It’s autumn conference season, and I’m already feeling well in gear, having been to London, Paris, Nashville and Los Angeles in the past two weeks.  In that time, I’ve already seen dozens of training sessions, conference presentations and panel discussions.  I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.  To help you to be better at presentations, for the next two weeks, let’s focus on how not to do presentations, as well as how to knock them out of the park. The five deadly sins of presentations are…

1.      Putting everything you know on the slides

I understand – you’re a subject matter expert.  You really, really, really know your stuff.  It feels impossible to cull it down into just the essentials.  Plus- slide 16 doesn’t give all of the exceptions to that law.  Maybe it should be two slides…. STOP.  STOP RIGHT NOW.

Lawyers, perfectionists and compliance professionals frequently struggle with the curse of needing everything to be entirely complete.  Instead of focusing on what the audience needs to know, we focus on giving them everything we know.  This creates audience fatigue.  The audience only wants to hear what they can use, so putting everything you know on the slides can turn off an audience immediately.  Instead, only put a few words on each slide to remind yourself of what you need to tell them auditorily

2.      Skipping Slides Mid-Presentation

This is my number one pet peeve.  I’ll be watching a really good presentation where the speaker is clearly knowledgeable, then all of a sudden she’ll say something like, “Wait, I’m running out of time.  I put these slides in so you can have all of the information and you can see them later (skipping past five slides)…”  If the information is important enough to the presentation to be included in the slides, then why is the speaker skipping over them? 

Maybe some readers have better attention span than I do, but I tend to spend the next five minutes after the slides were pushed through trying to figure out what was in them and why they were skipped. 

If you need to put information into your presentation that you don’t plan to discuss live, put the information either into the notes for your slides or into an appendix. Putting together an appendix of useful information makes everyone happy.  Also, this approach ensures that your audience doesn’t go away feeling angry that you didn’t impart the information that they came to hear.

3.      Failing to calculate the time your slides will take

There are very few things more annoying than a presenter spending 25 minutes going through the first six slides, then rushing through the next 15 to try to finish on time.  If you have an hour and you’ve created 30 slides, then you have an average of two minutes per slide.  If you have 30 minutes to present and you’ve created 52 slides, you’ve created a giant problem for yourself!  Edit down the slides and present the critical information in a timely fashion.

Pro tip:  calculate exactly how many minutes you should average per slide.  Whether it is one or five minutes, you should time yourself so that you know what one minute and five minutes feels like.

4.      Using small font

So the latest court case’s opinion used 250 words to expertly describe the newest FCPA-related nuance… this does not mean that you should write out all 250 words in tiny font so it fits on one slide.  Please – do NOT use 20 words where three would remind you what you wanted to say. 

There are at least two problems with small print.  Number one- people get extremely frustrated when they see the screen but can’t read the words.  Number two – people ignore what you’re saying while they try in vain to read the words. 

Well-meaning practitioners think they’re doing their audience a favor by adding the entire text of a quote or a decision when it can’t be read by everyone on the screen.  They are not.  Small print frustrates the audience and takes away from the message.  Which leads me to the most egregious sin of all…

5.      Reading the text off the slides

I’m loath to even include this point.  But no matter how many times I see this advice, there are at least twice as many presentations where I see someone reading off their slides.  There is no reason to read off your slides.  If you want to use a quote, show the picture of the author and read it off your notes.  Use bullet points to trigger your memory.  But please, please don’t read your slides to the audience.  Chances are good that your audience is very bright and educated.  They can invariably read faster than you can speak, so use this to your advantage and make your presentation more interesting by using animations to slowly reveal your main points or to bullet your key takeaways.

I’ve seen some utterly fantastic presentations, but I’ve also been exposed to more than a few terrible talks. Nearly everyone I’ve seen present is a knowledgeable master of the ideas.  However, communication and presentation are frequently more important than the knowledge being presented.  By avoiding the five deadly sins of presenting, you’ll be on your way to invitations to national and international conferences, and a reputation for greatness.  

2 Responses

  1. Spot on Kirsty! Preparation and rehearsals are a must if you want to give an engaging presentation and cover all your points with sufficient question time if this was your purpose. Daike

  2. Yes – I found myself nodding in agreement to each point but particularly no 5. Reading the slide irritates me especially when the presenter turns their back on the audience to do this.

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