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The 7 Most Common Mistakes Students Make in Presentations - And How to Avoid Them

Advice from a Professor Who Has Seen More Than His Share of “Bad” Presentations on How to Make Yourself a Better Presenter

By David WyldPublished about a year ago 35 min read
Image by Irina L from Pixabay

In a Nutshell

As a student, college is a great opportunity to not just learn material, but to build your skills. And certainly, no skill that you can learn in your 3, 4, 5…7 years in school will benefit you more after you graduate than learning how to be an effective presenter and build your oral communications skills. In this article, we explore the seven most common traps that college students - and yes, people all across the “real world” of business - fall into when making a presentation. As we cover each potential pitfall that speakers commonly fall into when presenting, we discuss ways that you can avoid these “presentation traps” and become a skilled, confident presenter - something that will serve you well, perhaps very well, in your post-college career!


With over thirty years experience as a professor, I’ve seen literally thousands of student presentations. I’ve had many group presentations and many more individual ones. I’ve seen good ones. I’ve seen mediocre ones. And yes, I’ve seen baaaaaaad ones! I’ve seen students make their classmates cry with the content being presented, and of course, I’ve had a few students break out in tears during their presentations (not by anything I said!). I’ve seen students visibly shake, and a few have even fainted and/or thrown up (again, not by anything I said!).

In short, I think that I’ve got a good frame of reference from which to speak as to what works - and what doesn’t - for students making presentations “work” and be effective today. I’ve seen undergraduate student presentations that were better than even some TED Talks and certainly superior to what one might hear from many Fortune 500 execs who have a “C” in their acronym title. On the flip side, I also can attest to what doesn’t work when you are making a presentation. I have seen many presentations where the student was either ill-prepared from the work they did - or didn’t do - leading up to “showtime” in the classroom and/or ill-equipped from his or her prior speaking experiences to succeed, and no, they did not produce a successful presentation!

And so in this article, I’ll provide students with a guide as to what not to do in their presentations, looking at the 7 most common mistakes that students make in preparing and delivering presentations today. These are:

  1. Not Making a Proper Introduction
  2. Overcrowding Your Slides
  3. Reading from Your Presentation Slides
  4. Not Anticipating Your Pacing
  5. Problem Words
  6. Poor Body Language
  7. Looking (and Acting) Like You Just Want to “Get It Over With”

The aim is to enable you to avoid falling into these “presentation traps,” and in doing so, not just make an “A” on a single presentation assignment, but to provide you with a guide for making all your presentations in college - and beyond. By knowing the most common pitfalls students - and yes, many in the business world - fall into when delivering presentations and learning easy to avoid these mistakes, you can, through the experience you gain presenting in your college classes, build presentation skills that will serve you well in your future career.

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The 7 Most Common Mistakes Students Make in Presentations

Let me stress again at the outset that I have seen many good student presentations in my time as a professor. All deserved credit should go to the students who do a good job in not just preparing, but delivering solid, effective presentations today! But alas, I’ve seen many more mediocre and baaaaaaad presentations. And yet, as with many aspects of business and life, we can - and should - learn from the mistakes we make - and those made by others - to try and make ourselves better.

And so in that spirit, I offer here the seven most common mistakes that I see students make in developing and delivering presentations in college today. These are:

  1. Not Making a Proper Introduction
  2. Overcrowding Your Slides
  3. Reading from Your Presentation Slides
  4. Not Anticipating Your Pacing
  5. Problem Words
  6. Poor Body Language
  7. Looking (and Acting) Like You Just Want to “Get It Over With”

If you can avoid these quite common pitfalls, you can give far, far more effective presentations, not just when a grade is riding on it in the relative safety of a college classroom, but when perhaps your career - and perhaps very real money - is at stake! If you can avoid falling into these seven “traps,” you can go a long way not just in making an “A” on one presentation, but in developing habits in the presentations that you make while you are in college that can serve you well in your career in the “real world” far beyond the college classroom, where the stakes are often far, far higher for you to deliver at the “moment of truth” than to simply earn a grade!

Image by Nebraska Department of Education from Pixabay

1. Not Making a Proper Introduction

This is a big, big tell for me that happens in the first 15-30 seconds of a presentation. If a student fails to do this at the very start of their presentation, it’s a baaaaaaad sign of what is to come!

