I have attended a number of conferences, lectures and talks in the past two weeks and I’ve just reviewed my notes on the elements that irritated my eyes and ears in them. In no particular order, I’ve highlighted the problem first (with my thoughts in brackets):

  • Speaking too fast (Trying to cram in too much, in each case the speaker hadn’t ruthlessly hacked the talk down to a core point)
  • Orphan words (Ugly to look at, breaks up the reading flow on the slide; use ‘soft returns’ to balance text on the slide)
  • Too much crammed onto slides (Slides are free now, ONE idea per slide. If you have three things supporting your point, do the table on a slide, the chart on the next, and the learned quote on the third – then you can put the mini-version of all three elements on your QED slide)
  • Too much reading of the slides (Do you know what the hell you are talking about or not? If you do, stop using slides that are for your benefit rather than for the audience’s benefit. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be up on your feet in the first place…)
  • One-sex-focused slides (This was at a talk in my daughters’ school and the speaker brought slides from his own – boys – school. It would have taken 15 minutes tops to do a ‘Save As’ and amend the boy-specific stuff to have relevance for this female-focused audience)
  • Tied to the lectern (For the want of an extension VGA cable and adapter. (1) Don’t put barriers between you and the audience and (2) if you need to reference your slides that often, you don’t know your stuff. Use Presenter View and get your comfort monitor out in front of you)
  • Tied to the lectern again (For the want of a remote control – this speaker knew her stuff, but had to hover around the laptop on the lectern so she could advance the preso)
  • Disorganised, scattered material (Don’t use bullet points when a table will demonstrate the point so much better. This presenter didn’t know his stuff on PowerPoint and was probably scared to try anything beyond words on the screen. No longer acceptable. If you’re crap at PowerPoint, it’s because you have decided that that’s okay. Well guess what? I doubt your audience agrees with you)
  • One font only (Headers, bullets, quotes, labels, sources – everything in the one font, in the one colour. Mix it up a little, just a little. Look at your favourite newspapers, magazines and websites and look at how they use fonts to present the hierarchy of their text)
  • Practise what you preach – this presenter said that he was going to present 3 thoughts and that the first was the most important and the third was always touted as being the most important, but that was no longer the case. He then went on to spend just a few minutes on the first point and devoted two-thirds of his talk to the last point, which left a lot of the audience bewildered as to what we were supposed to believe and act upon. (Devote time, space and focus to the things that you say are important – otherwise your audience will take the wrong action or, more probably, no action)
  • Downloadable preso – if I just had the URL, I could have saved myself the trouble of attending, because the presenter added nothing by his presence (It shouldn’t have been a presentation in the first place – the speaker should have circulated their slides by email and said “any questions?” If you are going to make me come and listen to you, make damn sure it’s worth my while)
  • “Kinda” “Sort of” “Ya know” “Emmmmmmm” (It is hard to spot your own verbal tics – virtually impossible if you don’t record or video yourself. The next time you are presenting, put your phone to airplane mode and record yourself – I use my wired throat mic with the headphones tucked into my shirt. Try it, it’s revelatory)

We all sit through presentations with simple simple errors like these every day. Most of these are equally simple to rise above, and you will no longer be contributing to the pool of horrendous presentations out there. Stop and think for a few minutes; if the talk is worth giving, it should be worth putting a bit of effort into. You don’t need to aim to be Steve Jobs or TED-quality – but please stop settling for the lowest common denominator. There are a myriad of reasons to present and a myriad of desired outcomes. I’m going to take a wild swing here and guess that one of your desired outcomes is not “To lower my credibility and reduce my standing among my peers every time I stand up to present” – and yet that’s what you are risking every time you settle for an “Ah sure it’ll do!” presentation.

Just sayin’