15 Presentation Mistakes You Can Fix Today

danny riley public speaking coach

Danny Riley
11 min read

What you’ll learn:

  • How to prepare for your Best Man speech.
  • A speech structure you can steal.
  • How to balance comedy and sincerity.
  • Speaking confidently on the day.
Man fixing presentation mistakes

The first presentation mistake.

As a TEDx coach, hundreds of speakers come to me for public speaking coaching or presentation skills training, and they all tell me the same thing:

“I want to be more charismatic and confident”.

But not all of those people want to put in the time it takes to be more charismatic or confident.

You must, must, must prepare for every speech you give.

This is perhaps the first and foremost mistake that people make: failing to actually prepare!

Of course, if you’re doing some impromptu speaking for fun, that’s different. But I’m talking about the presentations that matter: the fundraising pitches, best man speeches, and business presentations.

It’s easy to procrastinate when you’re worried about a speech, but before we get any further, let’s make it crystal clea: you must prepare, prepare, prepare, and then prepare some more.

2. Speaking too quickly (or slowly) while presenting.

In a previous post about public speaking apps and websites, I mentioned that the pace at which you speak should always be in the conversational zone of between 100 words per minute (wpm) and 160wpm.

Any faster, and you’ll sound like an auctioneer.

Any slower, and you’ll seem like you’re reading the news at ten.

Slow down, first of all. The majority of speakers will speak too quickly. It’s always better to speak more slowly as your audience will still be able to catch what you’re saying. Just try not to send them to sleep!

3. Apologising to your audience.

You are going to make mistakes!

Everyone makes mistakes when presenting. You might accidentally turn off your microphone; your technology might fail; you might forget what you’re about to say. Whatever you do, though, don’t tell them you’re sorry.

You’re human, your audience is human, and they need no apologies from you.

Apologising doesn’t make you look humble; it reduces your magnetism. So, instead, correct the mistake and move or. Or, if you feel bold enough and have encountered the same error before, make light of it with a joke. Just don’t say you’re sorry. OK? Good. Onward.

charismatic speaker scorecard

Discover Your Charisma Score!

The Charismatic Speaker Scorecard benchmarks your ability to speak in an engaging way, and identifies opportunities to improve based on three key areas:
  1. Confident Mindset
  2. Compelling Content
  3. Engaging Delivery
Take the scorecard to find out how ready you are to speak in public – and receive a report that’ll tell you exactly what to work on.


4. Folding under questioning.

If your presentation arouses the proper emotional or logical responses from your audience, they will have a list of questions to find out more or challenge your ideas.

Don’t be afraid of a challenge. Being challenged is a good thing. If an audience member challenges a speaker, the speech has made them think and want to interact. So welcome questioning in your presentations, like you welcome applause or laughter.

You can do so by researching, learning to love surprises, and using more metaphors and stories.

Do me a favour, though, and make sure you invite questions the end of your speech. You need to own the ending and ensure the last thing that was seen or heard was you clambering to handle a tricky question from the legal team.

5. Purporting to be exceedingly verbose.

Was I purporting to be exceedingly verbose with that heading? Yes, I was being wordy on purpose. But can you see how irritating that can be?

Did you ever see that episode of Friends when Joey gets hold of a thesaurus and changes every word he says in everyday conversation to another word that sounds fancier? Take heed of Joey’s failings when you’re delivering a speech.

Keep it conversational. Use short, punchy prose and stick to active language rather than passive language: the dog bit the man. Passive: the man was bitten by the dog.

Active language cuts your word count in half in most cases and keeps the action rolling. Always remember the subject: verb: object order, and you’ll never go wrong.

6. Overcomplicating your presentation.

No audience member will ever thank you for confusing them or making your presentation complicated.

Audiences do not care how much you know, but they do care how much they can understand. Whenever you have a tricky concept to explain, try to explain it to several lay people (those unfamiliar with your field or the ideas you wish to present).

If you can’t explain it in a single sentence, it’s too complicated.

7. Not getting to the point.

Have you ever watched a film or tv show which was considered a ‘slow burner’?

We accept that movies or tv series’ need time to stew. But movies and tv shows are for entertainment. People can relax in their own time, and best of all, turn the tv off if it isn’t going fast enough for them.

When you speak, you should of why you are there and why they should care.

Mindtools suggest that the naverage adult has a 15-to 20-minute attention span. I think it’s more like 15-20 seconds. So get get right to the point and keep hammering it home.

8. Not telling stories in your presentation.

What do children ask for before bedtime? A PowerPoint presentation? A list of facts and figures on your company’s financial projections for the next quarter? No, they ask for a story don’t they?

Let’s face it, we all still have that child inside of us. We long for a sense of wonder and surprise. We want heroes and villains to do battle. We crave entertainment.

Play to this when delivering speeches. Always think in terms of stories instead of data. Data is unrefined and unprocessed information. It’s your responsibility to refine it and package it into something meaningful.

9: Opening with a whimper.

Your opener is as important as the headline of a news article.