Let’s start with a fact. No matter how small the group and no matter the setting, whether in the “real world” of business or in a college classroom. you should not take three things for granted. First, even if you think they do, never assume that everyone knows who you are (that old saying about what "assume" means does hold true!). Next, while it might be quite clear to you what the title of your talk is and why folks (in this case, your fellow students) are gathered there to listen to you at that precise moment, again, don’t assume that your audience knows those two important things either! Even if you have those three items covered “right there” on your first slide, you should:

A.) not assume that you have their attention at the very start of your talk (I mean, that assumes that you have captured enough of their attention to have them stop whatever they might have been doing - finishing a text, scrolling the Web, talking to the person next to them, etc.) to learn who your are, what you will be talking about, and what is the occasion; and

B.) Begin your talk with what is just showing respect for - and having “common courtesy” for those in attendance - by simply introducing yourself and your presentation.

If you begin your presentation by addressing these three items, I believe that you “start off on the right foot” in making a connection with your audience. And so, you really, really should simply start your presentation with a short, simple, rote statement introducing yourself, your topic, and, if it is appropriate, the setting for your talk at that time. While you may want to go in with a bang and have a surprise for the audience (i.e. Cool walk-up music, a statement that will surprise them to attention, a graphic/quote/video that will heighten their interest), my advice would be to save that novel idea - no matter how great you think that it might be - to be second on your “to do” list. First though, before anything else, address the basics and start your presentation with a proper introduction of yourself!

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2. Overcrowding Your Slides

This is such a common problem that makes presentations far less effective than they could or should be! In fact, “Overcrowding Your Slides” is probably the most common “trap” that not just students, but many in the corporate world as well, fall into today that really, really makes their presentations ineffective - or least far less effective than they could have been with better slide designs.

Let’s begin with a simple premise: You have a lot that you want to say in your presentation! The problem is that if you put all of that into your presentation, you will end up with slides that are ineffective! All too often, I see students taking whole sentences - even whole paragraphs - and simply “cutting and pasting” this content from their Word Document into a PowerPoint or from their Google Doc into a Google Slides presentation. And while this may seem to be all well and good from your standpoint, after all, you have info that you want to convey to the audience, and what better way to do so than to show everything to them.

That is exactly wrong! This is one of those occasions where the saying “less is more” applies - perfectly and absolutely. If you cut and paste whole sentences - let alone whole paragraphs - from your base document into your slides, guess what you will end up with? Yes, you get an unreadable slide! In short, font sizes DO matter! What may look perfectly fine to you on your laptop or tablet screen will not look the same when it’s projected onto a screen for an audience to take in! What may have seemed easily readable to you on your screen does not read the same when projected out for an audience to view!

And like I said, the lure - and ease - of “cutting and pasting” is strong not just among college students, but among presenters in the corporate world as well. As one who has seen many presentations in companies and at corporate conferences, there are many, many folks who obviously did not learn this simple - and important - lesson in their college days.

And so here is my advice: In a nutshell, summarize! Do not copy whole sentences, whole bullets, and certainly not whole paragraphs from your source document into your slideshow! Rather, do note that whatever slide program you may be using (from PowerPoint to Canva to Google Slides) to prepare for your presentation, you likely have a notes section where you can enter the full content, rather than entering all of that content onto the slides themselves. As such, you have ample room for submitting notes to augment your presentation.

Now, for the presentation slides themselves, you should use words sparsely! I shy away from having an absolute, “hard and fast rule” as to just how few words to have on a slide. A friend of mine who has a great consulting business making and “polishing” presentation slides for big companies and big executives says no more than 10 words per slide - period! And he urges fewer if possible! And if you have half of your slide taken up with a graphic/chart/table - or if the slide background itself makes a quarter or even a third of your slide area unsuitable for “words” (due to the busy edge designs that are quite common today) - you really need to be frugal with your words!

So, in short, here's my best advice on slide design. Have the mindset of using as few words per slide as possible, and for the text you have, do make the font as large as possible (remember, the way it looks on your laptop, desktop PC, or tablet - let alone your smartphone - is not the way it’s going to look to your audience on screen!). Now again, I shy away from “absolute numbers,” but… perhaps no more than a dozen words on any slide and a font size of 18, 20 or larger for the text on any slide. And do bear in mind that there’s no absolutely no cost to having more slides! Spread your message over as many slides as it takes to convey what you want to say in the most effective manner possible - and no, don’t simply cut and paste those full sentences to run over multiple slides! If you think simply “few words, big font,” you will go a long, long way to having an effective presentation!

