Biggest Mistake Presenters Make at All Levels

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When I present, I usually talk about speaking best practices and ways to improve your presentation skills, so a question I get from time to time is, “What is the biggest mistake presenters make?” If you read my blog often, you’d probably guess that I’d say the biggest presenter mistake is speaking over the audience’s head. Yes, simplifying your technical message is a major component of engaging your audience and winning work from your presentations. (Hence why I named my company Speak Simple.) Most presenters skip a bigger step, one that will help them realize what aspects of their presentation that could use improvement. This often missed step is not debriefing each presentation.

web_offer_banner_2losingYes, not debriefing is the biggest mistake presenters make regardless of the presenter’s skill level. From beginner to experienced keynote presenters, most speakers skip this important step (or don’t even know it is a step).

The reason debriefing is so important is that you can not improve unless you get feedback. Speaking can be a metaphorical island where you share your message and never get any feedback unless you ask. Most friends and colleagues will say, “good job”. They say this not to hurt your feelings, because they don’t know what else to say, and they’re too close to you to give objective feedback.

With thought leadership presentations, ask the audience to fill out a survey. Many conferences already survey participants to get feedback on their overall program. Ask your coordinator for a copy of those surveys. Better yet, ask if the event surveys audience members beforehand so you can bring in your own surveys if they do not offer them.

On your debrief surveys, you can ask:

  • What is the most important thing you learned or took away from this presentation?
  • What are you unclear about after the presentation and wish the presenter spent more time explaining?
  • Would you want to see this presenter again?
  • If yes, what conferences or associations would you suggest the speaker present at? (This will help you identify potential speaking engagements.)

You can also ask “On a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the highest), how would you rate this presenter’s public speaking skills?” A high scoring survey average can also help you get more speaking engagements.

For project bid presentations, such as in the Architecture/Engineering/Construction industry, some companies will debrief the selection committee’s decision (win or lose). This is very important, however, many companies do not include questions about presentation skills.

When debriefing project bid presentations, I suggest asking:

  • What were the highlights of the presentation?
  • What were you unclear about after the presentation and wish the presenter(s) spent more time explaining?
  • What suggestions do you have for the presenter(s)?

web_offer_banner_2losingAt first, the answers may hurt your feeling, but they will help you to improve. Simply put, if you don’t debrief your presentations, you do not improve for your future presentations. 

If you’re a “level 6” presenter and you never ask for suggestions, then you’ll remain a “level 6” forever and you won’t learn from your mistakes. Or worse, if you don’t change, you can become a worse presenter because you don’t evolve.
When presenting with another presenter or with a team (common with project bid presentations), I suggest debriefing the presentation process the day after the presentation to improve the process and become more efficient. (Download my Bid Presentation Debrief Form to help you get started.)
Let me know if you have any questions about debriefing your presentations so you’re not making this common presenter mistake anymore.

Additional Resources

How Speak Simple Can Help You

Win more work, increasing your billing rate, and prospects coming to you are all results of being an excellent presenter. Erica Olson created Speak Simple to help technical professionals to become comfortable presenting and excel at each presentation, whether a bid presentation or an educational, content marketing presentation. Learn more about Speak Simple’s flagship program is SpeakU, a self-guided presentation training program.

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