Worst Presentation Advice Ever

(I went to a baby shower this weekend where all of us elders in the room [yes, tongue firmly in cheek] delivered our best and worst advice about child rearing. I thought I might carry the concept over to presentations. Worst advice today, best tomorrow.)

Let’s leave out the truly obvious, such as “read your slides aloud.” What other bad advice – big and small – have I heard over the years?

  • Imagine the audience naked. No, no, no. Just, ugh.
  • If you’re afraid, look out over the audience’s heads; they won’t notice you’re not actually looking at them. Yes, they will. The attendees want you to succeed. Because if your presentation is a mess, they’ve wasted their time. Rarely is an audience to a business presentation actively hostile at the start. (Yes, it happens occasionally. But it’s not the norm. If anything, they’re bored, not out to get you.)
  • Pick out one person in the audience and talk to them. And watch that person squirm in their seat! Make eye contact with lots of folks. Pick one out, share one thought (phrase, sentence) with her, and find someone else for the next thought.
  • Each slide should last about five minutes. (Or, No more than ten slides.) – If that’s your style, fine. Otherwise, bad idea. Use the “right” number of slides, whatever your style. For me, that may be twenty slides in three minutes at one point of a presentation, one slide lasting fifteen minutes at another point. Your slides must support you and your ideas, whatever that requires.
  • Use creative animations. Sure, if you work for Disney, perhaps. Or are showing off PowerPoint itself. Otherwise, limit them – and don’t use sound! (I learned that one the hard way many years ago.)
  • Use Prezi. With all due respect – it is a cool product, and can be valuable in specific instances – it calls attention to the mechanics of presenting. You and your ideas need to be the focus, not the delivery of them.
  • Say everything three times. (“Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em, then tell ’em, then tell ’em what you told ’em.”) – Most of use are addressing audiences with the ability to process information more effectively.
  • Keep a glass of ice water handy. According to professional singers, ice water tightens your throat. Have room-temperature water at hand, or warm tea with honey.
  • Use cool templates. Nah. Most of them are whizzy and off-balance and call attention to themselves rather than your content. Look at some of Steve Jobs’ presentations. And don’t put the name of your organization, a copyright notice, or any other repeating text element of every slide!
  • Use PowerPoint’s default settings. Nope, the type is far too small – and bullet points basically stink, anyway. Forty-point type is a pretty good minimum size. Yes, 40-point. If you want people to read your presentation rather than listen to you, send it to them in a document. Otherwise, keep the screen simple, and keep the focus on you.

I’ve received lots of bad advice over the years. Tried out variants of most of them, to discover they didn’t work.

Good advice? Tune in tomorrow.

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