Ruin a good presentation in 12 steps or less

Told her help would not be needed, Cassandra listened and learned as a senior speaker fumbled his way through a presentation

I suppose he can’t help it. He’s suffering from a terminal case of “I’m so much smarter than everyone else—especially you.”

Still, I did my job when he received the invitation to speak at a gathering of our senior leaders. I wrote him a good presentation, and was ready to help polish his (sorely lacking) presentation skills with a conveniently scheduled dry run. I even prepared a list of difficult questions he might encounter—with scripted answers.

But he would use none of that (which is rather galling when you consider how much time I spent researching, writing, getting the graphics done and managing the approvals). My speechwriting skills wouldn’t be needed. No, he told me, he understood what senior managers like himself wanted to hear, and I could “better use my time writing stuff for the intranet.”

(At moments like those, it’s a real struggle to overcome the urge to throw your notebook in the nearest trash can, turn on your heel, walk smartly out of the room and never, never look back.)

To teach me what a real presentation should be, Mr. Project Manager graciously allowed me to accompany him to his part of the swanky suits management meeting, so long as I sat in the back with the secretaries and took notes. I learned tons of great stuff, like:

(Yes. I left that blank intentionally.)

or that he gave me the opportunity, but if he had, I might have told Super Speaker to avoid such phrases as:

  • “This is a pretty busy chart, so let me try to walk you through this…”
  • “I know you can’t read this from back there …”
  • “This is pretty much an eye chart … ”
  • “It’s hard to understand what’s going on here, but …”
  • “In summary, most of this is pretty obvious …”

I also could have given him a few helpful pointers like:

  • Use a font size bigger than 8 points on your charts if you’d like people in the room to be able to see your presentation slides.
  • Consider throwing in an intelligent graphic every now and again to break up the 13 consecutive slides of 8-point text.
  • On that note, avoid those wildly complex, confusing and unenlightening engineering diagrams you threw in.
  • Also try to avoid quotes you think are inspirational, but everyone else thinks are trite and for lack of a better word, dorky.
  • Try not to read the slides aloud, since everyone here has a third-grade education and is able to read for him or herself.

And a final pointer I would have liked to have given:

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