Stop giving crappy presentations!

Aug 30, 2011 by

I’ve attended several conferences lately and frankly, I’m completely fed up with having to sit through horrible presentations that offer little to no value and are usually boring to boot. I just don’t understand! Conferences have been around for decades: how is it that people can not figure out how to give a decent presentation that imparts knowledge or provides a call to action (or both)???

After sitting through all of these crappy presentations, I’ve built up a good head of steam which I shall now share with you.*

Here are the most common offenses I’ve noticed lately that you should avoid at ALL COSTS if you’re scheduled to present anytime soon (and if you would like a guide about how to do better presentations, especially in the nonprofit context, I’ll direct you to what I consider the ‘bible’ on this topic, Andy Goodman’s “When Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes“):

  • A huge, unwieldy slidedeck – I know you’ve seen this person before, flipping past slide after slide during his/her presentation because its not relevant. Tell me exactly what the point is of putting together a 100 slide PowerPoint and then carting it around to every conference you speak it. If you answered “to make my life easier” then you are almost certainly one of the selfish people I’ve seen giving awful presentations. Sorry, but its just the truth. Yes, one of the big reasons for speaking at conferences, etc. is to get your message across, sell your product or get people to take action on your issue of choice. But you’re wrong if you think that is going to happen when you haven’t even bothered to make your presentation relevant.
  • Off the shelf presentations without any customization – This one leads directly from the previous bullet. The existing knowledge base, geographic representation, subsector, age, gender, etc. of your audience has everything to do with how you should build a presentation. If you aren’t asking the conference organizers these questions, you are losing an opportunity to not suck. You also need to know what your purpose is in presenting to these people. Is it purely informational? Then your facts need to be clear, concise and tell a story without overwhelming the audience with detail. Is the presentation supposed to encourage them to take action? Then it should (again) tell a story as well as offering compelling reasons and easy ways to take action.
  • Not knowing your own material – People are busy and I understand that. Unfortunately, that has led to a phenomenon of people asking other (usually ‘junior’) staff to create presentations for them. The speaker then arrives at the conference, takes a look at the slides while he/she is sitting on the stage waiting to present and proceeds to get up and blather on (I’ve actually seen this happen and when I asked, the person said that no, he had not seen the slides previous to that moment). Seriously? No one is such an amazing presenter that it obviates the need to look at one’s own slides before getting up to speak. Period.
  • Going way, way, way over time – I have to admit that this pet peeve is personal for me as a regular conference presenter as well as an audience member. I was invited to speak at a conference a few weeks ago with 3 other people (that should have been the first flag that something was wrong; 4 presenters is at least one too many for a good panel). The session was scheduled for 95 minutes and the 1st three presenters each spoke for 30 minutes. Yes, that’s right: once they got done there were 5 minutes left for my presentation and Q/A. So despite having prepared for a few hours (more on that below), I skipped my presentation in favor of questions. The lesson: your fellow presenters don’t deserve to get shafted and those in the audience don’t deserve to have their time for questions and interaction short-changed because you won’t shut up.
  • Overall lack of preparation – You know how I feel about preparation in general and for important things like job searching in particular. I consider presentations in any form to be one of those important things. As far as I’m concerned, you should spend at least an hour preparing for each 10 minutes that you’ll be presenting – more if you’ve never presented on the topic before or if you’re new to presenting in general. And that preparation should not all happen on the plane/train to the conference or the night before you’re scheduled to speak. Depending on the topic/situation, I try to have a very good draft done at least a week before the session so that I can let it sit for a few days before going back and looking at it again. Only then do I feel ready to get up and give a decent presentation.

While I can’t guarantee that you’ll be an amazing presenter if you avoid these things, I can guarantee that you won’t suck so badly that someone has to write a ranting blog post about it.

Have you seen other egregious crimes in the world of presenting, conferences, meetings, etc? Please share them in the comments!


Flickr image courtesy of user Zach Klein