10 Reasons Why Your Presentation Doesn’t Work

A presentation takes a lot of time and effort to prepare for, and for many they also cause a lot of stress. If you need to present, you want it to go as smoothly as possible, of course. After all, the reason for preparing a talk is probably so it can help you to achieve your goal, whatever that may be. Also, it will be very disappointing if the way in which you presented your ideas was the reason for not achieving that goal.  Often, there are many reasons why a presentation doesn’t go the way it was supposed to, so it is a good idea to look at some of these causes.

1. The Wrong Content

For your message to make an impact, it is important that your audience can identify with it, because people are more likely to remember things that they recognize from their own lives. If they can’t relate to your content, you will not be able to capture the attention of the people you speak to. As a presenter, this means that you will need to find out who you audience is and what they are interested in, and adapt your presentation accordingly. For instance, this means that if you are doing a presentation on leadership for a company that sells outdoor apparel, the examples you choose to put into your presentation to illustrate your points should have a link to the outdoors.

2. Weak structure

Having a good structure is also essential for a successful presentation. Not only should your talk have a clear introduction, a body and a conclusion, your ideas should also be connected in a way that is logical and easy to follow. To achieve this, you should use signposting language, so language that tells the audience where you are in your presentation and where you are going. If you don’t do this, it will be easy for your audience to lose track of what you are trying to achieve, especially if there are parts in your talk that are, for example, difficult to understand, or less interesting. Good signposting language allows the listener too ‘tune back in’ when they get lost. Just by using phrases like ‘So, let’s move on’ or ‘My second point is …’ or any other language that tells the listener what you are going to do,  will make your presentation much clearer.

3. Poor timing

Poor timing is about the length of your presentation. Many people lead busy lives, making their time very valuable. Also, your audience will have taken time out of their day to come and see you present, so you don’t want to disappoint them by giving a presentation that is either too long or too short.

Getting the timing of your presentation right can be quite tricky, especially for inexperienced presenters, and it can have different causes. An important, and common reason for a presentation being too short is nerves. Nervous presenters tend to speak too quickly, which could turn a quality 20-minute practice presentation into a 10-minute one that is feels rushed and is difficult to follow.

Another reason for a presentation being poorly timed is the way in which it was practiced. Many people practice their talk in their heads instead of out loud. They prepare the slide presentation and just think about what they are going to say with each slide. Then, when they are in front of their audience, all those beautiful sentences that were perfectly clear when they thought of them, come out completely differently during the actual talk. The talk turns out to either be much too short, because of all the parts that were skipped or phrased differently, or the presentation turns out to be much longer than planned because the presenter starts making things up on the spot or starts including long anecdotes to make up for the parts of the presentation that came out wrong.

Good presentations are practiced out loud in front of ‘real’ people, so friends, colleagues,  or family. Doing this will give you an opportunity for feedback, an idea of how long your presentation really is, and idea of what you sound like, what the difficult sections are, etc.

4. Unsuitable Language

When doing a presentation, it is not just what you say; it is often important how you say it, and if you don’t use the appropriate language, your presentation will not be as effective as it could be. 

Your language use depends on your audience, your subject, and on the type of presentation. For example, when talking about a marketing plan to your colleagues, it will not be a problem if you include specific terminology that it used in your field. On the other hand, when you talk about a similar subject to fellow student that may be new to marketing, you may need to leave some of the terminology out.

The language you choose also depends on what you are going to talk about. At a sales conference, talking about life insurance requires more formal language than taking about ice-cream, for instance.

The type of presentation is also important to consider when deciding what kind language to use. If you are just going to give information, so, for example, when you are trying to explain how a piece of software works, your language needs to be quite neutral. If you want to sell that software to potential customers, on the other hand,  you may want to use language that appeals more to people’s emotions and imagination.

If the language that you use is inappropriate, it does not matter what your content is because it will not resonate with your audience.

5. Monotonous Delivery

As mentioned, next to what you say, it is often important how you say it, and the use of your voice plays a significant role in that. To avoid sounding monotonous, you need to consciously remind yourself to sound lively and energetic, so you show that you are excited about your own presentation. You need to project that you believe in your message. After all, if you don’t appear to be excited about your content, you cannot really expect your audience to be. To achieve this, you need to vary your intonation and your pace as well, so you can emphasize certain points if you need to.

Speaking in a monotonous voice is often caused by over-preparation, meaning that the talk was either memorized word-for-word, or the text of the presentation was read from a script. In both cases the talk will sound unnatural and awkward, so it is important maintain a lively, conversational tone.

