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December 3, 2020

7 Common Presentation Mistakes You Must Avoid

Avoiding common presentation mistakes is key to establishing yourself as a quality presenter. Additionally, you create stronger connections with your audience and effectively convey your message.

For a beginning speaker, it is important to be aware of typical slip-ups and common presentation mistakes. It alleviates anxiety going into a presentation and minimizes the negative self-talk afterwards.

Reasons Speakers Make Common Presentation Mistakes

Most experts and coaches point to lack of experience by beginners and novices as the number one reason for making common presentation mistakes.

However, in my twenty plus years of public speaking and coaching, I’ve seen well-seasoned presenters make most of these mistakes. And, quite often, in the same presentation. I see these presenters make these mistakes over and over.

I attribute the plethora of these common presentation mistakes to a few things.

One reason is ingrained habit.

Most people never seek expert advice on how to present effectively. Most audiences don’t provide necessary feedback for a presenter to improve. Over time the common mistakes become habitual.

A second reason is lack of planning.

Many presenters create a slide deck first and create content on the fly. This typically leads to a poorly designed slide deck and lack of clarity on message and structure.

A third reason is many presenters model what they see others doing.

This creates a horrible and perpetual cycle common presentation mistakes. An unspoken mind set of “If others are doing it then it must okay for me to do it too.” develops and becomes difficult to break.

Small Font on Slide Deck

One of the most common presentation mistakes is using a font size that is too small. Even experienced speakers do this. Why presenters and slide deck designers do this are numerous.

One reason, often made by novice speakers, is not considering the distance between the audience and the projection screen. A common thought is that because the slides are projected, they will always be readable. That is not the case.

A more egregious factor in using small font, is trying to fit too much text on the slide. There are two main causes for this. One, is using the slide deck as an outline. The other is overuse of the bulleted list layout of the presentation software.

Avoid doing this mistake by separating your outline from your slide deck. Also make sure you know your content well. Another strategy is to use a minimum of 30pt font on each slide. Lastly, stick to one point per slide and relay the point with as few words as possible.

Bad Font Colors

Fortunately, bad font colors are becoming a less common presentation mistake. Today, available templates, themes, and color schemes reduce this issue. Most use basic color theory and display well in multiple environments.

Being unaware of color theory leads to selecting colors that don’t go well together. Often, bad font colors interfere with the audience’s ability to read the text on the slide.

For slides being projected, LCD projector color calibrations are commonly off. Colors then display differently and often, look like a different color altogether. This makes it challenging to see the text against the background.

common presentation mistake - bad font colors

An easy way to avoid off colors is to use a color scheme generator. Here are some recommendations: Paletton; Adobe Color Wheel; Coolors.co.

Another technique is avoid using red or green as the main font colors. Anyone who is color blind typically has the hardest time seeing these two colors. Most important, is to use high contrast between the font and background.

Overuse of Jargon and Acronyms

As our knowledge about a specific topic or discipline grows, we tend to forget what it was like to not know what we know. This is typically referred to as the “curse of knowledge.” As a result, expert presenters make another common presentation mistake by overusing jargon or acronyms.

When speaking to a non-expert audience, it is essential to remove jargon and acronyms as much as possible from the presentation. Your focus should be clarifying and simplifying the message. This is not the same as “dumbing down,” which makes you look arrogant and patronizing.

The extent to which one uses jargon or acronyms is directly tied to the audience. If the audience is comprised of experts then use of jargon and acronyms is expected. However, it is still important to use them wisely and only when necessary within the presentation.

If you are having a difficult time creating a speech for non-experts, work with someone who is representative of the audience. This individual can provide insight and ideas on how to convey the same message but in a way that relates to the intended audience.

Talking Too Fast

While I marvel at people who can talk very fast, this is not something you should be doing during a speech. This frequent presentation error more often than not is due to nerves. The why behind being nervous is vast but speaking fast is a common side effect.

When a speaker is talking too fast, the audience struggles to keep up. Frustration builds at they feel like they are missing key information. Most will come away from the presentation not knowing what your main message was.

If you are new at presenting and nervous, the audience may be sympathetic at first. But, if you are unable to slow down, their sympathy will turn to irritation.

Another reason for talking fast is running out of time and trying to cram 20 minutes of a speech into 5 minutes. This is unprofessional and don’t do it. Skip to the end and conclude on a positive note.

For both of these scenarios, practice is the best way to avoid this common presentation mistake. The more prepared you are the less nervous you will be.

Also, through practice, you will know if you are trying to cover too much content in the allotted time. Take steps to cut content. Not doing so and thinking going over time is okay is disrespectful to the audience.

Reading Your Slides

A presenter who reads their slides is one of my biggest pet peeves. From my point of view, this is an outright presentation gaffe. The purpose of a presentation is not to read your computer screen or worse, the projection screen.

The goal is to connect with the audience in a meaningful way. Several presentation gurus have researched and written about this all too common presentation mistake. The general consensus on why presenters do this is related to slide content.

Specifically, having too much text on the slide. Presenters are more inclined to read their slides when everything they want to say is on the slide. Lack of familiarity with the subject matter and nerves also contribute to this habit.

A way to prevent this from happening is to separate your outline from your slide deck. The best way to do this is keep the outline on a separate document. Each slide should have minimal text conveying the main point you are trying to make.

Additionally, make sure you know your content. Set enough time aside to practice your presentation. This will help you become familiar with the content. This technique also aids in reducing nerves.

Too Much Animation

When presentation software was first available, overuse of animation was a typical presentation error. Presenters became enamored with the spins, bounces, and fly-ins.

This practice got so bad that it was common for audiences to leave a presentation slightly nauseated.

Fortunately, most experienced presenters avoid this frequent blunder. But novice presenters still fall into the trap of bells and whistles.

When using animation, identify how it is aiding you in conveying your message. Connecting the animation to your message helps you avoid this common presentation mistake.

In a previous blog, I illustrated an animation method to limit content visibility. This technique highlights the specific point you are discussing it. While impactful, the animation is minimal.

Going Over Allotted Time (the worst common mistake)

Nothing is more frustrating when a presenter goes past their allotted time. Most audiences will forgive a small overage like 5 minutes. However, more than that and any credibility the speaker built up to that point is now completely gone.

Going over the allotted time, is a signal to the audience that you do not respect them or their time. It also shows a lack of preparedness and self-awareness.

Occasionally, technical difficulties may affect your ability to start on time. Even if this happens, you should be prepared enough to adjust your presentation to still finish on time.

The easiest way to ensure you finish on time is to be clear about your main message and the points you need to make. And then practice, practice, practice.


All presenters want to do well while speaking. Not one goes into a presentation thinking they are making common presentation mistakes. Unfortunately, this happens far too often.

The typical and common presentation mistakes include going over the allotted time, reading slides, and talking too fast. Often, the cause is a lack of clarity about one’s message, lack of content knowledge, and lack of practice.

What common presentation mistakes have you observed? Do you do some of these common mistakes? What recommendations do you have for novice presenters? Share in the comments below.

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Jennifer Sharkey is known as the Virtual Presentation Specialist. Being passionate about seeing people shine and be heard, she leans into her 20+ years of public speaking experience and uses what she has learned from presenting, both in-person and virtually, to small groups all the way up to 5000 people. Jennifer draws from her experience as an associate professor, academic librarian, and coach to help holistic coaches master virtual presentations to grow their business. Her unique immersive program provides practical strategies and methods to build confidence, engage audiences, and generate authenticity and authority.

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