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Career Success
APR 9, 2019

The 3 Worst Things to Say in a Presentation

By Darren Menabney
Photo credit: iStock photo/Aleutie

Hi, I hope you’ll enjoy my presentation. I’ve traveled a long way to be here. In fact, I got in just yesterday and I’m really jet-lagged and tired, ha-ha! So, I haven’t had a lot of time to prepare, I apologize in advance. Anyway, let’s begin. I’d like to talk about… oh dang, there’s a mistake on this slide.

Maybe you haven’t heard a speaker say all of that to kick off their presentation, but maybe you’ve heard some of it. Or perhaps you’ve used one of those phrases yourself. In any case, stop right there.

The French philosopher Simone Weil said, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” When you are presenting, people are listening to you. They are giving you the gift of their attention and time.

Don’t squander that generosity with a substandard presentation by saying things that signal their attention is being wasted. Here are three common phrases to avoid.

“SORRY, I’M TIRED/JET-LAGGED/HUNGOVER”

Why would the audience want to know that? Are you expecting sympathy? Unfortunately, that confession is likely to bring out their enmity.

What it really says is that you’re trying to cover your ass for the inevitably shoddy presentation you’re about to deliver. You’ve essentially told them to be prepared to be disappointed and taken the gift of their attention, crumpled up the wrapping paper, and thrown it back in their faces.

We all suffer from being tired, and maybe others in the audience are also jet-lagged, so don’t expect a free pass. And admitting to being hungover–which I’ve heard some speakers say with pride–is just unprofessional. Regardless of how bad you feel, it’s simple: Don’t use your physical condition as an excuse for wasting people’s time.

However, if you really do feel that unwell, politely cancel the presentation. At least this way you can give the audience some free time, rather than waste it.

“SORRY I DIDN’T HAVE TIME TO PREPARE”

Saying this does two things: It lowers your audience’s expectations and shows them a lack of respect. There’s always time–unless you’ve just been ordered onto the stage at gunpoint–to prepare for your presentation. Even in the unlikely case that you were told an hour ago, you can still do some preparation.

If you do have insufficient time to prepare, be smart about what time you use. Focus on the presentation’s opener and closing, the first and last things that you’ll talk about. These are the parts that make or break your presentation.

First tip for a strong opening? Make sure you don’t say any of the three phrases mentioned here. And forget about these other presentation killers.

Beyond that, rehearse what you’ll say to grab the audience’s attention. Look through the slides for some surprising or provocative statement to engage them right off the bat. Think about starting with a story.

Then come up with a way to recap your main points or issue a call to action to end the presentation. Be sure to add your own take on the content that’s not on the slides. Tell the audience what you want them to do, think, or feel about what you just presented.

With little prep time spent focusing on how to hook your audience at the beginning, and to end on a high note, listeners are more likely to forgive a mediocre middle.

“OOPS, THERE’S A MISTAKE ON THIS SLIDE”

First, avoid putting yourself in this situation at all costs. It may sound obvious, but go through your presentation to check for errors, especially things that spellcheck might not catch. Then check everything again. Get a colleague or two to put a fresh set of eyes on your slides. It’s amazing how many people don’t do this simple exercise.

Don’t forget to rehearse your presentation out loud to catch additional errors–even if you only have five minutes and are under duress (see the second point above).

If, despite your diligence, you notice errors during your presentation, don’t mention it. Unless it’s a glaring, major error that will mislead your audience, don’t draw attention to it.

It may be a mistake that only you would know about, like forgetting to include some content. Nobody else will know, so don’t acknowledge it.

If you don’t mention a small error, less than 100% of the audience will have noticed it.  Mention it, and 100% of the audience will have noticed it. Which would you prefer? That each and every member of your audience notices your error, or that only a few are clued in?

If something slipped through that could mislead, point it out without using the words “error” or “mistake” as those can make you sound less credible. Apologize, state what it should say, and tell them you’ll get them a corrected copy later. Take ownership and move on.

Whether it’s a major error or a minor one, don’t let it sap your presentation’s energy or momentum. Ignore it, apologize if necessary, and move on.

These phrases pop up frequently in public speaking, and using any of them shows a lack of respect for your audience. Stop making excuses, because they aren’t going to get you off the hook for a lack of preparation. Make the audience–and the gift of their attention–the star focus, give them value for their time, and your presentation will succeed.

This article was originally published on FastCompany.