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
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7 habits of highly annoying travelers

Mar 12, 2010 by

A while back, I wrote a post about annoying people at work. Just lately, much of my work has involved traveling so I thought I’d draw that theme out again, for a couple of reasons: I like and need to vent about the stupid things people do; and I’d like to provide a cautionary message lest you become one of these people.

Take heed of the completely annoying, frustrating, traveling-ruining stupidity that I see practiced around me regularly, in rough order from beginning to end of the trip (note: much of my travel takes place on planes, but some of these apply to trains as well):

  1. Bad behavior at the security checkpoint – This one encompasses a wide range of activities: waiting until one gets to the actual conveyor belt before taking off shoes, coats, etc; not paying attention and going through the metal detectors with change, watches, belts, etc. thereby necessitating an additional trip through; wearing complicated, lace up shoes that take five minutes to remove and then put back on; not realizing that shoes need to be taken off and then arguing the point with TSA agents; and much, much more. Security restrictions are quite easy to learn about: the TSA keeps their website updated and TV/newspapers report on on new restrictions constantly – just pay attention!
  2. Stopping in the middle of the aisle/walkway or wandering aimlessly – This infraction is particularly annoying in airports and train stations when you are trying to get to your gate and end up delayed because of people blocking the walkways. Listen: I know that navigating airports can be difficult. But if you get lost, pull over to the side out of the way of everyone else and take a minute to figure out where you’re going. Likewise, if you’ve got a three hour layover and plenty of time to do nothing, walk on the outer edge of the hall. Meandering about slowly while I’m rushing to get through the horrible Philly airport (where they ALWAYS seem to put your connection in a different terminal) is not the way to endear yourself to other passengers.
  3. Crowding the gate during boarding – Many of the airlines now seat by zone or section. Your zone/section is usually printed on your boarding pass so you have a general idea of where you are in the boarding process. These fine people have decided that despite their placement in the later boarding zones that they’ll crowd the gate so that everyone else has to push past them, wrestling with their bags along the way. One can never be sure whether these people are actually in line or just blocking the entrance so a lot of dodging, tapping on shoulders to ask people and gauntlet running often ensues.
  4. Putting coats and small bags in the overhead compartments – In this day and age when the airlines will charge you for everything, especially for checking bags, many more people are carrying on than ever before. Unfortunately, the size of the on-board baggage compartments have not expanded to meet that increased need. Therefore, every square inch of space is valuable. But that doesn’t stop John and Jane Tourist from putting their purses, briefcases, small duffel bags and coats into space that should be reserved for roller bags. This is especially frustrating when said tourists have plenty of room under their seat, but don’t seem to understand that space is actually designed to store those briefcases, purses and coats. I’ve actually had arguments with people on planes to try to get them to move their coats, etc. In frustration, I often end up crushing their baggage beneath my own; and no, I don’t feel guilty about it.
  5. Forgetting/ignoring/disregarding seating assignments – Almost every airline assigns seats to travelers. Many allow you to choose your own seats prior to boarding; I always choose to sit on the aisle because of the extra freedom of movement it provides. Seats usually have a letter and a number associated with them; in fact the system is quite simple. They even provide pictures above each section of seating letting you know whether you’re on the aisle or on the window. So why does it seem so hard for some people to find their own seat? I can definitely excuse mistakes, but if I had $5 for everyone who was ever sitting in my seat and then argued with me about it thereby delaying everyone else from boarding (not to mention pissing me off), I’d be a rich woman.
  6. Excessive and/or loud talking – One of the more challenging elements of travel is the loss of personal space incurred when squished next to far too many people in a relatively small metal tube. Its bad enough to have your bodily space invaded without the excessive and loud talking that can crowd your mental space as well. I personally thank the travel gods everyday that cell phone use hasn’t been approved on planes; but that doesn’t prevent people from talking to their neighbors a LOT. Loudly. About stupid stuff for the most part. People: you are sitting less than 3 inches from your neighbor – there is no way that you have to shout to be heard. And while I do adore train travel, cell phones actually are allowed and the problem seems to intensify.
  7. Talking on a cell phone while attempting to board or exit – I discussed the evil of cell phones above, but I had to elaborate. I love my cell phone too. In fact, I have two: one for work and one for personal reasons. But there is a time to talk and time to get off and when are you are trying to board or leave a plane is one of those times. There is something so painful about having landed back home after a week away from your friends, home and partner only to be prevented from getting off the plane by some jackass talking his or her head off. A quick call – or even better, a text – to let someone know you’ve landed is fine. A 30 minute diatribe on how much the flight sucked while you struggle to get your coat and bags from the overhead compartment (yes these are often the same people), block the aisle, hit people with your bags accidentally, drop three things and then finally get off the plane is way too much.
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7 habits of highly annoying people at work