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3. Reading From Your Presentation Slides

Reading may be fundamental. However, in presentations, it can be a killer! “Reading from Your Presentation Slides” is a common problem that is closely correlated with the preceding issue (“Overcrowding Your Slides”), as students with all of their presentation - verbatim - on their slides will almost inevitably simply read from them. However, the “reading problem” can happen even in instances where a student has created a perfectly fine, even outstanding, slide deck!

Why is the practice of reading from slides so common today? There are a number of reasons. The first is that so many students have witnessed their professors in college and their teachers back in high school simply do it themselves. And yes, sometimes professors and other teachers may find themselves in situations where they are not terribly familiar with the subject or the specific material that they are tasked with covering. But because many of today’s students have seen too many lectures where the instructor just basically read what was on the slides for the class (likely a “canned” presentation on a chapter or specific topic from a textbook publisher) to them, they come to see this as an effective - or at least passable - way of presenting.

The second reason reading from the slides is so common is that this is the easiest possible path for getting through a presentation, even if it may not be a terribly effective way of doing so. By simply reading through the presentation slide deck you have prepared, you do accomplish one thing: You do make it through the process. However, you miss both the chance to really maximize both the effectiveness of your presentation (and your grade) and the opportunity to develop presentation skills - and confidence - that will be beneficial to you in the future.

So why is reading your presentation such a bad thing in reality from the standpoint of the audience? Let’s talk specifics! Reading is the quickest way to lose the attention of your listeners, period! When the audience sees and hears you obviously reading your presentation, many - if not most - of them will tune you out. In their minds, reading leads them to conclude that: A) You’re not prepared for the presentation; B) You’re not enthused about what you are talking about; C) You’re not respectful of the audience (i.e. You chose not to really prepare for the presentation); or D) A combination of 1, 2, or all 3 of these things. In fact, even if you have something great planned to do 5, 7..10 or more minutes into the presentation, if you started out your presentation reading it “straight,” you will have lost the audience’s attention by the time you get to it!

Reading your presentation also leads directly - and almost inescapably - to two “Speech 101” absolute “No-No’s!” The first is that when you are reading, whether from notes, from a computer monitor, or from the slides projected on the screen, you cannot at the same time be making eye contact with the audience. It’s physically impossible! You simply can’t be looking at two places at the same time - save for a rare eye condition! As all intro to communications courses cover basically on the first day of talking about public speaking, making eye contact is the best way to get engaged with your audience, and in turn, for the audience to be engaged with you. Yes, there are tricks to where you can “look like” you are looking directly at people (looking over their heads or focusing on a specific “thing” in the back of the room), but these are far less effective than looking people in the eye (pro tip though, just don’t do it too much with any one audience member, lest you come off “stalker-ish!”).

The second big “No-No” that happens when you read your presentation is that most people, when they do so, read their material in a far more monotone pattern than they would if they were just normally presenting it. A monotone delivery is probably the biggest turnoff for those listening to any presentation out there! This is because even the most interesting material, when presented in a monotone fashion, can come off as boring as yes, watching paint dry! Nothing will cause the audience to lose interest in your presentation faster than a monotone delivery. So you should make every effort to not be monotone in your presentation delivery, adding inflections, emphasis, modulating your voice, and including “strategic pauses” where you can. Most of all though, avoid reading your presentation, as this directly leads, in most instances, to a monotone delivery.

And so all of this is why it is so vital to avoid reading in your presentation, as it is an “audience killer” (figuratively, not literally, of course). Now this is not to say that you can’t read specific parts of your presentation where reading is absolutely necessary - such as reading a quote or a specific, important passage (especially if it involves highly technical or even legal language). However, in general, reading your presentation is something that should be largely avoided, as it is almost impossible to make an effective presentation - from the audience’s perspective - if you read a significant - or in truth, much of it at all - share of it to them.

