How to avoid a common public speaking mistake that will leave your audience distracted

Peter arvai prezi ceoPeter Arvai/FacebookPrezi CEO Peter Arvai.

Giving a speech or presentation can be nerve-racking — so we tend to rely on boring, text-heavy slideshows to do the work for us.

But if you have any intention of keeping your audience interested and engaged, giving an “overly textual presentation” is a huge mistake, says Peter Arvai, the cofounder and CEO of Prezi, a cloud-based software company that allows its 75 million users to create visual presentations online.

He says nervous and inexperienced presenters tend to use too much text and too many bullet points.

“We actually know pretty well today that our brains aren’t particularly good at being able to listen to a presenter and read text at the same time,” he tells Business Insider. That’s why throwing too much text at an audience can leave them confused and distracted.

“What happens when you show people a lot of text, while trying to present at the same time, is that your message gets muffled,” he explains.

It’s a great idea to have extensive, thorough notes, but don’t make the mistake of having the presentation function as your notes. Instead, delete those giant blocks of text and focus on delivering an interesting visual experience to your audience.

Here are a few pointers on how to avoid the pitfall of cramming too much text into your next presentation.

  • Write up talking points and then make the visual components of your presentation — not vice versa. If you create your visual elements first, you risk turning them into blown up, verbatim versions of what you’re planning to say.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Nervous speakers might be inclined to stuff their presentation with text — that way, they can read off it if they lose their spot. However, using your visual element as a crutch can seriously hamper the entire presentation. Arvai recommends that speakers do themselves — and their audiences — a favour by really preparing for the big speech, rather than relying on your presentation to get you through.
  • Include an interactive element. A great presentation doesn’t solely depend on a great script — so forget about that for a moment. You’ve got to get the audience invested, which means directly engaging them. Instead of just bombarding people with words, Arvi recommends that presenters weave interactive components into their speech and visual elements, in order to really grab everyone’s attention.
  • Put yourself in the audience’s shoes. Do you enjoy looking at walls of hard-to-read text? No. So don’t force others to do the same. Cut out any and all extra words. Try really looking at your presentation from an audience member’s perspective.

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