Top Mistakes

With preparation, a lot of rehearsal, and a few clever communication strategies, you can create presentations that avoid typical mistakes and engage your audience.


The first mistake, the number one mistake that I find most people make when they’re presenting to investors or customers is they have a weak opening. A weak opening makes it really hard for to you to have a great presentation. So here’s a couple things that you can do to make sure you don’t have a weak opening.

Number one, you must always start on time, no matter how many people are in the room. The second related item to time is making sure that you have a start time that doesn’t conflict with other things that are going on. Now when do meetings typically end? They end on the hour. And when do presentations usually start? On the hour. Well if a meeting ends on the hour and the next one starts on the hour they can’t start on time. So my recommendation to you is when you have an important presentation, start the meeting at 10 minutes past the hour or 15 minutes past the hour. And that way you can make sure to have that time you need to set up. Your stress level is lower. And that way you can have a much better result.

The next thing that I would do any time you have to present to an investor, especially to investors, is to simply verify the amount of time you have with that investor. Most people would go into a presentation, set up their kit and start presenting with power point or keynote slides. In my opinion, that is not the way to start an investor meeting. You want to make sure that nothing has changed from the time you set up your meeting. So just simply start out, I’d just like to verify the time we have together here. We have until 11:00, is that still the case? Yes. Then you go on. If they say no, then you can adjust and make sure that people get out when they need to get out.

Now, once the opening comes and you’re ready to start speaking obviously that is a magic moment in the presentation. That’s the point where you put the grabbers, the hook, whatever you want to say, that will cause everyone in the room to stop what they are doing and want to really listen to what you have to say.

Mistake number two, is just not being memorable. So you have to understand when you’re presenting to investors, customers, affiliates, partners, there are hundreds of you if not thousands of you out there presenting your ideas for products and services. So I would like to encourage all of you to think about things you can do that set you apart from everyone else out there presenting. Using stories, similes, analogies, metaphors and examples will help you set yourself apart from the masses.

The third mistake that people make, and this is just everywhere, it’s called slide abuse. You abuse your audience with slides. For example, I want to put up a slide right now and I want you to try something. Don’t read it. Okay? Seriously, don’t read this next slide. Is that possible? Unlikely. The only way you cannot read this slide is if you close your eyes. So while you’re talking about what you want them to hear, they’re reading. This same slide as a presentation slide ought to look something like this, simple words. Everybody read them and now they need to listen to you for the context around those words. This is the same slide. The only difference is we’ve taken off most of the words. But the point is they have to wait for you to deliver the information. The surprise is back in your hands versus on the slide.

So mistake number four is a very interesting one. I find people have way too many slides. Now what I’d like you to consider though for a moment is that maybe you present with no slides. Maybe you say well, we don’t have slides, we have a couple visuals we can show you. Better yet, maybe you go up to the white board and have a white board discussion where the engineers can come up and draw things on the white boards, or a flip chart even. Whatever your plan is, it’s really important that you have a backup plan, Plan B. What if your slides don’t work today? What if the projector doesn’t work? You need to have a backup when you go out to these really important meetings. And more importantly, you need to practice the backup plan.

Mistake number five is something people don’t think about often. And I call it power thieves. These are things that you do when you’re presenting that kind of steal that power or credibility that you get when you’re presenting. For example, standing up in front of a group and saying uh, ladies and gentlemen, I’m really nervous today. Uh I‑‑ I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. The projector’s been a problem today. We ran into too much traffic and I hope I can get through this presentation. You do that and most people think you’re going to get sympathy from your audience. In fact, the opposite happens. You make them even more nervous. Just get it through your head, we’re all nervous. Every one of us are nervous. And if you’re not, wait until the end of this presentation I’ll show you a few things you can do to help you deal with those nerves.

One of the biggest things that will detract from your credibility as a speaker is idiosyncrasies that make it hard to listen to. Um, so, so, um, um, there are about um, um, four um, topics that I want to talk about um, um, um. Many people have these non‑words that they stick in their sentences. And be careful of how you start all of your sentences. Okay. Try not to use the same word over and over and over again, like basically. In fact, nothing is really basic about what you’re doing when you’re talking to an investor because if it is, that means everybody else can do it as well.

Mistake number six, this is where you get into the opportunity where they give you a chance to demo your product or your service. And I know this happens to a lot of you. When you get into demoing your product or your service you just give a click fest demo. It’s like click, click, click, click. Let me show you this other great feature, click, click, click. So you want to be really careful about how you’re demonstrating your product. Make sure that you don’t give too much information, go too long in the product demonstration or dive too deep. Especially in that first meeting where you just want to give them a little taste.

Now many times I’m asked do I give a live demonstration to an investor? I would say generally no, not in a first meeting. Too many things can go wrong. You might not have a good internet connection. So how do you get ready to do a live demo without having the internet if you need internet? All you need to do is record your demo before you leave the office and edit it down so that you chop out all of the stuff you don’t need and you create a movie. And then you play the movie. And that movie will take people through the demonstration of your product or your service.

Mistake number seven, this is one of my favorites. You know many of our meetings are online. And I find people have bad online etiquette. So when you’re presenting online, one of the mistakes I find is you think your slides are showing up on the other side of the world at the same speed they’re showing up on your laptop. So you hit the down arrow and a new slide shows up. In London it’s not even there yet. So you should verify once in a while, just take a moment and verify that the slide that you are seeing is being seen by the people in your meeting.

Now when you’re presenting online I’m going to warn you right now, there’s something that you can cause more headaches and more problems in a heartbeat, and that’s using Instant Messengers. So you know what it’s like, right? You rush into your office, you get onto your GoToMeeting client, and you quickly say “share desktop.” And then you run off to get a cup of coffee. You start presenting. You’re in presentation mode. All of a sudden someone you were out late last night with decides to send you a very embarrassing message over Skype. And right on your screen, woop, up pops that message for everyone to see. Turn off all your Instant Messengers. Better yet, get a laptop that you present on that doesn’t have any of this stuff loaded so you don’t get in any trouble.

And finally, when you get to the point where you want to ask questions I want to pass on a hint to you of how to get people to actually respond to you when you’re in an online meeting. What usually happens when you have a meeting with let’s say people in four locations around the world. And you stop and you say, I would like to stop and ask are there any questions. Nobody says anything, right? Usually because nobody wants to step on somebody else’s talking. Well, the way to solve that problem is really simple. When you want to ask for questions take a moment and go around and ask. Say I just want to stop for questions for a moment. Let’s start with the group in London. Are there any questions in London? No. Okay, how about Dubai. Yes? Okay. Ask away. Just taking a moment asking people by name or by group can make the meeting go much, much better. And gives you that interaction capabilities that you lose when you’re in an online meeting.

 Mistake number eight, people who are presenting just lack enthusiasm. So here’s a couple of things to think about if you want to turn on your enthusiasm. Have you looked in a mirror or have you looked at a video of yourself to see what is your face actually saying? I’ll bet you this, most of them, most of your faces aren’t saying much. And you’re missing out on a great opportunity to communicate your passion, your excitement by just simply opening your eyes a little bit more or smiling or using your voice to communicate. So let your voice become an integral part of the message that you’re giving to people. And then finally, you need to make some eye contact with your audience. If you’re not making eye contact, you’re not building trust.

Number nine, this one applies not just to Americans but to people outside of America as well. And that is being culturally unaware of things that we say or do in a room that could be totally offensive to the people listening. For example, the gestures that you use, the words, the pictures, or the food jokes that you make could literally be offending the audience and you don’t even know it. And I want to use a personal example that happened to me many, many years ago. First time I was in London, I was really excited. It was 1985. Hey, first time out of the States, I was like wildly excited. And I stand up in front of the audience of like 300 people. And I say I have two things I want to share with you here today, two very, very important things. And after about ten seconds people started smirking, smiling, chuckling in the room. And I had no idea why people were smiling because I wasn’t telling any jokes. So before you go to these different countries and blindly use your jokes and your Americanisms when you’re presenting, double check. And the same goes for you coming to the States. Be careful of what you might be doing to your audiences with your gestures, the words, the food jokes and your picture selections.

Number ten, this one is a big one. People, when they get into the question and answer periods during an investor presentation or even a customer presentation, they go into this weird mode because they’re being asked questions maybe they don’t want to answer or you’re being asked a question that you would prefer to not answer in this environment. And you get into this mode where you start becoming obnoxious. So be sure that when it comes to the questions that you spend a fair amount of time going through the types of questions that you think you’re going to get. And do the same thing for your questions that you do for your presentation. Write out the answers and rehearse them. Not so they are memorized but just so you’re not caught off guard. So listen very, very carefully to the question even if you’ve heard it hundreds of times before because for them it’s the first time they’re asking the question of you. So give them the respect that maybe it’s not the first time you heard the question, but give them the respect of listening to the question and don’t jump on the answer right away.

Mistake number 11. In my book there’s two kinds of ways to get ready for a presentation. The first is practice. And practice to me is something you do at home, in your office, by yourself, with the laptop or with the iPad sitting there going through the presentation. Maybe in your car, that’s practice. But rehearsals are when you actually do the presentation with a living, breathing human being in the room. In fact, if you don’t rehearse then you’re not ready. Just practicing doesn’t get you really to the point of being able to deliver a compelling presentation.

Steve Jobs is famous, was famous, for giving presentations that were outstanding, right? How did he get to be so good? At 2:00 in the morning if he wanted to present he knew he needed an audience. So he’d text out or his assistant would text out to people. They’d show up in the auditorium and he’d present on stage. They weren’t allowed to talk. They were just needed to be there so he had an audience. Well, if you think he’s a great presenter and you want to get anywhere near the ability that he has, you will start rehearsing and stop practicing.

Number 12, never finish a presentation with questions and answers. I have a really interesting way for you to conclude your investor meetings or even customer meetings. And here’s how it goes. It’s named after Detective Columbo. And I call it the Columbo Close. Now I know people have seen this show. It’s back in the 70s. This bumbling detective couldn’t find the nose on his face until the end of the show. When in the last two minutes he’d be walking out the door and say, by the way I just have one more question. And of course, that question would crack the case wide open and solve the case and figure out who did it. So the Columbo Close to me is a way that you can bring everybody’s brain back to thinking about you without making a question and an answer the last thing that they hear.

So remember I don’t want you to end your meetings with questions and answers. As soon as those are all done and everybody’s out of questions then you can say I just have one more thing I want to share with you here today. Remember, I just have one more thing. And the way the Columbo Close works is something like this, I’ll use an example of a company from Ireland that has a perfect example of how they use the Columbo Close for all of their investors. This company, called Epona Technologies, they make a little device that goes in your hand that veterinarians can use to take a blood draw from the horse, put it into the device and it reads out the blood test results within about five minutes. So you know the problem up to this point of being able to get instant results is you take a blood draw from the horse, you send it to the lab, it’s 5:15, the lab is closed on Friday at 5:15. Saturday they’re closed. Sunday they’re closed. Monday they open. There’s this long list of labs that have to be done. Yours is at the bottom. Doesn’t get done until Tuesday. The horse died on Monday. So with this technology here’s how they close. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to finish by leaving you with one final thought. That’s the beginning of the Columbo Close. And that is, when you leave here today and you drive down our country roads, you might notice a horse standing in the field. And when you see that horse you’ll know today you have seen a technology that will forever change how veterinarians can care for those horses right where they’re standing. And then they would say thank you very much. So what has that done? Think about that. It’s a thought they put in the minds so that the next time they do something in normal everyday life, like the next time you get in your car, the next time you eat, the next time you brush your teeth, the next time you do anything guess what’s going to happen? If you do it right, they’ll think of you. So I challenge all of you to come up with something that you can use for your businesses and leave that as the last parting thought so that the next time they do something, they’ll think of you. That’s not a bad thing, is it?

Okay. To wrap up this presentation of top mistakes that people make when presenting and how to avoid them, I want to offer you a bonus. People tell me they’re nervous. You need those nerves to be on the top of your game. However what most people find is those nerves start overwhelming them. And they forget what they want to say, start sweating and they get too nervous and it shows.

Here are three things you can do to help you deal with the nerves. The first one is something most presenters don’t even think of but singers and athletes think of it all the time. You need to warm up. As a presenter if you don’t warm up your voice box it is not going to give you the best performance. So as a speaker and a presenter you should be warming up your voice too. And you can do it in the car. You can do it outside. You don’t have to use any special words or phrases just hum, humming is enough.

Number two when we get stressed and nervous your physiology changes. Right? You’re thinking so hard about what you want to say and you want to make sure you’re likable and people get what you’re saying that in some cases you forget to breathe. You can actually make yourself really nervous by just breathing very shallow breaths high up in the chest. You need to breathe a few breaths down into the abdomen. When you know it’s time to start, a minute or two before that, put that oxygen into your body. Your brain will start to light up again. And that adrenaline that’s flowing through your body will actually work in your favor.

And then finally I want to share with you my all‑time secret to getting into the groove with your first word. All I do in my mind is play a very special song. So as I start to hear the music of “Rocky,” the theme song from “Rocky.” The first five seconds is enough for me to automatically put my body and brain into a state of mind that makes me unstoppable and I’m really ready. So the music for me instantly turns my brain on. Pick a piece of music that you, when you hear it, you will instantly be transformed. I know that that will totally transform how you start every one of your presentations from here on in. 

Suggested Readings

Founders School || Powerful Presentations || Top Mistakes || Impact Guide (PDF).

How to Give a Killer Presentation

Five Presentation Mistakes Everyone Makes

Seven errors people make most frequently when speaking publicly


TED-Ed: The science of stage fright (and how to overcome it) – Mikael Cho

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