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4. Not Anticipating Your Pacing

We all get nervous - to some degree or another - when we stand up to speak - whether it is in front of 10, 20, 200, or 4,000 people. That’s a good thing, as even the best, most experienced speakers say that they feel a bit on edge when it comes time for “the show!” The heart might start beating a tad faster, and the adrenaline does get flowing whenever anyone goes to speak. And those nerves can cause any number of things to happen during a presentation, and yes, many of them are bad. Yes, you might lose your place, your focus, and maybe even for a moment not quite be sure why you are there speaking! You might skip over a slide. You might repeat yourself. And yes, you might start feeling a bit woozy.

But one thing I can tell you from having seen and evaluated thousands of student presentations is something that will absolutely happen and that is a direct consequence of your nerves. This "thing" that will 100% happen is in regards to your pacing. You will either speak much faster or much slower than you anticipated, than you planned for, and certainly, in 99% of all cases, not at the pace you practiced (no matter how many times you may have practiced your presentation!). This happens simply because, as any performer of any kind - be they an athlete, an actor, a musician, etc. - can attest to, game time, show time, and yes, presentation time simply is different! Being in front of the crowd - be it speaking to tens of people in the college classroom or performing before far more at a concert, a game, etc. the actual show just feels different than practicing for the show!

So, how does this “speed problem” typically manifest itself? The change in pacing from your practice (well, hopefully you did practice!) can be subtle, and really innocuous. However, it can also be a big deal! Let’s say you have a presentation that has a prescribed time window for you to speak for between a minimum of 10 minutes and a maximum of 15 (these are the most common time limits - lower and upper - that I personally use in my classes for individual presentations). The most common change in pacing - which I’d say happens in about two-thirds of all student presentations - is for your “nervous energy” to see you either speed up or slow down by a minute or two under or over your target, practiced time. So, if you practiced your presentation several times and it timed out to right at 12 minutes - smack in the middle of the target time window, then your actual presentation might run as short as 10 minutes if your “edginess” made you unconsciously speed-up your speaking pace or as long as 14 minutes if you found yourself speaking more slowly. Either way, your time ended up being within the prescribed time frame, so while your nerves did impact your pacing, you were safe on the time front.

However, for about a third of all students, the “nerve factor” has a far more severe impact on their pacing, causing them to either rush through their presentation far faster or far slower than they anticipated - and practiced it beforehand! So, in many, many instances, students who might have practiced for their presentations to last for 12 minutes might well find themselves rushing through their slideshow in 7-8 minutes, or alternatively, going well over the 15 minute time limit (which means I have to give them the universal hand signs of either “2 more minutes” or to simply “wrap it up!” And it works out to be about 50/50 as to whether students unexpectedly become “fast talkers” or “slow presenters” when it comes time to actually deliver their presentation in front of their classmates.

So how can you avoid this trap - and maybe even prepare for it? The best way to avoid it is to practice your presentation realistically! Don’t “practice” your presentation simply by talking to yourself while sitting with your laptop in front of you and you are just clicking through your slides! You need to get-up off the sofa, get-out of your desk chair or even your car seat - wherever you might study these days - and stand and deliver your presentation! It is best if you practice in front of someone or someones - even if he/she/they are your roommates, your friends, or heck, even your Mom (and that might be the toughest audience of all!). If possible, see if you can practice in the classroom where you will be giving your presentation. If you can't, then try and find a similar venue to practice in - whether that be an empty classroom (preferably one that is similar in size and seating arrangement) or, if your university has one, take advantage of a “presentation practice room” for students to do just that! And yes, drag along - and bribe if necessary - a friend or two to be your audience, so that you are not just practicing in an empty room! Maybe even find a classmate - or 2 or 3 - that you can “reciprocate” to watch each other’s practice runs for your presentations!

Finally, aside from practicing your presentation in as realistic a setting as possible, the best thing you can do to maybe not avoid and/or overcome this very real presentation issue is to simply prepare for it intelligently. In short, learn from your experiences! Track your own times on the presentations that you deliver and see how your actual delivery times vary from what your practice times were. By doing so, you can see if - and again, more likely how much - you either tend to speed up or slow down your pacing when you “stand and deliver” your real presentation, with the nerves that do - and should - come with the task. After just a couple of “real” presentations, you can learn what your tendency is to talk faster or slower than practiced, and you can adjust how - and how much - you prepare to say in your presentation. If you tend to speed up, then you should plan on having more slides and more content to fit your presentation to meet the time limit or time window set for the presentation. Alternatively, if you tend to slow down your pacing when delivering the real presentation from how you practiced it, then you should condense your presentation (with less slides and/or less content), so as to not run long - perhaps waaaaay long - with your presentation.

