10 ways to ruin a presentation



You don’t have to look far to find plenty of advice on making good presentations. I just googled the topic and got almost 25 million hits!

I’d been a bit lax with my reading lately so I pulled out a back copy of Harvard Business Review from last June and found a great article by Chris Anderson the curator of TED.

The article describes the process of preparing speakers for TED talks which starts several months in advance. Teleprompters or auto- cues are discouraged and it has to take no more than 18 minutes. Making eye contact is important even with an audience of over a thousand people.

He describes how Susan Cain, the author of Introvert Advantage, was really nervous but gave the most popular presentation that year (the audience expects you to be nervous) , and how they coached a 12-year-old Masai boy to talk about his invention of a lighting system to scare away lions!

Given the plethora of advice on what to do, I was interested in what the author considered speakers shouldn’t do.

stick_figure_at_podium_with_pointer_anim_500_wht_6795And here is his list of things TED advises its speakers to avoid:

  1. Take a really long time to explain what your talk is about
  2. Speak slowly and dramatically. Why talk when you can orate?
  3. Make sure you subtly let everyone know how important you are
  4. Refer to your book repeatedly. Even better quote yourself from it
  5. Cram your slides with numerous text bullet points and multiple fonts
  6. Use lots of unexplained technical jargon to make yourself sound smart
  7. Speak at great length about the history of your organisation and its glorious achievements
  8. Don’t bother rehearsing to check how long your talk is running
  9. Sound as if you’re reciting your talk from memory
  10. Never, ever, make eye contact with anyone in the audience

He concludes the article by saying that presentations stand or fall by the quality of the idea, the narrative, and the passion of the speaker.


Source HBR June 2013