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10 Terrible Ways to Start a Presentation

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We‘ve all seen presentations to large groups where the presenter takes the stage nervous, sweating, with a dry mouth and a carefully chosen statement intended to kick off his or her PowerPoint. A strong start to a presentation can secure the attention of your audience as it engages their attention and willingness to step into the flow of your story. But a bad start can doom the presentation before it ever gets off the ground.

One way to learn how to improve is to know what not to do. That way, you can avoid embarrassment the next time around. Here are some important tips, roughly ranked from bad to worst.

1. The Agenda

What the Presenter Said:

“Hello, people. I’ve prepared a PowerPoint, and I’d like to start with the first slide that outlines what you will see during the presentation.”

What the Audience Heard:

“My PowerPoint is in the driver’s seat here, not me. I am a slave to my slides. So I’ll start by talking about what I’m going to say, even though that is a waste of everyone’s time.”

2. Video

What the Presenter Said:

“I’ll start by showing a brief video.”

What the Audience Heard:

“I’m not really good enough to begin a presentation. I’ll just delegate that role to the video, so I can calm down and take a deep breath.”

3. I Don’t Want to Be Here

What the Presenter Said:

“I know you’d probably prefer to be at the beach. It happens a lot at conventions. But since we’re here, I hope you can make the most of this presentation.”

What the Audience Heard:

“Think of the beach, think of the beach, think of the beach. All the time during my presentation. Because it will be very bad and boring bullet-point-driven exercise. After I finish, you can go entertain yourselves and not remember anything about my message.”

4. Changing Roles

What the Presenter Said:

“Before I start, I would like to hear from you.”

What the Audience Heard:

“While you talk, I’m breaking the ice and feeling more secure about the unremarkable content I have to present.”

5. The Quote

What the Presenter Said:

“I’d like to start with a quote from Albert Einstein – ‘the definition of insanity is to do the same thing and expect different results’.”

What the Audience Heard:

“I am not capable of creating my own impact quote, so I’ll outsource my beginning by asking for help from a clichéd author that you will recognize. After that, I will try to maintain your attention, but my lack of story will not allow me to do that.”

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6. Will Do My Best

What the Presenter Said:

“Hello, everyone. I hope I can get my message across today. The content is very dense, but I’ll do my best to make it simpler for you.”

What the Audience Heard:

“Hi, everyone. I’m super insecure because I don’t think you’ll understand anything about my rhetoric-driven and arcane presentation.”

7. Endless Pitch

What the Presenter Said:

“I’m José da Silva, Managing Partner, responsible for our Supply Chain area. Before I begin, I would like to talk a little about what brought me here.”

What the Audience Heard:

“I am the most longwinded guy in the world, and you’re about to suffer for at least two hours.”

8. Not Relevant

What the Presenter Said:

“Hello, guys. I’ll start right away because we have some complex content here, and I want to make sure we get through it in the time allotted for this presentation.”

What the Audience Heard:

“I have a lot of irrelevant material and could not be selective or plan my presentation effectively.”

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9. Unprepared Presenter

What the Presenter Said:

“The purpose here today is a chat. I didn’t prepare anything very structured, so I would like you to participate. And, please, you can interrupt me at any time.”

What the Audience Heard:

“I did not prepare myself. I have nothing interesting to talk about. You will have to help me.” (And what happens most of the time is a monologue, with nobody participating!)

10. Nothing in There for Me

What the Presenter Said:

“I’d like to thank everyone for being here, and I promise to be as brief as possible.”

What the Audience Heard:

“My presentation is very tedious, and I will try to end your suffering as fast as I can.”

Most of us have lived through these uncomfortable situations while attending a presentation. Chances are, you’ll see them again. However, you can now avoid these obvious and very common mistakes in your presentations through an understanding of what not to do. So go forth and be confident in your new knowledge!

For further discussion: What is the most annoying introduction to a presentation you’ve ever seen?

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