9 Things You Should Never Do When Giving a Presentation: AMA Research

January 22, 2015

things you should never do in a presentation

Think back to your last presentation. Were people interested and engaged in what you were saying? While you may think yourself to be a great speaker, it is not particularly hard to annoy your audience. Recently, AMA ran a survey to see what presentation habits were the most annoying. After 360 responses, the final results have been tabulated. Here is the list of annoying habits in a presentation, from most to least annoying:

  1. Reads the presentation (37%)
  2. Has no knowledge of the subject matter (22%)
  3. Uses too many “umms” and “uhhs” (16%)
  4. Takes too much time (8%)
  5. Speaks in a boring/monotone voice (7%)
  6. Speaks too fast or not loud enough (6%)
  7. Has bad slides (2%)
  8. Uses no visuals (1%)
  9. Doesn’t make eye contact (1%)

While these are all problems to avoid, the top three have proven to be the most likely to annoy your audience. They were the only habits to receive more than 15% of the vote, topping the list of things you should never do when giving a presentation. AMA wants to make sure you give the best presentations possible, so here are some tips to help you avoid making these three particularly irritating presentation mistakes.

Annoying presentation habit #1: Reading the presentation

The most annoying presentation habit is also one of the easiest to fall victim to. If you have a visual aid, such as a PowerPoint slideshow, it is often tempting to look back and read what you have already written. However, all this shows is that you can do what your audience can do as well. By reading your slides, you impart no additional information, and therefore give your audience no reason to keep listening once they have finished reading the slide themselves.

One guideline I find especially effective in this situation is to make sure each slide has no more than six bullet points, and no more than six words per bullet point. This prevents you from overloading your slides with information and allows you to elaborate on your main points. When following this in practice, having slides with repetitive layouts and no variation of sentence length or structure becomes very boring. You should have some slides with only pictures and no words, as not only does this keep your audience focused on what you are saying, but it also forces you to truly know what you are presenting. Reading a presentation is a crutch, and one that does not go unnoticed.

Annoying presentation habit #2: No knowledge of the subject matter

Avoiding this annoying habit comes down to one factor: preparation. The more prepared you are, the better you can effectively explain your main points and avoid sounding like you’ve never even heard of your topic before. If giving a great presentation is important to you, do yourself a favor and start preparing for it ahead of time. Throwing together a presentation in a day or two is extremely difficult and leaves you little margin for error, both in terms of correcting any mistakes and practicing beforehand. You could have the next great business idea, but if you cannot effectively communicate it, your audience will not find you to be credible in your area. Your presentation should be on a topic you have prior knowledge of, but in order to show your audience that you know your stuff, coming in prepared will make all the difference.

Annoying presentation habit #3: Using too many “umms” and “uhhs”

If you do not speak eloquently, your presentation sounds unprofessional. The third most annoying habit was using too many “umms” and “uhhs,” which is a symptom of a larger problem of not communicating effectively. This could be a result of stage fright, or perhaps you are coming up with what you say on the go, but more often than not these interjections happen unconsciously. Despite how innocuous they seem, they can ruin your credibility.

One tip for avoiding this annoying habit is to practice your speech or presentation multiple times beforehand, out loud. If you practice giving your speech like you would when it matters, you can hear how you sound and avoid these small yet grating interjections. Practice your presentation in front of a friend or colleague or to yourself in the mirror. If no one can help, record yourself. The more you practice and hear before the big presentation, the more likely you can catch yourself before letting the “umms” and “uhhs” slip out when it matters.

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American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.


  1. avatar

    […] their listener because they lack the nonverbal communication elements necessary to make an impact. Their eyes remain stuck to their notes. Their bodies are stiff and stationary. The listeners fail to hear the message because they focus […]

  2. avatar

    Some good tips here. I very strongly agree about the need to vary the types of slides. But I think slides with 6 lines of 6 words each are too wordy. So do Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds, and other experts. (Below, you’ll find links to Nancy and Garr’s material for backup, and I say no more than about 15 words per slide: Here’s why.)

    I also highly recommend the tip about recording yourself – even if you only do it every now and then – because there’s nothing like hearing and seeing for yourself exactly how you come across!

  3. avatar

    Good article! Yes, reading the slide is grossly annoying and insulting but I am even more annoyed when presenters start with, “I know this is going to be boring but just bear with me…” Really! REALLY!! It’s just an excuse to do a lousy job. Prepare!! Make it worth my time, give me something to remember even if it’s an unrelated clip or joke – something!

  4. avatar

    Thank you for the tips. I think presenters need to look at the bullet points in the slides as no more than advanced organizers. The 6/6 principle is a good guideline; no more than six words per line, and no more than six lines per slide.” Less is More. “

  5. avatar

    The 9 things not to do are in the list at the top. The article only gives suggestions for the top 3.

  6. avatar

    I see three suggestions, not nine.

  7. avatar

    Shouldn’t even use red or green….unless like a black green. Hard to see if colrblind. Also dont have too many words just bullets. Power point is a visual
    . Not a document

  8. avatar

    Another bad practice is to tell the audience, “You probably can’t see this in the back.” If a speaker doesn’t think the back of the room can see a slide, don’t use it. It makes it look like the speaker didn’t care enough about the people in the back to make the slide readable.

  9. avatar

    Another bad practice is to tell the audience, “You probably can’t see this in the back.” If a speaker doesn’t think the back of the room can see a slide, don’t use it. It makes it look like the speaker didn’t care enough about the people in the make to make the slide readable.

  10. avatar

    All good comments and here are two more, do not use yellow as it just does not show up and keep it simple don’t clutter up your visuals with too much info. Another interesting point is that any numbers or letters need to be at least an inch high for every 25 feet of distance in order to be read easily. Good luck.

  11. avatar

    at times some people always use meaningless sales jargons while making sales presentations.this jargons may be irrelevant to the subject matter under discussion

  12. avatar

    After many speaking engagements during my professional life (retired now) two pieces of advice:

    Know your subject so well no notes or outline is needed. MAINTAIN A STRONG DESIRE TO COMMUNICATE THE MATERIAL.


  13. avatar

    This is probably TMI since your bullet points are nice and brief! However…..avoid using red on a slide. The connation is blood and negative numbers–unless, of course, you must present negative numbers!. Use green, blue, black, and in a font size and style that is very readable. Additionally, use a laser pointer rather than some other kind. And the color of the laser light should be…..ta-da-a-a-a… (not red!). Keep extra batteries handy.

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  15. avatar

    Buehler, Ferris Buehler. Great example of the best monotone bore teacher/presenter.

  16. avatar

    As far as knowing the subject matter 110%, a few stumbles and reading the slides, I loathe it when I am given someone else’s slides to present. Some bullets are too long,flow seemingly out of order, or just plain confusing to me. This leaves you up there basically looking a little stupid.

  17. avatar

    Hi Michael,
    The nine are listed in the bullet points at the top. We give advice for the top three, but all nine are listed above.

  18. avatar

    Thanks for the first 3, where is the rest? The headline reads 9 things, but I cannot find the remaining six. The research seems to be interesting so I would like to know more.
    Thanks for your cooperation.

  19. avatar

    Here is a more complete list of the things than make the audience disconnect from the presentation: 2000-2012 International Presentation Skills Survey Results. Short Link:

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