Why Your Presentations Might Just Suck!

Ok, so everybody’s presentations don’t suck. But the vast majority of them do. I know I’m not the first person to make this statement. I’d include a list of others who have said it but it would take more space than my entire blog does. Take this example slide deck from a presentation I saw recently. This is the actual color background theme that was chosen, with the wording changed slightly to protect the guilty – for now.

First, let’s tackle this wording. I rephrased it so it has almost the exactly same spacing and word style usage. The initial thing I’ve noticed is how long it takes one to read this. Is the presenter pausing while everyone reads the novel he wrote up on the slide? Nope, he’s blabbering on while everyone is looking at this slide reading it, pondering the huge words that are stuck in the slide. Not until the 4th or 5th sentence the presenter makes does the audience start to re-focus on the presenter. Already, everyone is rather lost in regards to the main topic. This is a major problem.

One of the worst slide decks EVAR!
One of the worst slide decks EVAR! (Click for full size image)

Don’t even get me started on the horrible decision to use this color scheme on the background. That can’t possibly be something that would allow people to pay attention to the speaker, WHO THE AUDIENCE IS SUPPORT TO BE PAYING ATTENTION TO!!!

Oh dear, another absolutely horrible slide.
Oh dear, another absolutely horrible slide. (Click for full size image)

In this second slide, it brings up one of the other things that happen way too often in a slide during a presentation. Keep in mind presenters, this is NOT a hand out, it is a slide. It is presented on the wall, behind the speaker usually. Try to read the words on that and imagine listening to someone speak while that is on the wall! Seriously, it makes me ponder buying tomatoes to bring the tradition of throwing tomatoes at bad performers.

What is a Presentation?

Just for a moment let’s talk about what a presentation is. First the technical definition of what a presentation is:

transitive verb
1 a (1) : to bring or introduce into the presence of someone especially of superior rank or status (2) : to introduce socially b : to bring (as a play) before the public
2: to make a gift to
3: to give or bestow formally
4a : to lay (as a charge) before a court as an object of inquiry b : to bring a formal public charge, indictment, presentment against
5: to nominate to a benefice
6 a : to offer to view : show b : to bring to one’s attention 
7: to act the part of : perform
8: to aim, point, or direct (as a weapon) so as to face something or in a particular direction

This gets us a little closer to exactly what it is, but really there is a lot more to presenting and getting to present then this simple definition implies.

Being able to present in front of a group is a chance to provide leadership. It is a chance to provide a vision of an idea, an opportunity to transfer knowledge and passion of a subject, and above all it is a chance to inspire progress and change in a positive way.

It doesn’t matter if the presentation is for a few corporate suits or an audience of revolutionaries. Having a chance to present to people is a chance to do well, to do good for people, and to step above and change things for the better. Presenting is a chance to change some small part of the world for the better, and in some cases maybe change a big part of the world!

Enough Griping and Such, How Does One Present Well?

The question that is left is, how do you put together a good presentation? It’s easier than you might imagine! I’ve actually seen a few recently that were great. The speaker captivated the audience, brought them into the topic, was inclusive and conversational and really left people wanting to know more. One of the first things that leads to a good presentation is one question.

Who cares and why should they?

If that question is not answered, or for some odd reason can’t be answered during the presentation then the presentation is a failure. When putting together a presentation ask yourself the question over and over and over again. Keep the audience in mind too, think about what the audience would ask or answer in regards to the topic.

Zen Aesthetic

This one I do NOT kid about. Don’t stick a bunch of stuff all over your slides. If anything, try to do a lot of presenting WITHOUT slides to really make an impact. If you want a prime example of average presentation skills versus good presentation skills, look no further then Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

This video of Steve Jobs shows why he is a master presenter. Building the audience for the three devices they released in 2007 that changed the world…

Not many business leaders, or leaders for that matter, are very good at this. Note his slides. They’re simple, they have a few images or just one or two points each. The idea is, the audience is focusing on him, on what he is discussing, on what he is bringing forth to the world.

Learning to Present

Check out Gary's blog at http://www.presentationzen.com/
Check out Gary’s blog at http://www.presentationzen.com/ or click on the image to navigate to his twitter account.

I could go on about great presentations, I could detail every single little point. Maybe I’ll continue this in another blog entry. But for now, I’m going to list a few masterful books on learning how and in which way to make great presentations.

There are more, but these two things will get you started toward good presentations, toward capturing and entertaining your audience. So get material, think and learn about how to be a better presenter! Before you know it you’ll be rocking the audience!

…as an aside. If you’re ever at a user group, conference, or other event that I’m presenting at please call me out on any of these things I fail at. If I lose your attention or have a slow part in my presentation or if my story does not come across clearly. Lay into me, tell me I’ve slipped, messed up, goofed, or butchered the story. I want to know. I want to make sure, whenever I’m presenting that I’m laying out the story, the vision that I’m trying to get across. I want the vision to be there no matter how technical of a deep dive it might be that I’m presenting. So yes, just know I’ve got a thick skin and I want to know!

Thanks, I’m looking forward to seeing you at my next preso!

5 thoughts on “Why Your Presentations Might Just Suck!

  1. Ditch PPT and use a white board. Move around, make people keep track of you. Know your material so well you could write every detail out in a document. Pay attention to your audience — if you see somebody nodding off, wake yourself up.

  2. Step 1 to giving awesome powerpoint. Don’t use powerpoint. I organize my thoughts into stickies the day before then I have a /dialog/ with the “audience” and use the stickies to anchor my points. ppt sucks. All it does it enforce traditional roles of speaker vs. audience and when you accidentally engage an audience they say somthing like “What about such and such” you become disinclined to discuss it if it’s later in your deck. “Oh, I had a slide about that so we’ll talk about then when it’s time.” bah.

    1. True that, it is indeed a major issue when one does that. Ideally the talk can shift at a moments notice. I tend to do that, I follow where the audience and I converse our way to. I tend to have slides with a few pictures, that’s it. Cats are always a winner.

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