If you want to make sure you completely screw up a presentation (beyond all recognition), follow the following advice to the letter.
1. Make No Eye Contact
This destroys your credibility and the authenticity during the presentation. At a subconscious level, your audience will feel like the message isn’t concerning them. You will lose their attention and some may even see it as a lack of respect.
Avoid this as much as possible. Try to make eye contact by choosing a few people (4-5) distributed across the audience. Don’t see eye contact only a “must-have”, but also as a great way for you to gauge the attention and focus of the audience. By looking at just some people, you inevitably gain useful real-time information on how your speech is received. Are you talking too slow or fast ? Are you brining any enthusiasm to your listeners ? This sort of information can help you fine-tune your presentation on the spot.
2. Read Your Slides (word by word)
If you ever have to chose between reading the slides as you speak and giving a presentation about something you know nothing about, always chose the latter. No matter how little you know about a subject, no matter how distracted, nervous or boring you are, there is nothing worse than reading from the slides.
This gives the impression that you are unprepared and have little or no knowledge on the subject. It’s far worse than having studied computer science and giving a lecture Guillain-Barre syndrome or marine biology. Not to mention reading from your slides automatically and irrevocably wrecks the confidence you show.
If the temptation of reading the slides is too irresistible, literally turn your back on them and face your audience.
3. Try to Remember What to Say
The worst thing about trying to remember stuff while you’re giving a speech is that you make annoying pauses, you inevitably say “ahhh” and you lose the focus of your audience.
Having a great speech doesn’t mean reciting a poem ! I can emphasize this enough. Saying the “wrong” thing (=something different from what you wrote down in your notes) isn’t wrong at all. Stop wasting your time and your audience’s attention by trying to remember the exact order of stuff.
If you are well-documented and informed on the subject your are talking about, do this: when you’re having a lapsus memoriae, say the first thing that comes to mind. Don’t try to remember anything, just let go and blurt it out. It’s called improvisation and nine times out of ten, it can save your ass. It can be a joke, a related subject, a sudden connection or a metaphor.
Your mind does a far better job at communicating a point than at reciting lines. Let it do it’s work !
4. Have Sloppy Slides
This shows you haven’t done your homework and you haven’t been willing to put an hour’s work into preparing your presentation. That’s awful.
Sloppy slides include, without being limited to:
- Spelling or syntax mistakes: they are a great distraction for the audience and they … let’s say they challenge your competence.
- Lots of text: a slide should include a simple picture/animation/chart or at most 5 lines of text. Preferably three. Better yet, one. Never more. Too much text gets confusing. Complicated charts & graphs don’t do much good either.
- Small text: it is annoying as hell and no one reads it. Summarize, summarize, summarize until you get it two fit into three lines of text. People should listen to you, not read. They should be able to skim through the text on a slide in at most 10 seconds.
- Flashy colors: Unless you’re a designer or artist of some sort (and know what you’re doing!), don’t mix red and green and yellow. No on the same slide, not in the entire presentation. Pick a color scheme and stick to it. If you’re colorblind like me, ask for a friend’s help or use templates. Just don’t make a color salad !
5. Be Dull, Be Boring
Be flashy, be provocative, be challenging ! Even be offensive ! Even the worst of jokes are preferable to your being boring. The worst thing you can do is keep a constant, mellow, nearly inaudible tone during the whole presentation. This puts your audience out faster than you can say XANAX.
Tell a really bad joke. Adjust the tone of your voice according to how important a certain matter in your presentation is. Ask a volunteer from the public to join you on stage (especially if you’re presenting a live demo). Shock your audience with unexpected reactions or surprising information. Share you personal experience (in small amounts, only if truly relevant).
Whatever you do, make your spectators jump out of their seats.
And remember, always try to surprise yourself during each presentation.