6. Over-detailed Visuals

During a presentation, the attention of the audience should be focused on the presenter instead of the screen, unless the presenter tells the audience to focus on a specific visual. This means your visual materials should be there only to support you. They should not be the main attraction of your talk, because if they are, the audience will be studying the screen instead of listening to you. Also, good visuals should be simple, which means that if you can illustrate something with a picture, use a picture, and if you can get the message across with just one keyword on the screen, do that.

It is very easy to get carried away by the features that software programs like PowerPoint, KeyNote, etc. offer, but just because you can make words fly around the screen doesn’t mean you should. Again, simplicity is key.

7. Reliance on Your Slides

Having to rely on your slides is closely linked to having over-detailed visuals. Many presenters make the mistake of using their slides as personal cue-cards. If you do this, you will be likely to read something from the screen the audience could read themselves. That way there is no added benefit of you being in the room.  If you have to rely on your slides to be able to make your presentation, you will spend the majority of your time looking at your monitor or at the screen, when in fact you should be looking at your audience.

Also, having slides that are too text-heavy will make your audience use your slides as a summary of what you are planning to say, and they will jump ahead of you or fall behind when reading your slides. And more importantly, they will not be listening to you.

8. Reading from a Script.

When making a presentation you should not read from a script, and there are a number of reasons for this. The first reason is the most obvious one: a presentation is about you. You are supposed to connect and interact with your audience on a personal level. You are not reading a play or reading an academic paper out loud, you are presenting.  A good presentation is not a one-way street but is about verbal and non-verbal communication. This is impossible to achieve when reading from a script, because you will be looking at your script instead of at your audience.

Secondly, if you write down your presentation beforehand, you are no longer flexible. Staying flexible is important because during your talk you may be interrupted, your content may have some overlap with that of a previous speaker, you may need to clarify certain aspects of your talk, or you may want to speed up a bit. You need to be able to adapt to changing variables and circumstances while presenting and you cannot do this when you read from a script.

Finally, when presenting, your audience will be looking at you as the expert in the room. But if you are the expert, why do you need to write everything down? Reading from a script damages your credibility as a speaker because you may as well be reading something someone else has written for you.  Also, if you are reading from a script, why not send the audience members, the script so they can read it themselves.

A good and effective presentation will make you personality shine through, and therefore it is important to form your own sentences while you present and not read them.

Intrusive Gestures and ‘Tics’

Your non-verbal communication plays a significantly role in how your presentation comes across, so you need to use your body language in a way that supports your message. For instance, if you are sure that a solution to the problem you are presenting is going to work, you should project that confidence with your body. This means stranding up straight, using broad hand gestures to emphasize your points, and authoritatively, and confidently scanning the room.

However, you should remember that your gestures should only serve as support. If they are to intrusive – for instance, when they are too repetitive or inappropriate – they take the audience’s attention away from what you are trying to say. They become a distraction. A repetitive ‘tic’ – for instance, continuously tapping your foot – is often caused by nerves, and in many instances, you will not even be aware of it. This is another reason why you should always practice your presentation in front of other people or in front of a mirror. In this way you will become aware of how you look and move your body.

Poorly Handled Q&A Session

How and when you deal with the questions that may arise during your presentation has a profound effect on how your presentation will be received, but many presenters don’t give the questions and answer session the attention it deserves, often because they don’t consider it part of the presentation. You have to keep in mind that the Q&A session is the only time you really get to interact with the audience, so it will be a wasted opportunity if you don’t pay attention to this part of your talk.  As mentioned previously, it is a good idea to leave the Q&A until the end of the presentation to avoid being interrupted, and running the risk of losing your train of thought. It also helps to avoid  being forced into answering a question that you were planning to address later in your presentation, because that would throw your timing off.

How to most effectively answer the questions you get is also wise to consider, especially when you are speaking in front of a large audience. To avoid having to answer the same question twice, it helps to listen to the question first, and repeat it in a paraphrased form. This has a number of advantages. First of all, it will allow you to check with person who asked the question whether you understood it. Secondly, it will allow the rest of the audience another opportunity to hear the question, so they are sure about which question you are answering. Lastly, rephrasing and repeating the question before you answer it will allow you some time to actually think about the answer and use keywords from the rephrased question in your answer to emphasize the connection between the two. A simple example of a well answered question is the following:

Question from the audience:

Could you tell us what you think the implications will be of the cost reductions you mentioned?


Okay, so you want to know what the consequences of these cost cuts will be?

Your answer:

Well, an important consequence of bringing down costs  is that your company will need to look into automating a number of key steps in the production process.

If you apply structure to the way you answer your questions, it will be easier for the audience to understand the answer and receive an answer to the question they meant to ask.