Presentation Train Wreck: Avoid These Mistakes

Presentations that make you feel sick

Have you ever cringed while watching a speaker and wondered “How is this speaker going to save this train wreck of a presentation?”
Most presenters make some mistakes. All speakers can get better. And then every once in a millennium you witness a presentation that defines awful. If you saw the movie “Apocalypse Now”, just imagine Marlon Brando, watching this presentation and muttering, “The horror, the horror”.
Be forewarned. This will be awful. Reach for the air sickness bag.
This speaker was the head of an international office for a major advertisement agency. You would think that people who make their living persuading people to buy would understand the principles and importance of communication skills. You would think that their leaders would be superb communicators and presenters. At least, that’s what I had thought.
Of all the speakers at this international marketing conference, this speaker was the only one who chose to plant himself firmly behind the lectern. With both hands desperately grasping the lectern he made it clear to his audience that:
  1. He had no intention of getting close to his audience metaphorically and literally,
  2. He would be lost without his notes,
  3. He would not let the lectern fall over. 
He then showed his first slide while reading it word for word from his notes – never looking at the audience. Then, the next slide and so on…

I admit. I stopped paying attention for a while. Examining my finger nails and wondering if they were ready for cutting and filing – seemed more interesting at this point.

At some point during his presentation he started to display videos of TV advertisements that his agency had produced. I missed his introduction of the first video – wondering “Where did I leave that nail file?” But the videos did seem more interesting than he so I glanced at the videos on the screen. He played a few in a row – without commentary between. No setup and no debrief. I wondered: What was his point? What message was he trying to convey? Did his audience understand the message? Did he know the answers to those questions? Did he even care?
Then one video caught my attention. It was a short story about a teenage girl having communication problems with her handicapped father. They argued. They both seemed angry and frustrated. It was saddening to watch. Then, the daughter attempted suicide.
In the last scene of the video the daughter was recovering in the hospital while her father donated his blood to save her. It was an emotionally stabbing story.

I wondered, “How is this speaker going to bring the audience up after this emotional plummet into the abyss? Surely he understands that you never leave your audience with despair. You might take them to the depths for a brief visit. But you never abandon them there. You always leave them with hope.

I was intrigued at how he would perform this magical transition. I wanted to learn from this advertising agency CEO.

Then he said, “Well, that’s it. Thank you.”


He left his audience in the pit of despair. And then he failed to have a close to his presentation. That callous ending demonstrated a complete lack of understanding and empathy for the feelings of his audience.

Of course he also demonstrated an incredible lack of presentation ability. I believe that this man is an unconscious incompetent. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. And he clearly didn’t care. He was the only person who didn’t compare notes with the other speakers at this marketing conference.

The Lessons From This Disaster
  • