How Not to Deliver a Presentation

So, inspired by a conversation I had a few days ago with Gail Gibson from the Can Do Coffee Club 

(thanks Gail) I’ve decided to have a little think about presentations.

I’ve been to quite a few presentations over the years, but a couple of events I attended recently started me thinking about bad presentations, or at least those that don’t really do what they’re supposed to do.

A presentation is your chance to shine, to tell everyone what you want them to hear. You have the undivided attention of an audience for the duration of your time centre stage. So you want to do well, and hit the nail on the head. You have the opportunity to be listened to by a lot of people all at once.

It’s not always easy though is it?

Not that many people love standing up in front of a large group or audience, not everyone finds PowerPoint easy (with or without the magic clicky thing that never seems to work), not everyone can remember their lines and if you’ve got the after lunch slot then you often need to work extra hard.

Based on my own observations, I’d like to share what I think you shouldn’t do when giving a presentation (which incidentally doesn’t have to be PowerPoint, it just often is).

Don’t:

  • Forget what you are trying to communicate. Your key messages need to be obvious amongst all the information you are giving. Don’t say so much that it is overwhelming to listen to.

  • Baffle the listeners with jargon and acronyms, especially when you are in front of a mixed audience or one where you don’t know the exact make up of the attendees. It’s really hard to focus on a presentation when people are asking what the presenter is talking about every five minutes or even worse are asking each other.

  • Do a double act, unless you are very sure you are going to be really good at it and have practiced a lot. Well, at least not the kind where he says a couple of lines, you say the next and you continue to go back and forth. Instead maybe split the presentation into two or three larger chunks. Doing a turn taking exercise is confusing and it often goes wrong. Unless you have a word perfect script (see below) you will never know exactly when to come in and you will always be looking at each other in a “me next?” sort of way. This does not inspire confidence in the audience and detracts from the information you are trying to present.

  • Read from a script verbatim. It’s fine to use cards or a piece of paper with prompts on, but don’t read word for word. It is hard to listen to someone just reading something as you often lose the tone, intonation and all the other non-verbal extras that can keep your audience listening. Added to which, often when you read something out you stop actually thinking about what you’re saying (that’s just the way our brains work) so that if you lose your place you can’t naturally pick up.

  • Let your excitement over having a dedicated time to hear the sound of your own voice run away with you. You do need to stick to the programme and stay relevant. Anecdotes are great but only when they are pertinent and supportive of the point you are trying to make. You may have a million and one fascinating anecdotes to entertain the audience but too much time “remembering the time when…..” and you run the risk of losing yourself (and your audience), letting the time run away with you and have trouble keeping a steady flow and momentum going.

  • Pace around or jig up and down excessively. It’s quite irritating when you are drawn to the repetitive shoe movements of the presenter rather than the actual content of the presentation. The same goes for the rest of the body. It’s good to use body language, it supports what you are saying. It is not fun to watch a statue present. But overexagerated body movements are off putting and just annoying.

  • Fall into the “I don’t want to bore the audience so I’ll speak super quickly” trap. Audiences are not always going to grin and nod at every word you say, they are hopefully, thoughtfully listening. Take your time and deliver your presentation as you planned it. It’s good to keep an eye on the audience but don’t expect too much feedback and become all paranoid when you don’t get what you anticipate.

  • Assuming that it is PowerPoint or something similar that you are using, don’t:

Cram too much information onto one slide. This makes it really hard to read and often the audience spends too much time reading the slide and not enough time listening to you. The slide should act as a support to what you are saying, not the other way around.

Try to put in lots of crazy looking graphics If you’re not confident with the technology . These are great when they work but are distracting and annoying, and waste time when they go badly wrong. It can also make you more nervous and anxious worrying about whether your fantastically engaging slides are going to be a hot or not.

Forget to put your name and name of your organisation or company on the slides, at least at the beginning and end. Sometimes presentation slots get moved around, people may come in late and be unsure of who’s talking. It’s good to remind them.

  • Forget to practise (even though that seems obvious!)! The art of making a presentation look relaxed is down to knowing which slide/picture or piece of information you have coming up next, working out the time you need and remembering what you are talking about.

  • Panic! Everyone gets nervous, things sometimes don’t go according to plan, but it’s your presentation and you know better than the audience what is in it. You might make mistakes but they probably won’t be catastrophic unless you let them run away with you. It’s fine, everyone’s been there….

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