a big convention or conference, the standard format may be for audiences to wait until the end to ask. If this is the standard rule that everyone follows, you do not need to tell the audience about question time.
- During question time, watch the time. Usually you do not have much time for questions, so this will ensure that you do not go over the time limit. Tell people when you can only take one more question because you do not have much time left. Offer to answer any remaining questions via email, and always follow up if you promise to do so.
6. Worrying Too Much About Your English
As a non-native speaker of English, you may feel at a disadvantage when speaking in public. You are probably worrying about making mistakes or not understanding questions from the audience.
Fix the mistake!
First off, please remember that the real mistake is worrying too much about your English. So the problem at this point is not your English. The problem is that you worry about your English.
Just before your presentation, it is important to relax. You can do a few little things (see below) to help your English, but do not try to improve your language skills overnight—it is just impossible.
If you think your general level of English is too low, you probably know what you have to do: lots of speaking practice, grammar and vocabulary work, and making a commitment to work a little bit every day for long period of time!
The day before a presentation, though, you can still do some small things to help you gain more confidence in your English:
- Make sure you pronounce important words correctly. Use pronunciation features of online dictionaries, or ask a native speaker, coworker or teacher to listen to you and correct your pronunciation mistakes.
- Check the spelling on your slides and handouts. Spelling mistakes can be easily avoided. It would be such a pity not to check spelling and fix any mistakes, because these would distract from the quality of your slides.
- Rehearse several times to gain confidence. If you can, have a native speaker or a teacher listen to you deliver the presentation.
- Remember that people care more about what you are saying than about how you are saying it. It is okay to make mistakes! People will understand that you are an intelligent student of English. The meaning of your words and your knowledge of the topic are the most important things.
- Whenever you don’t understand a question from the audience, don’t be afraid to ask the person to repeat it louder. They will then repeat the question loud and clear, and you can have a second chance to understand it.
Good presenters are made, not born—and that is such good news for all of us!
While presentations may be a bit of hard work, this means that everyone can learn how to give good ones.
And remember, mistakes are your chances to learn from experience!
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