In short, you need to know yourself and your tendencies in this regard, and prepare accordingly. And of course, the more experience you have in making presentations - and self-assessing not just your timing, but your overall performance, the more confident and effective you will be in delivering your content and getting your message across. And likely, as your experience - and confidence - grows as a presenter, the time variance between your practice sessions and your actual presentation delivery will diminish - but not disappear! So, as you have opportunities to deliver presentations in settings outside of the college classroom - in your clubs or organizations, in your church, in community groups, etc., take advantage of these chances to build and hone your skills as a presenter! The time and energy it takes to make and deliver such presentations will only make you a better presenter when a grade is on the line, and more importantly, down the line in your career when much more is on the line!

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5. Problem Words

Your words matter - a lot - these days! Whenever anyone steps up to speak in front of a group, that person should be very concerned about the words they use. And yes, your professors should be as well. We do live, work and educate in an environment today where anyone giving a presentation can, with the use of a single inappropriate word, run into extreme problems (especially when it comes to language that is obviously, or even could be perceived, as being racist, sexist, misogynistic, culturally inappropriate, etc. That is the reality today, for good and for bad.

And so yes, as a baseline, whenever you are speaking, you should make certain - damn certain (and I use that word to emphasize this point) - that no word emanates from your mouth that could be perceived as inappropriate - period, full stop! If you have a tendency to use such inappropriate language - nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs - that are inappropriate or even could be perceived as being inappropriate, you REALLY need to practice your presentation to the point where you make sure that such language won’t just “slip out!” So whether we are talking about culturally inappropriate labels and/or even curse words, you really need to be proactive in governing yourself and making darn sure that you don’t - in a nervous moment - use words that could get you into far more trouble than one might imagine.

Now, beyond just avoiding language that could not just “turn-off” members of your audience, but perhaps get you into significant trouble with your university (and later, with your company), there are other words that - if you use them, and particularly if you use them A LOT - will quickly erode the effectiveness of your presentation AND your credibility with the audience. The four most common words that will bring your presentation down are:

  • “Uh,”
  • “Ahh-um,”
  • “Okay” and
  • “You Know.”

Let me explain. These words are fillers. We use them, almost instinctively, to fill time. You see, many students - and let me add, many in the corporate world as well - falsely believe that they need to fill every single second of their presentation with words. And if they have nothing to say in an instant, all too often they fill the time with these four words.

These four words are traps, as many students wrongly believe that they are committing a cardinal sin if they have a single second during their presentation when they are not speaking. They don’t believe in, let alone practice, using pauses, which can make your delivery far more effective when used right (and yes, not overused!). The students who use “Uh, “Ahh-um,” “Okay” and “You Know” the most - and usually, it’s one word out of the four, not a combo - might really know their subject and be really well-prepared for their presentation. However, once he or she falls into this word trap, it is very, very difficult to recover. In fact, once the “Uh’s” or “You Know’s” start, they often accelerate, almost dominating the presentation and drowning out the intended message. In short, these four words are not just time fillers, they are presentation killers! No, they are not “Okay!” Using them repeatedly can not just disrupt the flow of your presentation, but quickly undermine your credibility with the audience - not to mention undermining your grade.

So, how does one avoid falling into the “filler word trap?” There’s really only one way: Practice! It goes without saying that the more you practice your presentation, the better prepared you will be, and yes, the better you will likely do. However, by preparing more, you will be able to work out both your pacing - not too fast, not too slow - and you will be able to work on the mechanics of the delivery of your material. I would even recommend that you record your rehearsals, and when you watch them you should not just time your presentation, but evaluate what you did well and where you need improvement (pacing, body language, transitions, etc.). One thing that you should specifically focus on is whether or not you are using the four most common filler words - “Uh, “Ahh-um,” “Okay,” and “You Know.” You don’t need to aim for zero, but if you do find that you are using these more than a couple of times during the course of your presentation, you do have a problem that needs to be addressed. And if you find that you are using them repeatedly, you truly need to focus on eliminating them from your presentation delivery. With additional practice and careful attention to your delivery - and allowing yourself to simply pause at transitions in your presentation (i.e. between sections, advancing slides, etc.), you can really make yourself a far more effective speaker, simply by eliminating those four filler words.

