The 8 Killer Mistakes to Avoid when Presenting Online

So, you have to prepare a presentation today? Well you’re not alone! According to estimates, 36 million presentations are given daily all around the world. Yes, you read that right! Incredibly, that’s about the equivalent of the population of Canada! And yet how many of these presentations actually achieve their purpose? And in online presentations, how many people are actually still listening by the end slide? Now we’re probably talking more like the population of Liechtenstein! Because while it is easy to lose your audience face-to-face, this danger is even greater than ever as people follow online from the comfort and distractions of their own home office.

Let’s face it – you can’t please all the people all the time, but you can improve your chances by avoiding the following 8 common, yet lethal pitfalls.


The 8 Killer Mistakes of Online Presenting


1. Not getting to the point quickly

These days, time is short and attention is shorter—we’re not here to hear the Iliad, so keep any background information brief and avoid detours. Are you selling us an idea? Explaining a roll-out plan? Asking us to make a decision? Think like Twitter, get to your main idea within the first two minutes and tell us directly and clearly how it will make our lives better or easier. Structure your content clearly and use facts and examples to make your arguments more interesting and persuasive.

2. So many words…

In a face-to face setting, your body language and overall presence can partly compensate for dense, confusing or unattractive slides. But when online, the audience’s attention is channeled almost exclusively towards the slides right in front of them. It’s like sitting in a nice restaurant and only looking at your plate! Take care with fonts and sizes, colours and spelling errors. Spare your audience the ordeal of a “Docupoint” and its big blocks of text and endless bullet points— use key words and memorable short phrases instead. Remember, when it comes to communication, “Less is More”!

3. Not enough slides

Yes, you read right! Business presentations are often complex, but excess data whether text, numbers or graphs all on one slide, will cloud, not clarify your idea. Good news! Slides are free! Rather than cramming so much into one slide so that it looks like the London Tube Map circa 2050, you’d do much better to spread your content over several good clear slides. This way you will get your message across more effectively AND keep the audience engaged as they have more of a sense of progression, spending less time on each slide. Think Less Across More. Include section-dividers to guide your audience through your story and avoid them getting lost.

4. Not enough images

Images are without doubt the single most powerful way to give your presentation more impact and boost your chances of engaging the audience. What’s more, images are essential not just to make your message more attractive, but also to help others understand it more easily—65% of people learn visually. Look for good quality eye-catching, interesting photos to capture or underline your message; try Shutterstock for symbolic or conceptual images or Unsplash for more real and (free) images. Remember, be brave and go full screen—don’t scatter small photos around your slides. Your images should be the main dish, not the garnish!

5. Not flexing your voice

First and foremost, never use the PowerPoint as a teleprompter! Remember your audience can read much faster than you can read aloud  – 60% faster to be precise! The average (educated) adult reading speed is 280 words per minute compared to the rate of 173 spoken words per minute used by TED speakers. This is a difference that can seem excruciatingly slooooowwww in an online setting. Don’t read your content—instead summarize and talk about your message, enrich it with facts and examples. Your voice is absolutely vital to bring your message to life and engage the audience. Sit straight or stand to release your diaphragm and use intonation, pauses and vary your tempo to project energy and enthusiasm. Without body language, your voice is the star of the show, so bring out your inner DJ!

6. It’s a one-man or woman show

Conversely, one of the biggest mistakes you can make online is to talk continually at the audience instead of with them. While people are sitting in a meeting room social pressure will prevent them from much more than sneaking a furtive glance at their mobile. At home, however, there is no one to stop the siren call of the laptop and its treasure trove of mails, social media and breaking news. Stop the rush for the virtual door by building in interaction every 5 or 6 minutes to interact with the audience with questions, polling or asking for comments via webcam or chat. OK, we know, at the beginning it can feel like you’re talking to the Big Black Hole, but if you give it a little time then people will respond, we promise! Try Mentimeter, Kahoot and Quizziz to engage big audiences with games and polling. Get help managing the chat function as it can easily get out of control  and divide your audience’s attention. For longer presentations, think about taking speaking turns with a colleague so that the audience hears different voices. As always, variety is the spice of life!

7. You don’t have a Plan B

Let’s face it, Murphy’s Law is absolute since presenting on-line became the norm. Over the past 6 months giving courses and attending webinars, whether at Harvard, Stanford or even MIT, our team has witnessed cameras and microphones fail, problems sharing screen or sound, Microsoft Teams crashing, and spontaneous computer re-starts. And let’s not even start with the traffic noise, cats meowing and children screaming! So, what can we do?!” Always rehearse, arm yourself with patience and have a Plan B—send your PPT to a colleague beforehand just in case, have a PDF of your talk and have some questions ready to fill time while you or your IT hero fix it. If the worst does happen, keep calm and don’t worry! We’re all in this together and the audience has seen it all before! As one speaker at MIT said, “This is what life’s like now”.

8. You have had no training

Sorry, not sorry to plug our expertise here! So many people muddle through presenting the best they can, yet a little training can have a huge impact. By learning insider tips, practising new techniques and receiving expert feedback, you can really boost your presence, influence others more effectively and make the experience more enjoyable for all. After all, there is a world of difference between having basic cooking skills and being a Master Chef!


So next time you get ready to give a presentation online, remember our tips and keep your audience watching right till the credits roll! For more information on Presenting with Impact in English or Spanish, check out our Open Course offering or get in touch to learn more about in-company options.