The Five People That Make Your Presentation Suck

Everybody blames PowerPoint for ruining presentations. PowerPoint isn’t the problem … it’s a tool. Blaming PowerPoint for a bad presentation is like blaming the hammer for a poorly built roof (unless M.C. Hammer actually built your roof, in which case he’s not legit and should quit home improvement).

In short … the error is often between the laser pointer and the screen. Here are the five types of people that make professional presentation materials more confusing than directions from Apple Maps.

5. The people who don’t show up. The “just send me the slides” mentality had ruined a number of perfectly good presentations. You have to fill the slides with information that is for people who are going to see it later, and it has to make sense to them. Maybe they need meeting minutes instead of that PPT file. This is the main reason why tech presentations contain a lot of words … I know because I’ve given a lot of tech presentations. I am very happy that more conferences offer full recordings of sessions, complete with speaker audio and screen capture of the demos. That may encourage people to ditch the PDF and *gasp* watch your presentation.

4. Your co-workers. Yeah, I’m looking at you, person who thinks your slides don’t “have enough meat”. After twenty minutes looking for cow clip art, they explain that the slides need more words … or graphs … or that thing they’ve been working on for months that needs more than one text bullet. Just tell them you’ll speak to their point and add extra data to the speaker notes.

3. Your boss. We’ve all been the office drone who had to make a presentation for the boss … or boss’ boss … or (in the tiny company I used to work for) the CEO. Then the boss comes back and wants all of the details added to the slides. They don’t need slides, they need a script … but they won’t read the script. Your boss may not know what speaker notes are because they never see you use them. Of course, you could give the presentation without the slides, but you’re not going to see the customer (thank you tiny travel budget).

2. That coworker who’s a better presenter than you. This is the person your boss expects you to be when using someone else’s slides. Somehow they forget about the presenter and think the slides possess magic powers. It’s a laser pointer, not a magic wand. Also, you should stop pointing at the slides. The really good presenter might have horrible materials, but it doesn’t matter because no one looks at the slides when they’re talking. You don’t become Batman by stealing his cape … plus Batman’s a horrible presenter, nobody can understand a word that guy says.

1. You. Seriously. It’s a presentation and you’re the presenter. The slides don’t magically do the work for you. Pretend you’re a newscaster and those slides are the over-the-shoulder graphics and B-roll footage in your news story. The story should make sense without them. Just put the animation down and no one gets hurt. Take all the extra stuff out of the slides so they’ll forced to listen to you. You don’t add value to the slides … the slides add value to your story.

PowerPoint gets used for a lot of things where Word would be the better choice, but it’s become a good platform for talking points and outlining ideas. I still use it, but I always remember these five points when I make a “presentation” instead of “a list of things we’re sharing in a meeting.”

I think we’re to the point where actual presentations need a different tool. I’m trying to break the typical presenter formula, including using Prezi for some of my presentations. We’ll see if these tools help or become just another crutch for bad presenters.

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