One of the surest signs of professional maturity is comfort presenting. Whether it’s a small group or an auditorium of strangers, most people are nervous-slash-afraid to get up front and speak on a topic. Any topic. Even one with which they’re intimately familiar. A 20-year expert can lost credibility if she stumbles and stammers through a product demo.
The opposite? A relative greenhorn can seem more experienced if she delivers a good presentation. While there’s no substitute for practice and a desire to improve, there are a few traits I’ve noticed in bad presenters that even a young professional can avoid. But if you really want to give a bad presentation, here’s how to do it:
1. Rely on the screen. This reinforces the notion that you’re unsure of the material. And if you’re unsure of the material, you can bet you’ll give a bad presentation. Don’t focus on the audience, focus on the presentation.
2. Play with your keys. For that matter, put as many things in your pocket as you can and fiddle around with them the whole time you’re standing there. Distract the audience from the main point with your nervous twitches and incessant jingling and jangling.
3. Read the presentation verbatim. After all, a good presentation should speak for itself. You’re just the mouthpiece. You’re not there to provide context, engage the audience, or answer questions. Just to deliver.
4. Answer audience questions quietly and simply. Don’t repeat audience questions so everyone else can hear — especially in large rooms or halls. Don’t give complete explanations when a simple yes or no will suffice.
5. Do not add anything to the presentation. Never embellish! If it was important, it would have been built in to the slide show. Nobody likes a freelancer. Do not use stories to make a point, either. This isn’t nap time at preschool.
6. Never engage the audience. Everyone loves movies. Do movies ask the audience to participate? No! When you go to Broadway, do they ask for shows of hands? Are there brainstorming sessions at the opera? The best way to get your point across is to let the audience sit there and listen. Preach to them, don’t collaborate with them. It’s a one-way street.
7. Don’t worry about what the audience wants. You may be giving your presentation to people from Marketing, Finance, Compliance, and Technology. So what? Everyone gets the same material, and nothing gets tailored. They’re smart enough to figure out why your presentation matters to them. It’s demeaning of you to do their job for them.
8. Never use humor. There is literally no acceptable reason to crack wise at work. If you aren’t 100% serious all the time, you’ll never be taken seriously. Nobody expects humor, which is why it never works. Laughing at work only makes people more uncomfortable and resistant to your ideas.
9. Don’t waste time practicing beforehand. Time is money and money is expensive. And who has extra time or money? Besides, if you practice, your presentation will look rehearsed. Everything you need will be right there on the slides anyway.
10. Never make hand gestures. They make people look uncomfortable. Our natural position, when standing, is with our hands hanging down to the side. When we’re sitting, we have our hands in our lap. Start and end the presentation that way. You can, if you need to, use your hands to pick up something you dropped.
11. Let the audience make conclusions for themselves. If you tell them what to do, or point them in the right direction, they’ll never believe it. They have to make decisions and come to agreement themselves. Otherwise they won’t own the decision and will resist you at every turn. Don’t even give them next steps or action items at the end of the meeting. This just seems pushy.
12. Don’t repeat yourself. Some people try to “drive the point home” through repetition. How offensive! Your audience aren’t children. They only need to be told once. Make your point. Move on. Don’t look back.
13. Speak quickly. Slow speech belies a slow mind. The average human can understand up to 400 words per minute, and there’s no reason not to take advantage of it. And besides, you may finish the meeting early. You almost definitely will. Hopefully your audience is made up of important people, and they’re all very busy. They’ll appreciate alacrity.
There you go — 13 great tips. Use ’em or lose ’em!