Presentation Tips

10 Common Mistakes Made By First Time Presenters

Stephanie Sparer
November 7, 2019
 min read
10 Common Mistakes Made By First Time Presenters10 Common Mistakes Made By First Time Presenters
Table of Contents

Public speaking can be scary. Especially if it’s your first time standing in front of an audience. In fact, studies show that some people fear public speaking more than death. Crazy, right? When you consider all of the things that go into a presentation (and there are so many things to consider) it can be extremely daunting. Where do you even begin? To help ease some of your nerves, we compiled ten tips to help you avoid common rookie mistakes. 

Go loud and be proud

If audience members can’t hear you, they won’t listen. Shy people may have a hard time speaking up, but if you don’t you could lose the audience’s attention and any impact you hoped your message would hold. Co-founder of VirtualSpeech, Dom Barnard, recommends warming up your voice before you present by stretching your vocal cords. He says to start in a low pitch and gradually go up in tone while making an “aa” sound. Repeat this exercise a few times and you’re already on your way to a better presentation. 

Keep it jovial

Being nervous simply means you care a lot about your presentation (which is good)! However, sometimes we’re so nervous that we forget to smile, use engaging body language such as eye contact, or even have fun. And if you’re not having fun there’s a good chance your audience isn't either. David Greenberg, author of Simply Speaking! The No-Sweat Way to Prepare and Deliver Presentations, wants presenters to remember that while it’s okay (and totally normal) to care about your presentation, it’s also okay to relax a little. Greenberg’s best advice for being a great presenter? "Just be yourself! Your audience will appreciate it."

Make a plan and stick to it

You can tell when a speaker has taken their time creating a thoughtful and effective presentation. On the same coin, you can also tell when they haven’t. Author and speaker Garr Reynolds says to keep content front and center as you plan a presentation. He recommends building an outline to help you keep the content simple, yet engaging, while sparing the audience from what he calls a ‘data dump.’ Try not to deviate from the outline or go off on tangents that don’t compliment the main points of your presentation. You may lose your audience and the impact of your entire slide deck. And that’s what we call a presentation fail. 

Slow it down

Sometimes when people get nervous, they have a tendency to speak quickly. You’d be lying if you said you weren’t nervous before your first presentation ever (everyone is). So here’s some quick advice: don’t rush through an entire presentation for the sake of getting it over with. Calm yourself with Panic Specialist, Dr. Patricia Farrell’s, relaxed breathing technique. Try breathing in through the nose, pause for five beats, and then out through your mouth. If you don’t get stage fright, yet still find yourself rushing through a slide-deck, it could be because you’re simply trying to say too much. Try not to pack your presentation to the brim. Nobody wins when you use a small font size just to cram in more words on each slide. Leave some breathing room, but stick to a structure, so you can hook your audience without the need for speed.

Make an impact

A bad presentation can distract your audience from a great key point that you’re trying to make. This is where your slide design comes in. It’s important to keep your presentation clean and polished. We recommend staying away from low-quality images, cramming chunky word blocks on each slide, and using too many contrasting fonts or colors. Here at, we believe that less is more. Our Smart Slides rely on design best practices and allow the slides to adapt as you add in your content— so your deck always looks professional (even if you're not a designer). If you still don’t know where to start, check out our free presentation templates so your visual content matches your stage swagger.

Keep it simple

In the 1970s, the U.S. Navy did a study to find out how long the average person listens before getting bored and zoning out. The answer? Roughly eighteen minutes in any setting. Of course, circumstances apply, but in order to hold your audience’s focus, you’ll want to keep the core message of your presentation as short as possible. If you are tasked with an hour-long presentation, author Susan Weinschenk, writer of 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People recommends breaking it into twenty-minute chunks with short breaks in between, even if it’s just a natural pause for breath. 

Know your audience

If you’re unsure what is motivating the audience members to pay attention to your slideshow, your wealth of knowledge could go ignored. As you research your main points, take the time to research your audience, too. Things like age, gender, and education should be considered as you put together your visual aids and key messages. Sally Hayes, a member of Toastmasters, notes you may also want to keep track of the daily news. “Don’t be that speaker who makes an insensitive comment that touches a raw nerve for your audience,” she says. If there’s been a tragedy, Hayes recommends acknowledging “difficult circumstances” at the top of your speech, but only if appropriate. The bottom line: know your audience. 

Work out the kinks

Your presentation is starting but… the slide deck isn’t. These things happen, but it doesn’t make it any less embarrassing. Avoid technology malfunctions by checking out the gear you need well before your presentation is set to begin. We recommend a dry run with your presentation slides before you go live so you can test out gear and get acclimated to your speaking environment. If that’s not possible, test your equipment as early as you can to catch any glitch before it’s an issue. Another perk of a dry run? “Confidence,” notes Chief Executive of Communispond, Bill Rosenthal. He says, "Having everything down cold will make you a more confident presenter." So, turns out your mom was right, practice makes perfect.

Paint a picture with color

Sometimes presenters leave their slide-deck color palettes for the last minute and that can be a huge mistake according to designer Laura Foley. “Some colors are distracting,” she notes. For example, red and green may remind a person of Christmas when used together, and that's likely not the picture you're trying to paint. Foley urges presenters to do their color research and explore color theory. “Colors bring a whole new meaning to the slide,” Foley explains. And that can be completely different from the desired core message if you don’t stick to the right color scheme. Different colors evoke different emotions, and it’s important that your colors reflect how you want your audience to feel. 

End with a powerful CTA

As a first-time presenter, you may think you’re finished once you hit the last presentation slide. That's a rookie move. There’s one thing you may have missed: your call to action, or CTA. CTA’s are important because they motivate your audience to take next steps! Digital Marketing Specialist at Vizion Interactive, Kyle Martins, explains “The easier you make the next step, the more people will do it.” He notes a CTA is important because you’re giving your audience a cheat sheet for how to proceed post-presentation. Martins says, “The right CTA at the perfect moment can push the person in the right direction, sealing the conversion and ideally creating a loyal customer.” Not sure where to put your call to action? Try swapping out your ‘Thank You’ slide with a powerful CTA that people will remember.

With these ten tips and a killer deck, you're ready for the big stage. can help elevate your presentations to look more professional, so you can feel confident about what you’re presenting. Sign up for your free trial today and create beautiful presentations in minutes.

Stephanie Sparer

Stephanie Sparer

Stephanie Sparer is an Emmy award-winning writer who has contributed to Thought Catalog, Hello Giggles, and Heeb Magazine, amongst others. Despite being preoccupied with bows and a self-indulgent obsession with Woody Allen's early films, Stephanie had her first book, entitled "Maybe I Should Drink More," published by Thought Catalog Books in 2013. Sparer lives in Phoenix, Arizona.