FIVE online presentation mistakes to avoid!

By Scott McCleary, Edanz Learning team

Presenting via web conference: love it or hate it, it’s the new normal.

COVID-19 has changed the way we meet, possibly forever. Our professional presentations have moved increasingly (and often suddenly) online.

Here is the good news: many (or most) of the best practices for face-to-face presentations also apply to online presentations.

The bad news? Many of us (including experienced professionals and industry leaders) are still making far too many easy-to-avoid mistakes in our online presentations. 

The result? We look unprepared, or worse, unprofessional. The horror!

It’s time for a skills check! Are you making any of these common online presentation mistakes? 

Learn more about presenting in Edanz’s self-study course, “Presenting Your Research 1” 

Mistake 1: Being underprepared

Is your content suitable? Is the length appropriate? (See  “Going Overtime” below). Build confidence by practicing your presentation as much as you can beforehand, especially if presenting in a second language (usually English). Learn what to say, but do not just memorize a script (‘See “Being over-prepared” below).  

Really get to know your own equipment. Can you work your camera, microphone, and headset? This is especially true if you must login using an unfamiliar computer (I’ve had to suddenly use my colleague’s or wife’s PC when mine crashed). And don’t forget the all-important WiFi check: Do you have enough internet bandwidth for a conference presentation? 

Is your face well-lit? Is your background not too messy, bright, or distracting? Always use a headset or earbuds — never speakers, which can cause screeching feedback and will relay ALL the ambient sounds from your environment (keyclicks, barking dogs, crying kids, etc). 

★ Pro Tip 1: Log in to the online meeting room early. If you are connecting from home, inform your family/flatmate that you are joining the conference (I have seen more than one unaware naked person in the background of a presentation!)

Mistake 2: Being over-prepared (too stiff / too scripted)

It’s tempting, but don’t just memorize your talk word-for-word — it may sound boring and too scripted. I have all-too-often seen people reading directly from a printed script, looking down at the page as they present on screen. Avoid this.

★ Pro Tip 2: If you must speak from a prepared script, place it in a small window directly below your computer’s webcam. This way, it will appear that you are looking (almost) directly into the camera and thus at your audience. 

Mistake 3: Unreadable or illogical slides

Your slides should follow a logical progression. Don’t use fonts smaller than 16-point (some people might join your presentation by mobile). Avoid flashy graphics, loud colors, or distracting animations. Minimize LUGs (large, useless graphics) that don’t convey anything relevant.

★ Pro Tip 3: On each slide, try strictly limiting yourself to the Three-Sixty Rule:

Three levels of hierarchy: TITLE, Headings, bullets

Sixty words or less: Give further details by speaking, and/or offering links/attachments


Type 1
• can develop at any age
• occurs most frequently in children and adolescents

Type 2
• is more common in adults
• represents about 90% of all diabetes cases

• consists of high blood glucose during pregnancy
• is associated with complications to both mother and child

Mistake 4: Talking overtime

We’ve all been in web conferences where someone consumes far too much of the allotted time (along with all the oxygen in the room!). Don’t be this person; be considerate of others’ precious time.

★ Pro Tip 4: If you do have a prepared script or outline, estimate your talk time by word count. Most people speak at about 120 words per minute. For example if you have 500 words of content, that’s roughly 4 minutes of presentation time. If this exceeds the time you have been assigned, trim your talk.

★ Bonus Tip: If you are unfortunate enough to follow a presenter who has talked too long and eaten into your time, DO NOT rush through your talk. Instead, just go through your bullet points (see example slide above) at a calm, slow pace.

Mistake 5: Fumbling the Q&A

Long before your presentation, brainstorm any questions that people might ask you and prepare brief answers for them. Doing this might even prompt you to update your presentation to pre-empt common questions.

When asked a question, follow this pattern:
1. THANK the asker
2. CLARIFY their question
3. REPEAT it for the audience (especially in a webinar or large conference)
4. ANSWER the question the best that you can (see Pro Tip 5 below)
5. ENSURE the asker is satisfied
6. THANK the asker again

★ Pro Tip 5: Of course, we do get unexpected or uncomfortable questions. Do not let these derail you or force you to run overtime. Simply thank and deflect with phrases such as, “Thank you — that is an excellent question. Since time is short, can I get back to you afterwards with a proper answer?”


Being an online presenter involves playing many additional roles: writer, designer, technician, and diplomat. Above all, be clear in your content and courteous in your contact. Good luck, and see you online!





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