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Jim reveals 8 tips to make sure you look like a pro at your next presentation.

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Public speaking can be nerve-wracking, terrifying, and exhilarating – often all at the same time. Some people are naturals, others work years to hone their crafts, but everyone has to start out somewhere.

Even if you are just getting started, today I’m going to share 8 mistakes that will make you look like a newbie.

Here’s the way I analyzed various parts of new media a few years ago when looking at it as a business. Podcasting alone wasn’t a traditional money maker. Writers have never been known to be very well paid. Writing a book is very hard work, and getting a lucrative book deal is even less common. Creating video was extremely time-consuming.

Then there was public speaking.

Here’s how I looked at it. Public speaking is the #1 fear that people have, worse than death or spiders, which led to the quote from Jerry Seinfeld you see above.

Top Fears
1 Fear of public speaking – Glossophobia
2 Fear of death – Necrophobia
3 Fear of spiders – Arachnophobia
4 Fear of darkness – Achluophobia, Scotophobia or Myctophobia
5 Fear of heights – Acrophobia
6 Fear of social situations – Sociophobia
7 Fear of flying – Aerophobia
8 Fear of confined spaces – Claustrophobia
9 Fear of open spaces – Agoraphobia
10 Fear of thunder and lightning – Brontophobia

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

In addition, 3 of 4 people experience speech anxiety. That means a massive amount of people not only don’t like public speaking, they are terrified of it.

That eliminates a huge amount of competition. Beyond that, many public speakers are terrible. Best of all, great public speakers can command really high fees for very little work.

What this means is that if you can position yourself as an expert in your niche and work really hard on your overall presentation, it might pay off handsomely. But even if you’re just looking forward to becoming a better communicator, cultivating good public speaking skills can be a lifelong benefit for your career. But only if you can avoid these 8 pitfalls.

8 speaking mistakes that will make you look like a newbie.


1. You don’t know your material

The first thing you need to do is know your stuff. Inside and out, backward and forward. This one’s pretty self-explanatory so I’ll leave it at that.

2. You’re late to your event

Nothing makes you look more amateur, and gives conference hosts fits, than being late. I’d recommend arriving at least 30 minutes ahead of time, but usually I arrive 45 minutes to an hour early, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the room and have to set up equipment.

3. You’re completely flustered by the technical stuff

Look, as great as modern technology is, they don’t always make it easy. In fact, in some presentations I gave, I swore the technical hurdles I had to go through were done on purpose to prove that I really was a geek that worked at Wired.

Projector screens, laptop connectors, getting your presentation to display properly, adjusting aspect ratios, getting audio to work… all of these seem to be different in every location. Yes, in many cases you can work with – or blame it on – the A/V guy at the venue. But in many cases this will be you, so it pays to learn your way around.

4. You exceed your time limit

This is one of the most egregious errors in my opinion. I’ve been in less formal corporate settings when a team of managers were asked to present for 30 minutes as part of a day-long conference and went nearly 20 minutes over time, which caused the organizer to have to schedule the next speaker DURING lunch, and ruined the flow of the entire day.

The saddest thing is that there are two incredibly simple ways to avoid this. First, practice your speech in advance and time it out. Even if you only get to go through it once, you’ll instantly find out if you’re closer to 20 minutes or an hour. Second, keep an eye on the clock. I liked to bring in iPod touch and set the stopwatch going so I can glance at it easily.

5. You speak too fast

Listen, I am probably the LAST person to be giving advice here. Many a person has told me to slow down when speaking, both on the podcast and when giving presentations. But I am incredibly aware that this is a weakness of mine and have tried to improve it with every speech I give.

However, I want to point out the difference between talking too fast and having a lot of energy. I’d like to think I bring a ton of energy to the room, which goes along with my fast pace. A great tip I got from someone was not to focus on drastically reducing how fast I talk, which could affect my energy, but rather to make sure I paused often to let the audience catch up.

I recently saw one of the worst keynote speeches I’ve ever seen. The speaker was an accomplished businessman and he was FLYING through his presentation. He had dozens and dozens of slides and was blowing through his stories so fast that the problem was that there was no context around his story, no highs and lows, no flow, no development of his content, and he lost everyone. And then it lasted 45 minutes.

6. Your slides suck

If you’re going to be a consistent presenter, it’s worth it to invest in a simple design. I can go into it a lot more, but basically you want something that has some color and texture to it, while using a large, clear font that is easy to read.

Check out some of the before and after slides by Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen.

Then there is the CONTEXT of your slides. The more I present, the fewer the words I have on the screen. In fact, I created a chart that shows how the more experienced you are at speaking, the more images and fewer words are used per slide.

There’s definitely some context here… a business meeting or a classroom setting might require more hands-on material and instructional copy that people need to read, whereas a conference-style presentation should be at a higher level – think a Steve Jobs iPhone unveiling. But even a basic business presentation should go light on text, leaving any required data for handouts.

7. You read your slides

You should know your material well enough that you don’t need to read directly from the screen. In fact, you should never have to turn your back to the audience and look back at the screen at all. Instead, have your laptop set up in front of you or to the side facing you so that you can work from there and always be facing the audience.

And while you’d think this would go without saying, I was dumbfounded when a high-profile keynote speaker recently carried a small piece of paper onto the stage, grasping it for the entire 45 minute presentation, and referring to it several times throughout the speech. If there were 10-15 things to cover, why not use some slides? If there were less than 5 things to cover, you couldn’t memorize it?

But no presentation in the past year killed me more than the person at a SXSW presentation that sat in the front of the room and READ their speech like a blog post. No slides, no visuals, no walking around. Read an entire 10 page document to an audience of 50-100 people. And this is at a conference where more than 3500 people applied to present, and only a few hundred were chosen.

8. You don’t expect the unexpected

No matter how much you plan, something will invariably go wrong. Whether it is a technical glitch, a program reschedule, lack of internet service, or a topless woman standing on a table and shouting at the crowd (this happened at Blogworld 2012 in New York, I was there).

The first thing you need to do is be prepared. For example, for my computer I have a VGA adaptor and 2 different HDMI connectors. I have a copy of my presentation on the computer, on a thumb drive, and in the cloud on Dropbox. I also bought my own remote control to use. A bottle of water, a snack, paper print-outs, business cards, handouts, key telephone numbers, directions, maps… ok, I WAS an Eagle Scout so being prepared is in my nature, but you get the point.

The second thing you need to do is roll with the punches. I’m actually looking into Improv comedy classes in order to get better speaking on the fly.

The best way to prepare for the unexpected is to be overprepared.

Public speaking is hard, but if you avoid these 8 pitfalls, you’ll look like a pro in no time.

Hire Jim
Do you enjoy The Hopkinson Report? Is your company or someone you know looking for an entertaining, high-energy, informative public speaker on the topics of career development, salary negotiation, or social media? You can hire me to speak at your next event. Email me or learn more.

To learn from great speakers, check out TED talks.
For a great book on slides, check out Presentation Zen.

And remember when it comes time to bill your clients, check out my sponsor, Freshbooks.com.

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