If an essay doesn’t have a strong enough headline, it won’t compel the reader to read on. The same goes for your opener. If you can’t grab your audience in the first few seconds of your speech, you’re inviting them to check their smartphone for what’s on next.

If you need some example openers to help take your speech to the next level, read the article I wrote: a list of 9 killer speech openers that you can use to blow your audience away and then keep them hanging on your every word.

Open with a bang, instead of a whimper.

10. Trying to fake your confidence.

We’ve all been told to ‘fake it until you make it’ by someone at some time. In public speaking, this advice doesn’t work. You should never try to fake credibility or authenticity.

Faking authenticity or sincerity is ironic and outright wrong. Never pretend you care about something you don’t. If you don’t care, then don’t do the speech. If you have to do the speech, then start caring about it.

Your audience will smell fakery a mile off. They’ll forgive you for being nervous, but they’ll never forgive you for being insincere.

11. Using too many filler-words.

The odd ‘um’ or ‘ah’ isn’t going to cause any problems, but I’ve sat through 45-minute presentations where the speaker used filler words for 30% of the speech.

It’s incredibly off-putting and somewhat infuriating to hear so many filler words used. Fillers indicate a lack of confidence and preparation.

Instead of using filler words such as ‘like’ or ‘so’, use pauses or transition words such as ‘because’ or ‘and’. Be sure to vary these up and not wait for too long that it seems you lost your train of thought.

Ready to feel confident while speaking in public?

Join our next 1-Day Public Speaking Masterclass

12. The sin of monotony.

Much like the pacing of a speech, the inflexion and variety of tone are essential.

Monotony is, perhaps, the greatest sin of public speaking. A monotonous tone will make you sound like a 1980’s robot.

To create a better flow of speech, choose a simple sentence from your presentation and emphasise different words until you find the tone that conveys the correct message.

As an example, take this line:

I love you very much.

Now, take each word and emphasise that particular word and notice how the semantic meaning of the sentence changes:

I love you very much.

The emphasis on the ‘I’ indicates that the person speaking, in particular, loves the person to whom they are talking.

I love you very much.

With the word ‘very’ emphasised, the meaning changes. The speaker is emphasising how much they love the subject.

Always be aware that the way you speak conveys meaning to the audience. Get it right, and the effect of your speech will improve.

13: Death by powerpoint.

The Cardinal Sin of Death by Powerpoint (DPB) has been around for over 15 years. Initially coined by Angela Gardner this phenomenon is everywhere.

When observing any presentation, you can easily spot DBP from the following clues:

  • Cliche stock images such as a handshake or cogs turning
  • Liberal use of Word Art or SmartArt
  • Slides crammed full of text which the speaker reads out

The big piece of advice here is to stop creating your slides before your presentation. The slides are unimportant.

Your speech should contain stories and valuable information.

If you rely on PowerPoint slides to convey meaning, you ignore the beauty and joy of public speaking: it’s all in the speaking. Everything should centre around your message. If your slides can be printed and given out as handouts, they don’t work as slides. Remember the 10/20/30 rule.

PowerPoint presentations should have ten slides maximum, be no more than twenty minutes and contain no font smaller than thirty pixels.Every slide should contain one key concept.

14: Avoiding eye contact while presenting.

Every member of your audience is an individual.

It might seem obvious, but speakers often forget this. Each member of your audience deserves your time and respect. You should make an aim to make eye contact with every individual throughout your speech.

Conquer fear by showing up early to the event.

Get to know your audience a little, and then you’ll have some friendly faces to engage with when speaking. Don’t worry if your audience breaks eye contact. They aren’t used to making eye contact so strongly either.

Just make brief eye contact, convey a complete thought to that person, and then move to another.

15: Lacking composure when communicating.

One of the most excellent skills that a public speaker can possess is the ability to remain unruffled.

Do everything in your power to develop a sense of calm under pressure. You can develop this ability in some interesting and odd ways.

Play a competitive sport and focus on remaining positive even when losing. 

There are many ways to develop composure, but you must work on this skill before speaking, as any slight gust of problematic wind could derail you otherwise.

Don't make these presentation mistakes.

Mistakes will happen, and the best way to deal with errors is to be open to them. The more mistakes you have to deal with, the better prepared you will be in the future.

Every endeavour in life worth pursuing comes with the risk of failure. The true mark of success isn’t about avoiding mistakes or setbacks; it’s about how we deal with those mishaps.

The great thing is when a mistake happens once, and you prepare for it to happen again, you will be able to deal with it so calmly in the future that people will wonder where you get your resolve.

I cannot list all of the mistakes you might make while delivering a presentation, but this list will prepare you for the most common of them.

If you need help correcting any of these mistakes or preparing for the worst during your presentations, read more about presentation skills training options.

Until then, all the best with your next presentation.

– Danny Riley

charismatic speaker scorecard

Discover Your Charisma Score!

The Charismatic Speaker Scorecard benchmarks your ability to speak in an engaging way, and identifies opportunities to improve based on three key areas:
  1. Confident Mindset
  2. Compelling Content
  3. Engaging Delivery
Take the scorecard to find out how ready you are to speak in public – and receive a report that’ll tell you exactly what to work on.