Seven deadly sins of presentations

seven sins of presentations

These articles spend a lot of time talking about what you should do when you get in front of an audience.

But it’s potentially even more useful to know what you shouldn’t do. So I thought I’d look at seven things to avoid: the seven deadly sins of presentations, if you like.

1. Thou shalt not be boring

An old rule of writing says that there are no boring subjects, only boring writers. In the same way, whatever your subject, your presentation can be fascinating, as dull as ditchwater, or anything in between. It’s up to you. Even the most abstruse, technical topics can be livened up by anecdotes, stories, a varied delivery, a touch of humour. But a boring presentation just lights up a big signal over your head that it’s time for the audience to tune out and switch off mentally.

This is also about your passion. If you’re excited by your subject, people will pick up on your enthusiasm. Think about some TV personalities who can get you interested in things that might not really be in your natural interest zone: Bill Oddie, David Attenborough, Patrick Moore, Jamie Oliver. But if you’re not really interested in your presentation, why should your audience be?

2. Thou shalt not be rude

Don’t insult anybody or anything, even in a joke. Even if you think you’re on safe ground given your audience, an off-colour joke or insensitive remark is likely to offend someone – as many a politician has found over the years. Don’t knock competitors, don’t insult the audience, don’t poke fun at cherished beliefs. And definitely don’t do a Gerald Ratner and be rude about your own company’s products.

3. Thou shalt not be unprofessional

A poorly prepared presentation is as bad as turning up late to give it. You should be as prepared as you possibly can be. Run through the presentation before you give it, rehearse, hone it to a fine edge. If possible, video yourself and check for tone of delivery, body posture, movement. You might even want to rehearse ad libs, as Frankie Howerd did, in order to make them seem unplanned. Anyway, the more professional you are, the more people will respond to your message.

4. Thou shalt not give it out faster than they can take it

An episode of the original series of Star Trek featured a sentient device downloading information into the ship’s computer. It delivered it so fast that circuits burnt out. The same thing can happen in a presentation – and if it does, it’s not communication, it’s info-dumping. Don’t crowd out your screens with enormous amounts of information or flip through slides as if you were in a race. Take it at the pace your audience can absorb.

5. Thou shalt not say sorry

It might seem strange, but don’t apologise if you make a mistake; this just dents your professionalism. Just correct it and move on, or take the opportunity to laugh at yourself. Or you could follow the advice of the jazz great who said: “If I play a wrong note, I go back and play it again. That way, people think I meant to play it that way.”

6. Thou shalt not lose sight of the audience

Many websites are so full of the company’s own self-importance that visitors wonder what’s in it for them. It’s all “we are the acknowledged leaders in the field”, “we are proud of our record”, etc. Very poor website writing – and very bad presentation skills. As a presenter, put yourself in the shoes of the audience. Fascinating person though you are, they didn’t come to see you but to have some problem solved. What do they want from the presentation? Why are they there? What did they come to discover? That way, the presentation will be focused on their needs and you’ll cut to the chase far more effectively.

7. Thou shalt not fear questions

Many presenters are so afraid of post-presentation questions that they don’t even offer that facility – or if they do, they curtail it as much as possible. But questions show that the audience is interested in what you said and wants to know more. The key here is all about preparation: prepare the likely questions and rehearse your responses. If possible, get someone who knows the subject to ask you some sample questions before the presentation. Even if you’re stumped, you can promise to get back to the person with the answer. And questions are a great way to open up and interact with your audience.

By David Vickery


Published On: 7th Feb 2011

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  1. Love it! I only wish that people could stick to these rules, especially No1!

    John Davies 7 Feb at 7:23 pm
  2. I would add thou shalt not fill thine slides with bullets and busy excel spreadsheets!

    nigel 9 Feb at 3:33 pm
  3. The presenter should have knowledge of the topic.Many time i observed that presenter have knowledge of the slides not in detail.It has a very bad impact on the overall presentation

    ahsan 5 May at 9:03 am
  4. thats more like it

    Regius 15 Jun at 3:49 am