And one final note that applies to those of you who, like me, live in and/or are from the South. There’s one more word that you REALLY need to focus on eliminating to make yourself a much more effective speaker, and that is “y’all.” Now being from Texas and living in Louisiana, I can tell you that this is something that I have to focus on myself. In my career, I have had the chance to speak at high level conferences to business leaders and in board rooms. And when I travel north of the Mason-Dixon line to do so, I really try and focus on eliminating “y’all” from my vocabulary, which is, I must say, a difficult thing for those of us with Southern roots to do! However, that one word can diminish your credibility as a speaker when you travel north and west in our great country to do business. Thus, the work that you put into trying to not use “y’all” - both when speaking to groups and yes, in one-on-one conversations, will serve you well in your pursuits well beyond the college classroom.

Image by Jonathan Alvarez from Pixabay

6. Poor Body Language

Study after study shows that how you look when you are speaking is even more important than what you are actually saying! Your body language conveys even more than your spoken words. And no matter how well-crafted and how persuasive what you have to say might be, what your body language is saying can not just work against your spoken words, but in reality, even contradict it. So it is exceedingly important that you focus on what your body is saying, not just on the words that come out of your mouth.

Again, practice does help make perfect when it comes to body language. What then should you focus on as you rehearse your presentation? For one thing, you should make certain that you are using good, positive body language. For starters, don’t cross your arms (doing so indicates you are not open to those interacting with you). Also, make certain that you are using gestures to reinforce what you are saying. Your hands should thus be looked upon as tools to help convey your verbal message, reinforcing your points by, well, pointing them out with your hands as you go. Now on the other end of the spectrum, you want to make sure that you are not gesturing too much. Too many gestures - or continuous, and even forceful, gesturing - can be not just distracting to your audience, but this can really overwhelm and even negate your message. Again, the best way to gauge your gesture game is again to record yourself practicing your presentation and then critically evaluate your own performance. By doing so, you will make yourself a far more effective presenter. And do make sure that your facial expressions match the tone and tenor of what you are saying. Smile when you are giving good news or conveying positive stories or numbers, but don't smile - and especially don't be laughing - when trying to convey bad news or something truly tragic - that gives you the look of a serial killer, and no, audiences - and professors - don't react well to that!

Finally, and this a personal pet peeve of mine, many students, even with the ability to remotely control the slide projection system (via a remote mouse, a slide "clicker," or today, even an app), literally tie themselves to the podium. They do not just stand behind the podium; they literally cling to it. You can often see them with an iron grip on the podium, holding onto it as if it were a life preserver in the middle of the ocean. So here’s my pro tip: Relax, and relax your grip on the podium! Try to consciously move away from the podium, even walking - so far as your remote control of your presentation system will allow - around the room. You will likely find that the movement will help to calm your nerves, while also allowing you the opportunity to better connect with the audience. This is because as you move around, you will find that you have the ability to make direct eye contact with more audience members directly. Now, the one caveat here is that if the presentation is being recorded on video or Zoomed, you may well need to either stay directly behind or very close to the podium to remain in the screenshot. If that is the case, then you will need to find other ways to both relax yourself and to improve your connections with the audience members during the course of your presentation.

Image by ErikaWittlieb from Pixabay

7. Looking (and Acting) Like You Just Want to “Get It Over With”

Finally, there are many students who approach each and every presentation with absolute dread! Studies have shown that, across the board, people, in general, fear public speaking more than literally anything else in life - even death! And in far too many instances, the fear is readily apparent in students, no matter what might be done to try and make the setting as relaxed and “speaker friendly” as possible. That fear - and the nervousness that it sparks - all too often overwhelm student presenters, defeating any and all that they may have done leading up to the moment their presentation begins. And this fear of public speaking is by no means limited to the relatively safe environment of the college classroom. Indeed, you see the “sense of fear” in the eyes and in the actions of presenters everywhere, whether they are speaking in a corporate conference room, at a professional or academic conference, or even in a social or church setting.

