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5 mistakes that can ruin your presentation

(MoneyWatch) Pop quiz: When's the last time you can remember seeing an excellent presentation? Odds are you can't remember one in the recent past, though you can probably name a slew of mediocre or bad ones.

If you want to avoid consigning your next presentation to this latter category, consider Nancy Duarte's advice in the Harvard Business Review. It boils down to this -- don't make the same mistakes everyone else does, as follows:

You fail to engage your audience emotionally. Most presenters stick to dispassionately delivering facts and analysis, but that's the shortcut to a forgettable presentation. Says Duarte: "No presentation should be devoid of emotion, no matter how cerebral the topic or the audience. Speak to people's hearts as well as their minds." In particular, look for anecdotes and analogies that make your data meaningful to people's lives.

You overload your slides. You've probably heard this before, but it can't be repeated enough -- many people pack too many elements into each slide. That runs the risk of projecting an entire document, which is too much for anyone to process. Remember that slides only support your presentation; they should not display everything you are saying.

Your visuals are cliches. If the visual elements in your presentation have been used so many times that they're not just tired, but totally exhausted, it's time to change things up. Duarte recommends coming up with several approaches to your visuals, and discarding the first couple of ideas you think of -- chances are they're too common. Instead of using a lock to represent security, for example, what about showing a Doberman Pincer?

Your speech and slides are filled with jargon. Even if you're talking to "family" inside the company, jargon is exhausting to listen to and process. And if you're talking to outsiders, they won't be able to follow you. Translate your unique lexicon into simple language anyone can understand.

You just won't quit. There's nothing worse than feeling trapped in a presentation that feels unending. When you blow past your time limit your audience will tune you out and start wondering how much longer it's going to last. As Duarte says, treat your time slot as sacred and do not go past it.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user o5com

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