Top 10 cringeworthy presentation gaffes

Macabre moments and eerie elements from doomed presentations that might make listeners long to ease their suffering with a cask of Amontillado. Commit these gaffes nevermore.


I’d like to share some appalling awfulness from presentations. Here are 10 gruesome gaffes that have made me cringe.

10. Wailing like a banshee

Listening to this speaker gives me the heebie-jeebies. Her voice is screechy and quaky, and she bursts into high-pitched nervous laughter every few minutes. Maybe it’s anxiety; maybe it’s just her voice. Some deep breathing and relaxation might help this spooky speaker.

9. Creepy, crawly clichés

The problem with clichés is exactly the reason people like to use them: They express a popular or common thought or idea. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to use someone else’s decayed corpse of an expression than to come up with something fresh and original. Bury your clichés in the graveyard, and move on.

8. Frightful confessions

I’m terrified of what’s to come when this speaker tells us she’s sorry, she’s not very good at public speaking, or she didn’t have time to prepare, or she only got two hours of sleep. If her deep, dark secret stays locked in the upstairs room (along with that hideous portrait that ages and becomes disfigured while its subject remains young and beautiful) the audience will never know the difference.

7. The walking dead

A speaker who follows every known speaking rule and memorizes ever facial expression, gesture, and word comes across like a zombie, making it difficult to create a human connection. Too many rules kill the soul and the spirit of a speaker. Have some fun, break a rule, and rejoin the living.

6. Macabre mispronunciation

This speaker mispronounces even the most common words. “A” is a letter; it rhymes with “day.” “A” is a word; it rhymes with “duh.” They are spelled the same but pronounced differently. “Mischievous” isn’t pronounced “mis-CHEE-vee-ous.” “Nuclear” isn’t pronounced “NUKE-yoo-ler.” Pronouncing words correctly keeps your audience from howling in agony.

5. Black cat got your tongue?

This speaker says, “By the way,” or, “At the end of the day,” or, “Am I right?” more than 50 times in the course of a presentation. It’s better to say nothing at all than to lean on the same crutch phrase over and over. Embrace the pause; silence doesn’t have to be scary.

4. Stake through the heart

I’d rather stay asleep in my coffin than face a maniacal motivational speaker early in the day. Be patient and gentle while the vampires and werewolves drink their coffee and become human again.

3. Time murderer

This speaker takes five minutes of a 20-minute presentation to thank everyone he’s ever known and brag about every accomplishment since age 5. An attention-grabbing opening might keep your audience from running screaming from the twilight zone.

2. Stats from beyond the grave

Have you heard this one? “People fear speaking in public more than they fear death.” Have you ever seen the actual research? Neither have I. The original survey that this refers to is more than 40 years old. That’s one mildewed and stale statistic that should rest in peace. Back up your facts, or don’t use them. Credibility is more important than cleverness.

1. Chills down my spine

A dry flip chart marker truly makes my skin crawl. Check your markers in advance. If they’re dry, you have two problems: (1) The audience can’t read what you’re writing, and (2) The sound of the marker is like fingernails on a chalkboard, a ghastly torture you never want to inflict.

What are your most bone-chilling presentation horrors?

A version of this article originally appeared on Speak Schmeak.

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