How does this overwhelming fear of public speaking manifest itself? TIme and time and time again, one sees students who display many of the six qualities that we have already discussed - they rush, they read, they hug the podium, they have poor body language, they make no attempt at eye contact with the audience. They seem to have only one goal for their presentation - namely, to survive - and it shows! When one sees only dread on the presenter’s face and their words and actions only serve to reinforce that notion, no matter how important and/or how well crafted - on paper - what they have prepared to say in that presentation might be, there is almost no chance that their presentation will be perceived positively by the audience! And so their demeanor defeats the whole purpose of the exercise - and negates all the preparation that went into the presentation.

This is why it is so important to make sure - damn sure - that even if you are a bit nervous (which you should be) and even if on the inside you just do want to “get it over with,” you need to take active steps to make certain that you do not convey your fear and dread to the audience.

The best way to do this? Well, if you don’t have the genuine enthusiasm for making your presentation, this is where acting comes in! You need to simply tell yourself that no matter how much your stomach may be churning and how much you are really not looking forward to standing in front of the assemblage of 10, 30…50 or a hundred people gathered to hear your presentation, well, you need to act like you are glad to be there and glad to have the opportunity to talk with them. Does that mean “faking it” - a little or even a lot? Sometimes, yes it does! While you might ask if that is “right,” the answer is that in this situation, it absolutely is! Not only will you be perceived better by your audience and be able to convey your message far more effectively than if they think that you do really “just want to get the damn thing over with.” More importantly, you can, by acting a part, give yourself the confidence to be an effective speaker. You’ve heard that expression: “Fake it till you make it!” Well, when it comes to public speaking, this does work. You will find that if you do have to act - a bit or even a lot - like you are a confident speaker for 1, 2, 3 presentations, you will build genuine confidence in your speaking abilities! Indeed, you will find that, over time, you won’t need to act like a confident speaker, as you will become one!

Image by Michelle Koebke from Pixabay


As a professor and as a consultant, I can safely say that all of the advice given beforehand on what not to do and what to avoid in your presentation is given with the very real hope that it will make you a better presenter. If you can avoid falling into 1, 2…3 or more of these common traps when delivering a presentation, whether the setting is a college classroom, a corporate conference room, or a hotel ballroom, you will be a long, long way “ahead of the game” (and many, if not most, of your peers) in terms of your ability to deliver an effective, “winning” presentation.

As for “what to do,” as opposed to saying “what not to do,” I would say to remember that, as the Ancient Roman expression goes, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity!” You should always seek to not just be prepared for your moment, but to be overprepared (though that has its own pitfalls, of course!). You should also be prepared to encounter your “moment” when maybe you are not expecting it - through having to “sub” for someone else (i.e. a boss, a colleague, a friend, etc.). Success - and opportunity - may indeed come in those “unexpected hours” as Thoreau put it!

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” – Henry David Thoreau

And so if you can speak - confidently, concisely, and convincingly - you will certainly have the proverbial “leg up” on your competition and set yourself apart from the crowd, simply by being able to deliver an effective presentation. It is critical to remember that no matter the technology being used and no matter the setting and/or circumstances, you - in delivering a presentation - have the chance to shine. If you seize the day and deliver, you can create untold and unanticipated opportunities for yourself. If on the other hand you “seize up” in that moment of truth, you might well miss out on an opportunity that could well be life-changing and transformative! If you perform well, you may well know. If, on the other hand, you don’t “rise to the occasion” and deliver on your presentation, you may never know what positive things might have come from that opportunity. So, in the end, you should approach every speaking opportunity - whether in the relative safety of the college classroom or far beyond those four walls in the “real world” - as just that - an opportunity! An opportunity, as Eminen once famously said, might knock only “once in a lifetime!’ Are you ready?

Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay


About David Wyld

David Wyld is a Professor of Strategic Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, publisher, executive educator, and experienced expert witness. You can view all of his work at

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About the Creator

David Wyld

Professor, Consultant, Doer. Founder/Publisher of The IDEA Publishing ( & Modern Business Press (

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  • Toby Hewardabout a year ago

    How are you so successful here on vocal? Your stories are so amazing but mine aren't. Would love to become a good writer someday.

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