Five Mistakes To Avoid During a Technical Presentation

By Laurent Duperval

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The technical speech is one of the most common types of speeches. It often focuses on a singular issue and provides new insight, information, or solutions to that issue. Although it is the main driver of the technical speech, focusing solely on content is not sufficient to keep the audience engaged. This article presents five mistakes to avoid in order to deliver an effective technical speech.

When someone tells you that you need to attend a technical presentation, what is the first thing that goes through your mind? Do you imagine yourself watching a parade of numbers, statistics, and data points? Do you imagine an unending list of boring and unreadable PowerPoint slides?

Unfortunately, this is frequently the case. Furthermore you will often see the same mistakes from one speaker to another. You can distinguish yourself from the majority of other speakers by avoiding the same common mistakes.

Here are five things to avoid the next time you need to give a technical presentation:

Drawing attention to your anxiety -

Too often, an inexperienced speaker will use one of these sentences (or variations thereof) to begin the speech. Generally, the speaker does so to apologize and to get clemency from the audience. In still further situations, that speaker will apologize every time he or she makes a mistake and will offer some excuse. The audience will notice on its own that you are ill at ease. When you mention it over and over, you only encourage them to pay attention to that fact. How do you avoid this issue?

Here are a few solutions:

Forgetting the audience - That is, forgetting to maintain constant contact with the audience. Speaking to a group is like a dialogue, even if there is only one person doing the speaking and the rest of the audience is only listening. Your role as a speaker is to make sure that your audience is following you throughout your speech.

When you speak, maintain visual contact with your audience. Don't get distracted by your PowerPoint slides, your notes, or anything else that takes your attention away from your audience. When you maintain visual contact with the audience, you can see in their eyes and in their posture if they understand, if they are paying attention, or if they are bored. This will allow you to adjust more easily to their state of mind.

Incorrect use of PowerPoint - As a presentation tool PowerPoint is overused. Furthermore, it is often improperly used. It is used to show large amounts of text when it should be used to display visual information. It's used as a memory jogger instead of a presentation aid. All the emphasis is put on the PowerPoint slides even though the slides should only add to the presentation.

Most audiences are sick of PowerPoint presentations nevertheless many speakers still believe that PowerPoint adds “professionalism” to their speech. This is only true if it is used effectively. Otherwise, it makes you look like an amateur. “Less is more” is a good philosophy when using PowerPoint. There is elegance in simplicity. A simple slide is more evocative than an over-charged one. A slide with no animation is more appreciated than a slide that uses all of PowerPoint's special effects.

Don't forget that PowerPoint, although it is meant to simplify your life, can often make it more complicated. With PowerPoint, you hope that your computer will not crash, that the projector will work, that there won't be a power failure, that you won't need to skip around in your slides, that everyone can see the screen, and so on. Without PowerPoint, there's only one variable―You. And you have 100% control over that variable.

Being too abstract - Do we need a lexicon to understand your speech? Is your topic so abstract that the audience only hears words instead of seeing images? Most human beings retain information as images, sounds, or feelings. Rarely will they remember information as words or abstract concepts. In order for your audience to understand and remember what you say, you have to paint a picture in their minds. They need to be able to hear you and see a picture that accompanies your words. One of the best ways to do so is to give examples.

In an academic situation, theoretical concepts don't necessarily need an immediate practical application. But outside of academia, it's important to translate what you say into a sensory experience for your audience. When your topic is very abstract, take the time to illustrate it with concrete and specific examples. The examples will help cement the information and help with understanding.

No call to action - After your speech, what should your audience do? How can they apply your words to their lives? Many technical presentations end by default, rather than by design. The speaker presents information, answers a few questions, then leaves, expecting the audience to know exactly what to do afterwards. How often have you heard a speech with copious amounts of excellent information, but then had no idea where to begin using it or how to put it into practice? Don't hesitate to tell the audience when and how to apply what you tell them.

A technical speech will lose its effectiveness and its usefulness if it is not properly presented. The five points above are some of the elements that can distract your audience and keep them from understanding the information that you present. These are points that can and should be taken into account during your preparation; prior to standing before your audience. By taking the necessary time for proper preparation, the speech will be better structured, more convincing, and more useful to your audience.

Laurent Duperval is the president of Duperval Consulting which helps individuals and companies improve people-focused communication processes. He may be reached at laurent@duperval.com or 514-902-0186.