6 Presentation Pitfalls That Kill Your Credibility

I recently attended a conference in London hosted by a very reputable organization featuring speakers from reputable companies. I went there to learn about recruitment industry trends, but instead found myself focused much more on the poor presentation skills of the speakers.

As someone who gives keynote talks and hosts workshops for a living, I spend a lot of time regularly developing, rehearsing, and delivering presentations to audiences. As much as I think of public speaking as one of my strengths, I rarely finish one of my own presentations without thinking it could have been a better. There’s always room for improvement. A slide that could have looked better. Something I could have said differently. An intro I could have delivered more confidently.

So anyway, as much as I critique my own presentation skills, I found myself absolutely cringing at some things I saw on stage at this conference. Unfortunately, I see these same pitfalls with other conference speakers.

Part of landing your next role or building your personal brand is about being able to present yourself powerfully. So here are a few public speaking pitfalls to avoid that I was reminded of that day.

Using notecards

Believe it or not, at many professional conferences I attend, where there’s a lineup of speakers from reputable companies, there seems to always be at least one speaker who uses notecards. No joke. At the past three conferences I’ve attended in London, including this one, at least one speaker used notecards. This is an absolute no-go. It makes you look unprofessional, inexperienced, and unprepared.

If you’re going to be giving a talk in front of a crowd of industry professionals, you really have to know your talk inside & out. Although rehearsing again and again is not the most fun activity, it really helps you come across as polished and professional.

Explaining your presentation’s structure

No single speaker at this conference provided a detailed overview of what they were going to cover before diving into the content. Instead, they just started talking, and ten minutes into their presentation, I was left wondering what they’re actually planning to cover, where they were in their presentation, and how much they had left to go.

If you’re talking for more than two minutes to an audience, you need to give listeners an agenda of what you plan to cover. You don’t even have to have a full slide with a bulleted agenda, but you need to at least give a high level, verbal roadmap of the topics you plan to cover so people know what to expect and where you’re going every step of the way.


So many people seem to self-deprecate when delivering talks. I realize this might be a bit of a cultural thing here in the UK, and I may be used to more of the American style of presenting. However, it seemed like every speaker I saw on this day seemed to be trying to lower expectations before and during their talks. I can’t tell you how many people said, “I won’t bore you with this slide, but . . . “ or “This won’t be nearly as interesting as the last speaker, but . . . “

There’s actually been a lot of research done into this behavior, also known as “self-handicapping.” Self-handicapping, in a nutshell, is when you make excuses and downplay expectations to protect your self esteem. Psychologists like Sean McCrea and others have found is that self-handicapping actually leads to lower performance.

You have to believe in the quality of your talk so others can too. The best presenters I’ve seen confidently dive in and act like they know exactly what they’re talking about. Audiences are there to be informed, inspired, and entertained, so if you start your presentation saying how bad it’s going to be, that doesn’t exactly instill people with confidence.

Stopping to find water

Several speakers stopped mid-presentation to hunt down a bottle of water. This really disrupts the flow of a presentation and feels amateur. It also signals to your audience that you’ve reached a point where you’re struggling to keep going.

Getting everything in place beforehand is what every professional speaker does. You absolutely have to have everything you need within arms’ reach before you start talking. That means having a bottle of water, handouts, props, clicker, business cards, and anything else you plan to use for the presentation ready from the start.

Using anything other than PowerPoint or Keynote

Please, please, please, don’t use Prezi. It’s very amateur-looking and simply too distracting. While Prezi was all the craze around 2010 (briefly), few reputable speakers use it because your audience will spend more time trying to figure out the confusing logic of all the dizzying transitions rather than listening to your actual content. Trust me.

Stick with the mainstream slide presentation programs. The industry standards for presentation software are either PowerPoint or Keynote. End of story. These two programs are by far the most versatile, clear, and effective platforms to deliver your presentation.


This seems so obvious, but I was shocked how many speakers thought it was okay to use cuss words during their presentations. I heard one speaker use the word “sh#t” three times within the span of 10 minutes. Another panelist seemed to casually inject a cuss word into nearly every paragraph he spoke, which I found offensive.

Maybe in their organizations, cussing is acceptable. Perhaps they think cussing is more conversational, relatable, or comical. Maybe they’re simply used to it because all their friends cuss a lot. However, there are enough people out there who see cussing as unprofessional and offensive. You really need to find other words to express your ideas.