Sep 16, 2009 by

Different personalities in the workplace are a given and you just need to learn to work with them. But regardless of personality, there are some things people do (yes, probably even me – though I’d like to think I don’t) that are just plain annoying and often create far more work and frustration than necessary. I generally try to keep things positive on this blog, but sometimes, you just gotta bitch.

I’m going to be as civil as possible in listing them here. Suffice it to say that you should try to avoid doing these things. Ever. (I should note that I’ve been collecting annoyances for this post for some time, so this isn’t necessary provoked by my current work situation.)

1)   Refusing to actually read emails – I’m a huge Twitter fan and I love the way that 140 characters forces you to get to the point quickly. However, that doesn’t mean that I ignore communications (i.e., emails) that have more than 140 characters. But apparently, some people do. It is endlessly annoying, not to mention time consuming when someone you work with doesn’t read your entire email and then responds to you with anywhere from 1 to 50 questions that were answered by your original email. Seriously people, just read the damn email.

2)   Holding a meeting without an agenda – I sometimes have 6 meetings a day. No, really. That is a huge amount of my professional time devoted to an activity that usually creates more, not less work for me. So if someone calls a meeting, they better damn well know what the thing is supposed to be about. An agenda sent out more than 10 minutes before hand is ideal, and I’ll take a quick verbal list in a pinch. But nothing? Unacceptable.

3)   Asking the same questions over and over again – When I promise, but don’t deliver to someone, I give them full permission to harass me about it. But when I answer an easy question or make it clear that a particular task is not my responsibility, we’re done. Asking again next week will not magically make the task mine or change the answer. If you can’t remember the answer, do what I do and write it down. It’s not that hard, trust me.

4)   Not taking care of something that is clearly one’s responsibility – I’m not into all kinds of hierarchy in the workplace, but I am into clearly defined roles and responsibilities; I have my job and you have yours. So when a task comes up that falls into your bailiwick, just do it! Or if I ask you to do it and you say yes, don’t punk out on it. It’s annoying and really unprofessional.

5)   Being indecisive – Personally and professionally, I really can’t stand indecisiveness. I admit and own this about myself. But this is still a legitimate complaint: referring back to number 4 – when a decision falls into your job roles and responsibilities, you need to make that decision. If you need to consult with supervisors and coworkers, so be it. But when the deadline comes, the decision needs to be made. When you hem and haw, you slow us all down.

6)   Refusing to think proactively – Look, I know how hard it can be to slow down and take a look at the big picture sometimes. You get so bogged down in the day to day, that you forget to look ahead. But as a professional doing almost any job, it’s necessary. This can be as simple as anticipating an upcoming newsletter and asking for copy a week in advance or as complex as developing a 5-year strategic plan. The point is you have to make time to think about this stuff and then bring your coworkers into the loop. When you wait until the last minute and then ask for that newsletter copy to be done today (or even worse, for a huge portion of the strategic plan), you are screwing up everyone else’s schedule and making it that much more difficult for them to think ahead.

7)   Not owning up to your mistakes and/or not fixing them – This should be obvious by now, but everyone makes mistakes (no matter how hard they try to avoid them). So just own up to it and then try to fix it. Don’t issue a litany of excuses and if you need help fixing it, ask. The more you put it off the bigger and nastier the mistake becomes and the harder it is to fix. And if fixing it requires some long hours, so be it. When you come through in the clutch, your coworkers will remember that.

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