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Presentation series #1: Why you suck at presenting

At some point in your career you will need to conduct a presentation.

Maybe to your boss, maybe to your team, maybe to another team, maybe to a room full of strangers.

It’s one of the most feared and reviled activities in the workplace. Why? Because it requires us to put ourselves on show, to stand up and be the center of attention. But as it’s not something most of us do regularly it causes anxiety and tension, which fill us with fear of screwing up.

And to be fair, we are damn good at screwing it up. I’m sure you’ve seen a friend or colleague do it. Maybe you’ve done it yourself?

This post is the first in a short series of posts about presentation skills and lists common mistakes we make and I’m not going to beat around the bush – if you have employed any of the six (and a half) ‘techniques’ in this post then I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you but yes, your presenting skills suck. 

So read on, grimace, acknowledge past mistakes you made and/or seen others make, then move forward with enhanced knowledge and awareness of what to avoid next time round.

  1. Keeping people waiting:

Everyone at work is busy, so one sure way to screw up is to waste peoples time. Examples include: not having equipment set up before people arrive; needing to leave the room (to get your notes / pens / print outs), and; going on, and on, and on, and on…I mean why use 10 words when 100 will do – right? Wrong. When nerves kick in it’s really easy to just keep on talking. It’s OK. They got your point after word 20, and even if they didn’t – move on.

  1. Lack of preparation

Try and wing it – go on – I dare you.

Why do some people think they can just rock up and deliver a great presentation? Even if they have the confidence to stand in front of an audience what about the content? You can’t just pull this out of your arse when you need it. Abraham Lincoln’s timeless quote is a fantastic reminder of this.

[Tweet “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”]

  1. Reading your notes

Putting your head down and reading your notes aloud is a brilliant way to lose an audience. Works every time. Oh and this is a great way to avoid eye contact too. You just want to get through it, so you focus on your notes to block everything else out. But think about it – how would you even know if everyone was asleep, or had left, or were smiling if you don’t stop and look up occasionally. This isn’t presenting, this is just reading aloud. BORING…

  1. No eye contact

See above.

How do you expect to hold someone’s attention when you aren’t giving them any of yours?

  1. Randomizing your content

Employing a scatter-gun approach to delivering your content will confuse, frustrate and ultimately neutralize your audience, as they struggle to keep up and understand what the feck is going on.

Imagine you have piece of paper with 10 points on it, in a sensible and logical order from top to bottom, but then you panic and talk to them as follows: 9 / 3 / 6 / 9 / 7 / 1 / 5 / 10 / 9 / 4 / 8 / 2 … Oh – did I mention 9 yet?

  1. Taking too damn long

The average attention span of an adult is between 7-15 minutes.

People can only retain around 4 pieces of new, unrelated information in one sitting.

The rules of attention can be nicely summarised as follows: people get bored easily.

  1. No materials

Don’t have any slides? Don’t have any print outs? Not using a white board? Nice one, you suck.


I’m sure you’ve seen all of these in action at some point, maybe even several of them during the same presentation.

Here’s the bottom line: Avoid them and you’ve a decent chance of success. Use them and you are guaranteed to screw up.

Next time we’ll cover the skills and techniques you can employ to nail a solid, confident and convincing presentation, and start to list those that will build your confidence and transport you from suck to success.

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