Sunday, 7 February 2010

How to deliver an awful oral presentation

Thanks to everyone who responded to my blog on how to produce an awful PowerPoint presentation.

Now here's another question. What makes an awful oral presentation? Obviously the PowerPoint presentation plays a big part, but leaving aside the illustrative tools, what turns an audience off in a big way? Again I would like your views, as they will be used as a guide to MEI Conference presenters, but I would like to put forward my own number one source of irritation.

My prime irritant is the arrogant presenter who feels that he can take as long as he likes to make his presentation. I am sure we have all experienced this. We are sitting there gasping for a cup of coffee, in the rapidly dwindling coffee break, while this person comes to the end of his allotted time, nowhere near his conclusions and totally oblivious to the pleas of the chairman to wind up. If the chairman is ruthless and cuts him off, he invariably complains afterwards that it is impossible to explain his particularly high quality piece of work in so short a time.

Rubbish!! The real reason is that he is selfish and unprofessional, and also totally lacking manners, being completely oblivious to the feelings of the next presenter, who may be a young debutant, wondering if he/she now has to speak faster or leave out some slides to bring the show back on time.

During my time at CSM, I gave a course on mineral processing to the final year degree students which was 40 hours. I also covered the same field with first year mining students in 5 hours, and to schools in 30 minutes. No matter what the subject, you should be able to tailor a talk to a stipulated time.

You may have noticed that when referring to the arrogant presenter, I used 'he' throughout. For some reason this appears to be a male dominated impairment and I can't recall one of our female presenters falling into this trap. Maybe they practice their talks in advance, to get the timing right.


  1. Public speaking is one of those things that takes some learning and experience, so a lot of the faults you see are related to nerves or lack of confidence (reading word for word, clinging to the lecturn, monotone voice, etc).

    The worst deliberate one is the one you've mentioned - don't fit the time limit. Don't bother practicing to see if you're talk is the right length, just assume it is and get started - they leave a bit of fat in the conference schedule anyway!

    Some other tips for delivering an awful oral presentation:
    1. Don't pay any attention to the speakers before you and how close they talked to the microphone. Have you mouth too far back so noone can hear, and then don't look for indications from the audience that they can't hear well, just carry on. And if you've got a lapel microphone, put it somewhere where its rubbing on your clothing or you keep hitting it.
    2. Don't staple or clip your notes together, keep them loose leaf so that its easy to get them out of order.
    3. Never make eye contact, and try to stay as monotone as possible. You don't want to frighten anyone.
    4. Don't ever include stories or anecdotes, they only interest people in your topic.
    5. Walk around way too much - surely the more you move from side to side the better for keeping everyone awake.

    And if you're at a conference:
    1. Turn up just before your session and ask if you can go later or earlier than planned. They love that.
    2. Once you've made your presentation, you can leave. Sure, everyone stayed to see you, but you've got important stuff to do.

  2. From Mike Dry, Arithmetek Inc., Canada (via LinkedIn):

    Forget about who you're talking to - assume they all know the technical background and that everyone else is as versed in your field as you are. Remember that they'll be looking at it from exactly the same viewpoint as you.

    Keep it long and full of excruciating detail. Use as many acronyms as you can. The more jargon you can throw in, the smarter you appear to the audience, particularly the folks who don't know all your jargon. The point is to get all the fine detail over, not just the few so-called important points...

    Mumble if you can. Practice mumbling if you're not good at that.

  3. From Anna McDougall, Conference Producer at IQPC, Australia:

    Talk really softly until someone gets you a microphone, then make sure you shout EXTRA LOUD into it so that it picks up your voice.

    The other extra-important thing to remember is to go onto random tangents about your children or your dog whenever humanly possible. Basically just stay off-topic as often as you can for as long in duration as you can.

    In terms of the actual presentation of the slide, you should make sure that the fluorescent coloured weird font you downloaded at home don't present correctly on the computer you're using, so that your fonts end up being obscured by images or not fitting on the slide at all.

    Guaranteed to drive your audience nuts!

  4. Presentation techniques:
    don't show energy;
    use a soft voice;
    talk very fast;
    turn your back to the audience and talk to the screen;
    use a friendly voice like you would talk to friends in a pub;
    dressing code: like going for a walk on Saturday morning;
    Make busy slides;
    make sure they cannot ready the details;
    explained in great details or go very fast, so people cannot follow;
    make the conventional introduction; the title of my talk is, the outline is...
    use a lot of odd animation;
    put a lot of photos like equipment well known;
    insert photos of family or pets;
    present a promotional talk lacking scientific evidences;


  5. Paul Mitchell tip would be to....

    Foolishly agree to step in at the last moment to cover for a colleague on a subject that stretches your own expertise to the very limits, assuming that you can stumble through by reading off the PowerPoint slides, only to find that the projector screen is not even one-third visible from the lectern, the microphone has been screwed down to this lectern by the world's strongest man, the laptop is 25 feet away on a desk due to the short lead connecting it to the projector and hence completely unreadable to anyone with eyesight worse than Superman's and that the printed version of the slides is back at the hotel...

    Been there, done that....a long time ago, I hasten to add....

  6. Many speakers forget to understand the profile of the audience in advance ... a technical ppt to a commercial audience is not uncommon... bad body language, highly technical slides, absence of simple bullet points or flow charts which would stick to the mind of audience, attempt to bluff, too lengthy, etc can all be big put offs .....

  7. and this is how to ask an awful question after an oral presentation....


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