3 Things You Should NEVER Say When Presenting

Terrible PowerPoint SlidePowerPoint is the devil’s instrument and when you use it, you risk becoming a musician in his demonic orchestra.  All of us are required to give presentations in some form or fashion at various points in our careers.  If you’d like to succeed in those efforts, there are three things you should NEVER say when you’re presenting.

I’ve witnessed my fair share of presentations (and given more of them than I care to count).  I’ve personally made all of these mistakes at one point or another.  I’ve also seen others make all of these mistakes, many times with ugly results.  I’d like to spare all of you the same fate.

First, remember why you’re presenting in the first place.  You’re likely either teaching/sharing information or trying to influence someone to make a decision on something.  You are NOT there to show off your wickedawesome PowerPoint skillz that killz.  To convey that information and influence that decision, you need to get your point across clearly and concisely (which we help people with all the time – CLICK HERE if you’d like some help too).  Given those two purposes, be mindful of what you say and how you say it as well as the information you use to make your case.

If you’d prefer to fail miserably instead, say or do any of the following three things:

“I know you guys probably can’t see this chart but…”  Seriously?  You’re going to put up a chart that’s overly complicated with tiny little words and letters and then publicly and proactively acknowledge your audience can’t see it?  Are you high?

The fix: look at all your charts before you present.  Take a tour of the room you’re presenting in.  Put your slides up on the screen and stand in the back of the room.  If you can’t read them, neither can your audience.  Simplify them (which is something we also teach people to do – learn more here).

“As you can see on page 47…”  47 pages?  Are you kidding me?  How many times have you gone into a presentation with a 30 to 50 page presentation and walked out having only covered a small fraction of those pages?  Take the hint.  You can’t cover that much material.  If you try to, your audience will either die of boredom or become homicidal.

The fix: have a clear, well-structured story (which you can easily learn how to do).  Also do some basic page ratio math.  Personally I calculate that I can cover one page for every three minutes I have in a meeting.  This includes title page, tracker/agenda slides, and any other pages I plan on showing.  Additionally, for any meeting, only plan to take up 2/3 of the time for your presentation and leave time for questions.  In other words, if you have an hour, plan to speak for 40 minutes.  For 40 minutes, you should have a maximum of 13 slides (assuming you talk as fast as I tend to).

“Our speakers for today’s 30 minute meeting include Bill, Susan, Kim, Frank, Henry, Jill, and Bobbie.”  No!  All too often we want to give everyone “air time” in front of our senior stakeholders because everyone wants “visibility.”  It’s childish, insecure, and inefficient.  Your audience knows all of you worked on the presentation and content therein.  Not everyone needs a speaking part.  It breaks up the flow of your story/recommendation, creates “time friction” (lost time as you transition between presenters), and comes across as clunky and amateurish.

The fix: Grow up and let go of your personal agenda and insecurities.  Pick your best speakers (one or two at the most).  Let them drive the flow and trust that the audience will mentally give everyone credit.  List everyone on the title slide.  Also, have speakers reference the work of other team members to give them credit (e.g., “In the analysis Bill did, you can clearly see the massive insights he came to in that ginormous cranium of his because he’s the smartest man alive even if he’s not up here speaking to you right now.”).  By picking your best speakers, your content will take center stage and your recommendation will be made more clearly instead of getting your audience to focus on the clown car show of you handing off the clicker to 38 different speakers.

Remember – you’re holding the meeting to influence people.  Think about things from your audience’s perspective.  Focus on the most critical information only.  Realize the presentation isn’t about you personally – it’s about getting the decision or outcome you’re most interested in.  Don’t fall prey to the above varieties of stupidity.  If someone on your team is advocating any of the above idiocy, please forward them this blog post.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

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Photo: Worst Powerpoint Ever by Oran Viriyincy

7 Responses to “3 Things You Should NEVER Say When Presenting”

  1. Ulick Stafford says:

    1 slide in 3 minutes seems too few for some presentations. It may mean that there is too much material on each slide. I generally use 1 slide per minute with big words and pictures and usually recommend others do the same.
    I would never use more slides than that. I think it may depend on your personal style and the type of presentation.

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      Point made – you know your pace for your style and present accordingly. Personally for my style, my slides too are pretty sparse and there’s more discussion than there is reading points on slides (which I abhor). The other situation is where the data are complex (which doesn’t mean the chart is complex though) and they require a discussion. Either way, one should know their own personal pace and plan accordingly.

  2. Powerpoint is just a tool. The only real issue with Powerpoint is that it’s an easy crutch that can mask people’s need to put in the hard work required to present skillfullyl. But the true issue, itself, is not Powerpoint but rather people’s lack of development of their presentation skills. We have fallen into a mistaken assumption that experts are by default master presenters, that strong written communications skills translate into strong presentation skills, and putting your thoughts on slides equates to developing a presentation. Presenting is a skill that requires cultivation like any other.

  3. RJ Bradner says:

    Yeah Buddy! Well spoken and filled with wisdom that comes from experience. Thank you for sharing in a concise and effective manner that serves to help remind and educate. 😀

  4. S Perrin says:

    I tend to disagree with #1 on certain occasions. For me, it’s fine to show some charts/illustrations that are way to small to be fully read, if you do it just for the sake of showing that work has been done in that area.
    For example un a factory floor environment, you may copy and paste a picture of the Value Stream Mapping exercise a team did on an assembly line, not for everyone in the room to go over the details of that exercise, but to prove it has been done.
    Doing so tend to break presentations with text-only messages and may appeal to people who are “visual” type.

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      Hi Sylvestre. While I understand your position, I still need to disagree with the point. If you need to demonstrate the work has been done, a simple diagram that is legible can suffice. You simply need to tell the audience “this is a high level diagram that shows the process we used for deep and extensive analysis to support this recommendation. If you’d like to see more details on all the work we’ve done, I’m happy to share those with you offline.” The same purpose has been achieved without frustrating the audience that they can’t read what you’ve put on the slide. I also totally agree with using visuals to break up the text – provided the visuals are legible and convey the key message.

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