October 12, 2020

Nine Mistakes in University Presentations

Many university students are introduced to PowerPoint presentations in their first year. Professors rely on PowerPoint to support their lectures; oral presentations and group work require students to regularly design and deliver presentations. Unfortunately, many freshmen don’t really know how to create a compelling PowerPoint presentation – they often struggle with nerves when speaking in front of their fellow students.

Since a large part of grades often depend on a single presentation, we’d like to highlight the typical mistakes that many first-year students make and how they can avoid them. Keep reading to learn how to create attractive and interesting presentations that make the grade. Your professors and fellow students will thank you! 


Common university presentation mistakes

Consider this the golden rule of presenting: A presentation is more than a set of slides! Too many students only focus on the slides and neglect the rest. A presentation’s success relies heavily on the presenter’s delivery and overall communication skills.

It’s not easy to give a to give a good presentation. Speakers need to learn how to present freely and organically. And this requires preparation and practice.


Mistake #1: Lack of preparation

A good presentation takes practice! Many students spend hours perfecting their presentation’s content, but never do a rehearsal run.  Presenters often don’t know when it’s time to move on to the next point or slide. Rehearsal is crucial to keep the presentation flowing and to avoid making mistakes. It’s not just about a good idea; that idea needs to be sold well!

Two or three rehearsal runs can do wonders. You’ll have the opportunity to tweak the slide order if necessary and if you’re presenting in a group, everyone will know what they have to say and when. Rehearsals also let you know whether the presentation is too long or too short. PowerPoint’s Presenter Coach, which was developed to train presenters, can help. Here’s a closer look at this new feature.

PowerPoint’s Presenter View can also help things go more smoothly. But take note: you need access to your laptop during the presentation to make use of this feature. Very few seminar rooms have a lecture podium, which makes Presenter View almost unusable. You can find more about Presenter View and its functions in our article PowerPoint Tip: Use Presenter View.



University Presentations



Mistake #2: Everything, and we mean EVERYTHING, is on the slides

If all your relevant and interesting information is already on the slides, the oral presentation offers no real added value. Worse yet is when presenters read directly from the slides. When the audience can read the content ahead of the presenter they mentally disengage, and their attention goes out the window.

When you plan your presentation, you need to decide which information should be included in the slide set and what should be presented orally. Core information and key figures should be presented both ways. For other content, the slides should underline what is being said, not replace it. Image slides with little or no text are particularly useful for this purpose. As a rule, slides should contain keywords and complete sentences should be used sparingly.


Mistake #3: Zero or few interactive elements

Many university students forget how important audience interaction is. Presentations that are more like never-ending monologues kill any interest.

Interactive elements not only increase audience attention, they score points with professors too. Videos can help to lighten up a presentation, while questions and quizzes encourage your fellow students to participate. A discussion round at the end is a good way to involve everyone and answer any remaining questions. Asking your audience about their personal experiences with the topic is a great way to get the ball rolling.

You can find further suggestions and ideas on the topic of interactive presentations in our articles 7 Tips for Designing Interactive Presentations and Three Tips to Keep Your Audience Engaged and Entertained.


Mistake #4: No eye contact

Eye contact is a central component of every good presentation. It demonstrates interest in the audience and makes it easier to directly address and inspire them.

As mentioned at the beginning, many first-year university students are rather shy and feel uncomfortable in the role of the presenter. Because of this nervousness, they often avoid making eye contact with the audience and instead, concentrate on the slides or their keyword cards. This can come across as insecurity and a lack of interest in their audience.

Here are some tricks to avoid this: Pick an audience member who seems to be friendly and interested. Whenever you feel a bit nervous or need encouragement, look to that person. Don’t concentrate too much on a single person. Instead, scan the entire room. You can also mentally divide the room into four sections. Focus on one section for about 5 seconds and then move on to the next. This gives each audience section the feeling of being directly addressed.

The blog articles Eye Contact Is Key: How to Improve Eye Contact During Your Presentation and How to Be a Convincing Presenter: Five Tips offer more information on using eye contact during a presentation.



University Presentations



Mistake #6: Overloaded slides

It’s not uncommon for presentation beginners to overload their slides with text and effects. There’s text from top to bottom, everything is colorful and moving and nobody in the audience knows what’s going on. It’s important to scale things down and stay streamlined. Your slides should only contain essential content, everything else can be mentioned in your handout later.

Limit the text on slides to keywords; sentences should be used very sparingly.  Choose a consistent color scheme and stick with it. Too much color confuses the audience and distracts from important content. The same applies to fonts – one font for headlines, one for the rest of the text – that’s all you need.

We recommend creating a slide master and use this layout throughout. This guarantees a clean, easy-to-follow presentation that won’t overwhelm your audience. Also, try to avoid elaborate effects and stick to the simpler ones. Here, too, less is more!

We explain how to create a slide master in the following articles: PowerPoint Slide Master: What’s the Point and Renaming and Applying Slide Masters: The Right Way to Do It.


Mistake #7: Too much text and too few images

As mentioned above, slides should be visually appealing and not an exercise in reading. Slides should contain only essential text, nothing more. In contrast to paragraphs of text, pictures are much more interesting to an audience and much more effective in attracting their attention and evoking emotions. To create a professional look, images need to be of high quality. To maximize their effect, use only one picture per slide. Multiple images on the same slide compete with each other and basically cancel each other out.

You can also enrich your presentation with graphics, diagrams and multimedia examples and use them to reinforce your content. Pictures are crucial for effective presentations – no wonder there’s so much talk about them. Take a look at Optimize Images in Your Presentations, Visually Enhance Your Slides with Transparent Collages and Create Professional Layouts with Large Pictures for more information.



University Presentation



Mistake #8: Lack of technical know-how

If you can, go to the location at your university beforehand and do a check to avoid any technical issues. You can make you have all the cables you need and know how the different devices work. You should also always have a plan B: Consider saving the presentation on your laptop and a USB stick. Or better yet, take two laptops with you – you and your group will have a backup if one laptop doesn’t work.

When presenting on a university laptop, check which version of PowerPoint is installed on the device.  Different versions can cause headers or tables to move, fonts to change, effects to disappear, etc. Your perfect layout can quickly be ruined. You can avoid this problem by saving your presentation as a PDF. This file type guarantees your slides will always look the same but unfortunately, you will lose the presentation’s PowerPoint effects.

So, do a test run on the devices that will be used for the presentation. This way you can make any necessary changes ahead of time.


Mistake #9: Poorly designed handouts

Handouts are great: They summarize the presentation’s key content, offer additional information worth noting and provide your audience with a handy overview to follow the presentation much more easily. All those points and graphics that were edited out can be added to the handout.

Many students see handouts simply as added work. They don’t see them as a wonderful opportunity to better involve the audience and increase their attention.

A well-designed handout not only offers a lot of added value for your audience, but also opens up new possibilities for you! Read more about handouts in Use Handouts to Support and Enhance Your Presentation.

Some final thoughts

Many universities offer design templates and style guides for presentations which will save you time and effort and ensure your slide sets meet your institute’s requirements.

The number of presentations that university students and professors are faced with every year is huge. Unfortunately, many of these presentations could use a little TLC. By following our tips and avoiding the nine most common presentation mistakes, you not only have the chance to improve your grades, but also give your audience something they can enjoy. Strive to create presentations that you would like to listen to yourself!

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