The Top 5 Presentation Myths—Debunked!

Whether they have more experience facing an audience or sitting in one, most people have strong opinions when it comes to presentations. There are loads of great resources online that offer excellent advice, from what to do with your hands on stage to how to lead a successful Q&A session. There are also, however, some widespread beliefs that have the power to undermine even the best speakers. We’d like to debunk these presentation myths, so you can avoid these common traps—and deliver killer presentations every time you take the stage.

Myth #1: Bullet points are the best way to convey information.

When was the last time you visualized bullet points in your mind while thinking through a tough problem? The truth of the matter is that our brains are not wired to think in bullet pointed lists. Research has shown that people are much more attuned to images and visual relationships than they are to text. Our ancestors, after all, weren’t thinking about their next meal in terms of a list;

  • Walk over the river.

  • Turn right at the big tree.

  • The food is straight ahead.

Instead, early humans evolved to remember things in terms of visual landmarks. (And most of us still do today.)

Visual landmarks are much more memorable than bullet points.

So you want to avoid peppering your presentations with meaningless bullet points. Instead, lead your audience on a visual journey through your message. Use key images to represent your ideas, and show the relationships between those ideas by arranging those images in context. Sound difficult? Here’s our quick guide to structuring your presentations—find out how easy it is to ditch the bullet points and become more engaging.

Myth #2: Presenting data is always boring.

“Today, I’m going to be presenting our financial report from Q2.” If you think this sentence is a recipe for instant yawns, think again! “There’s no such thing as a boring presentation; there are only boring presenters.” This adage may seem harsh, but it’s true—anything, if presented properly, can be made interesting to an audience.

The key is to think about who is going to be listening and what they want to hear. Create a story around your data, and frame it within the context of your audience’s interests. Less is more—get straight to the point with the high-level numbers. Lastly, use simple visuals to help your audience understand your data in context

Your data isn't boring, the chart is—simplify your data visualization to tell a clear story your audience can understand.

Myth #3: Your audience won’t read your slides, so you have to do it for them.

You wouldn’t know it from the way some folks present—largely reading each slide verbatim on stage—but most audiences are capable of reading. The truth of the matter is, the people watching your presentation can probably read in their heads much faster than you can read out loud. Which means, by the time you’ve read off bullet point number one, your audience will already be done digesting all of the information on the screen, and they might wonder why you’re needed at all.

So unless you’re giving a presentation to a room full of four-year-olds, you don’t need to read the words straight off of your visual aid—let your audience do that for themselves while you add new insights and value to the mix.

Myth #4: Your audience wants to see you fail.

If you’re one of the many people who experience anxiety when it comes to public speaking, it can be easy to imagine that your audience is out to get you every time you get up to give a presentation.

The truth of the matter is that your audience is not going to pounce on every little mistake you make. In fact, your audience wants to see you succeed. Even if something goes really wrong—like your clicker stops working or you forget what you’re going to say—they are ready to forget and move on, if you are. The people watching you present are just that: People. They’re a lot less scary than you might think.

Myth #5: You should memorize your speech down to the very last word.

When it comes to public speaking, rehearsing is key to success—but there’s a fundamental difference between becoming comfortable with your presentation and memorizing the exact words you’re planning to deliver. The inflexibility of having a memorized script will prevent you from making on-the-fly changes based on audience reactions and will make it more difficult to get back on track if something unexpected happens.

Instead of focusing on rote memorization, think of your your presentation as a journey with a logical flow. Each of your key points should serve as a landmark on this journey, and you want to memorize the order in which you want to present your points much like you would remember directions based on a map. How you get from point to point—the exact words you say—may change slightly each time you give your presentation, but as long as you remember where you’re going, you’ll be able to lead your audience through your ideas no matter what happens onstage.

Think of your presentation like a journey—memorize your landmark ideas, not the words you'll say.