How Not to Give a Bad Presentation

There aren’t a whole lot of things that I hate, there are a lot of things that I don’t like, but only a few things that I genuinely hate.  Bad presentations are one of those things I hate. Normally I don’t see that many bad presentations so it’s ok, I can avoid them like the dickens, but today I had to watch two abominations passed off as power points. So now, in order to keep my sanity I’m going to tell you how to give a good presentation so I don’t have to slowly cry myself to sleep trying to forget your horrible powerpoint.

1. Powerpoint is a Tool, it’s Not the Presentation

A bad powerpoint can ruin a presentation, but a good powerpoint does not necessarily make a good presentation. What people forget is that I did not come here to watch a powerpoint, I came here to listen to you talk. The powerpoint exists solely so I have something pretty to stare at while you rattle off a bunch of crap I don’t really care about. This means a couple of different things. First off should have little to no text. The only things that should ever be in words are overarching points that you need to emphasize. Like I said your powerpoint should be something pretty to look at, eye candy as it were (or iCandy for you apple fanboys), text is not pretty and reading is boring. Secondly, if all your information is on the slide, then why the hell are you talking, just give me your presentation and lets be on our way.

2. A Bad Powerpoint Will Ruin Your Presentation

I need to emphasize this. A bad presentation will ruin your presentation. The moment I see your paragraph of black ink on a white background I’m done, you have completely lost your entire audience, and now no one is going to know why the HB-SIA Solar Impulse aircraft would yield more efficiency by incorporating a variable pitch propulsion system. You need to treat the audience like children, if you don’t show them something cool/shiny they will completely ignore you. Even if your talking about the aerodynamic intricacies of solar powered aircraft show a cool picture of a fighter jet! and you’re 8000% more likely to keep the audience’s attention. I could seriously write a book about all the do’s and do not’s for the powerpoint, but I don’t have enough time, so just make it pretty, put in lots of pictures and for the love of god DO NOT put in animations or sounds, they’re cool for about 2 seconds and then they get really annoying, also they completely mess with my last point (which I will of course…talk about later).

3. Notes are for Noobs

Notes convey one thing and one thing only: this person doesn’t know all the information and therefore isn’t an expert. When you’re giving a presentation, everything you do should give off the impression that you know all this information through and through, otherwise why would I listen to you if I could just go on wikipedia and get the same understanding as you. Not only is it distracting, unappealing, and makes one doubt your legitimacy, it brings me to my next point.

4. The Truth is Irrelevant, Appearance is What Matters

This is going to sound bad and immoral, but philosophically speaking (see what I’m doing here Sam), it’s the truth (that’s got to be some kind of paradox). I could probably write an entire book about this phenomenon, in fact I might, but for now I’ll summarize. Reality is as one perceives it, so in reality (see what I did there) it doesn’t matter if you only spent 20 minutes google searching your topic, as long as you give off the impression that you know what you’re talking about you are, for all intents and purposes, and expert. If you talk confidently (without notecards) about a subject for 20 minutes and five a good presentation, then I’m not going to be thinking about your legitimacy, or doubting the quality of the information presented, I’m going to be thinking, hey this guy is smart, that was a good presentation. So in theory, you could have no knowledge about a subject, and give people the impression you know what you’re talking about just by BS-ing your way around, my friend Neel does it literally all the time. The thing is, the more you actually know, the easier it will be to give the impression that you know things, because, well, you actually know them. But the ability to BS brings me to my next point.

5. Public Speaking Skills are a Good Thing

So like I was saying, you can BS your way through an expert powerpoint, and that’s where public speaking skills come in. The key to BS is the same key to giving a good presentation, the ability to speak confidently about a topic to a group of people. I understand that some people have trouble with public speaking, cool, I’m not going to tell you how to speak in public, that’s outside the scope of this post, go read a self-help book or something. What I will say is that the focus of your powerpoint needs to be the audience, you need to speak to them, and you need to at the very least seem confident in what you’re saying. It shouldn’t sound rehearsed, it shouldn’t sound forced, and if you look at the screen for any reason other than to point at something that you’re talking about, and only for a second, I will personally dick slap you (or whatever the female equivalent is).

6. Anticipate Questions

This goes right on back to my point about appearances. A good presenter can answer questions (whether the answers are BS is irrelevant), but a great presenter, can anticipate questions. It’s a truly difficult skill to master, but if you can do it it looks really cool.  So what does this mean? Well a master presenter can identify information that is difficult to understand, or notice something that is poorly explained,  or something that requires more information and either rework the presentation to clarify, or include question slides, that present the information that someone is asking about. You may never be ever asked those questions, but when you do, it looks baller. Oh, and a note about question slides. They should only really be things that are on the fringes of the scope of your presentation. If it’s some kind of critical information, or some fact that it is relatively important, it should be in the actual presentation. Additionally, the ability to answer questions quickly and swiftly further cements your appearance as a smart, and knowledgable presenter, which is what you want isn’t it?

7. The Whole Thing Needs to Flow

I don’t care if you’ve ignored everything I’ve said up until now, this is the most important of all of my rules/tips. No matter what happens, if your presentation flows, and it sounds good, it will be good. It’s the reason you should never say “um” or “ugh”, it’s why you want to have good public speaking skills, and it’s why you don’t use notecards. Once you get a good rhythm going, everything else will fall into place. A nice smooth presentation just oozes confidence, professionalism, and just looks awesome. Nothing looks worse than going through a presentation and having to stop because your animations didn’t work, or you forgot what you were going to say next. You look unprepared and stupid. Well what if those things what do you do? Keep talking, whatever happens, just keep talking. If you have to, skip it and come back, chalk it up to technical difficulties, people understand technical difficulties, but if you stop talking if gives the impression that you’re unprepared.

Now that I’ve told you all this, it’s your turn. Go practice, do something, I don’t really care, but don’t come back until you know what you’re doing. I’m tired of watching terrible presentations, it’s incredibly annoying. So please follow my guidelines, I never want to see another bad presentation again, although I’m going to an engineering school so I probably will anyways.