For all of you out there who think cussing is acceptable in a public, professional presentation, it’s generally not. I personally find cussing incredibly unnecessary and inappropriate in a professional conference. Play it safe, drop the habit, and find other words to express your points.

In conclusion…

Delivering a powerful, memorable presentation requires a lot of hard work, practice, and preparation. A lot of bad presentation behavior exists out there. By simply rehearsing your presentation in advance, providing an overview at the start, believe in your content, organizing your materials from the start, using a professional application, and speaking to your audience with respect, you’ll be miles ahead of most speakers out there.

Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu, Speaker, Career Consultant, and Host of the Career Relaunch Podcast.

I love helping people gain the clarity, confidence, and courage to relaunch their careers. I believe making the effort to pursue more meaningful work is absolutely worth it, but you must be willing to take brave leaps to create these positive changes, something I experienced when I left medical school to instead pursue a career in brand management, eventually working as a marketer for 10 years at both Fortune 500 and startup companies in the US & UK. As a speaker and career change consultant, I now apply the principles of building and relaunching consumer brands to help you build and relaunch your personal brand so you can spend your days doing work you find fulfilling. I also host the Career Relaunch podcast, featuring inspiring stories of people who bravely changed careers and remind me how important it is to do work you truly enjoy.

Say hello to Joseph Liu on Twitter and/or LinkedIn.

25 Questions to Ask a Mentor

Whenever I’m asked “What are some of the best questions to ask a ...

25 Songs For Your Leadership Playlist

What are your all-time favorite leadership songs — the ones that make you ...

How to Shut Down a Colleague Who Takes Credit for Your Work

Has this ever happened to you? You’re in a meeting and the unthinkable ...

Four Types of Questions To Ask Your Mentor

Have conversations with your mentor gotten a bit repetitive lately? Perhaps you approached ...

11 Leadership Lessons Learned

Here are 11 lessons I’ve learned about leadership—mostly from much-admired colleagues, and just ...

5 Ways to be a Leader, Not a Manager

Have you ever wondered about the difference between a manager and a leader? ...

100 Leadership Qualities

What are your leadership strengths? That’s a question I ask in a survey ...

15 Leadership Quotes to Help You be a Leader, Not a Manager

Sometimes you need a reminder and some inspiration to be a leader, not ...

7 Ways To Build Great Relationships With Your Team

The challenges facing new leaders in a business situation are many and varied. ...

10 Killer Leadership Skills: The Great Differentiators?

Last week at Hallmark I hosted a couple gentlemen from a partner company. ...

Leaderly Quote: The tasks you let go of…
Leaderly Quote: The tasks you let go of…

“Shoulds” are tasks or obligations we take on, accompanied by an inner monologue that goes,

How to Write a Simple and Beautiful Manifesto
How to Write a Simple and Beautiful Manifesto

Traditionally, a manifesto is a written statement where you publicly declare your… – Intentions (what

Leaderly Quote: Leadership is not about doing more
Leaderly Quote: Leadership is not about doing more

You probably already had a to-do list longer than a CVS receipt before this global

What’s on Your Not-To-Do List?
What’s on Your Not-To-Do List?

Leadership is not about doing more. It’s about switching from doing to leading. From this

100 Leadership Qualities: What’s Your Signature Style of Leading?
100 Leadership Qualities: What’s Your Signature Style of Leading?

There’s an entire industry of books and seminars founded on the assumption that if you

20 Leadership Quotes by Women to Inspire You in 2020
20 Leadership Quotes by Women to Inspire You in 2020

20 of our favorite leadership quotes by women At Be Leaderly, we’re on a mission

Happy Holidays 2019
Happy Holidays 2019

May your Holidays sparkle with moments of love, laughter, and goodwill, and may the year

5 Ways to Shift From Doing to Leading
5 Ways to Shift From Doing to Leading

To become a leader, there is a series of key shifts in mindset and behavior

You Do You: Claim Your Leadership Strengths
You Do You: Claim Your Leadership Strengths

We are often so focused on trying to fix our weaknesses that we neglect to

Leaderly Quote: We are often so focused on trying to fix our weaknesses…
Leaderly Quote: We are often so focused on trying to fix our weaknesses…

We are often so focused on trying to fix our weaknesses that we neglect to

At Be Leaderly, our mission is a simple one: To provide proven career strategies that help you lead, climb, and thrive as a rising woman of influence. If you’re ready to lead, we’re here to support and inspire you.

Copyright 2021, Be Leaderly