How not to make a presentation that doesn’t suck

Before planning your next presentation, take some time to make sure you consider the following practices of top managers:

Don’t think too much about your target audience. What’s the difference if you’re pitching your plans to the board of directors or if you’re briefing your project group or if you want to inform your staff about the new company strategy — they’re all human beings, aren’t they? So why waste time with adapting your presentation to the kind of people you’re talking to?

Talking of “talking”: Presentation slides aren’t for supporting your statements and evoking emotions, they should only help people with hearing disabilities with following your talk. So write your statements down in complete sentences. Each and every one.

But then don’t make the rookie mistake of using a single slide for each statement. Put all important things on one slide. Yes, you may need to decrease the font size to about 8 or 10pt to make all statements fit the screen. But science has proven that most people with hearing disabilities develop their other senses, their vision for example, much above average. So they will have no problem reading your single slide. This will avoid another problem: if you switch slides more often than every 5 minutes, people with attention deficit disorder won’t be able to reread your statements once they’ve regained focus. You may even put healthy people under the strain of having to read your elaborate prose in a rush before you switch pages. Don’t stress out your audience.

A good speaker is a role model. Especially when you’re a manager speaking to subordinates, you certainly want them to emulate your behaviour. So if you want them to look at the projection wall, do so yourself. That way, you can also spare the effort of having to speak freely: Just read out loud what’s written on the slide. (Another advantage of pre-formulated sentences.)

Let’s be clear about one thing: proof reading is for losers. It’s the inherent message that counts, so don’t bother with correct grammar and spelling. Most people can’t spot a missing comma or a few wrong letters at 8pt font size from a distance of more than 6 meters anyway.

Repeat after me: It’s the message that counts. And a message is best expressed in buzzwords. They’re the gummy bears on the chocolate cake that is your presentation, so sprinkle them generously all over your slides. For example, use the word “challenges”. Even if your presentation isn’t in English at all. That way, you make clear that you really, really don’t mean “problems”. Really. That way, you ensure your listeners that you won’t expect too much from them: a problem would need a solution, challenges only need action.

If your audience wasn’t interested in your talk, the whole thing would be a waste of time, right? Therefore, you can take for granted that people want to know every single detail you took the time of working out. And if your bar diagrams and Gannt charts with all those carefully calculated numbers even brought you buy-in from the highly critical board of directors, how much more will they excite all those people in front of you that didn’t hear of your project until right now!

Things and people have their names for a purpose. That’s how you identify them. Especially in our age of commonplace cosmetic surgery, a face just doesn’t work any more as a means of recognizing someone. So, if you’re presenting your new organizational structure, don’t distract your audience with graphical nonsense like photos, simply focus on spelling the names as correct as you can so people can look them up in the company directory.

If you want to make people excited about your new product, don’t show them a real version of it, or worse, a gimpy prototype. The risk of it breaking or doing something equally embarrassing is just too high. Make a few slides with photos or screenshots of the product and add some explaining text. That way, the audience sees how great everything will be. When it’s ready and fully working.

On the other hand, don’t go overboard with pushing the mood of your listeners. There could very well be someone among them with a weak heart and we don’t want to be responsible for them getting a heart attack. Therefore, talk with a calm, quiet voice that reassures people that there is nothing to be worried or scared about.

It’s important that you appreciate the hard work of your employees. Even if they’ve already left the company months ago. So, if you copy someone’s slides for your presentation, leave his or her name in and your audience will keep this person in fond memories.

A presentation that lasts over 2 hours is somewhat problematic when you want to do it without a time-consuming break. The trick is to distribute different parts of the talk on to several speakers that seamlessly pass the baton on. That way, each one only has to talk for about 20 minutes, which won’t fatigue them too much.

If you take all these practices into account when you prepare your next presentation, you will certainly be surprised of the outcome.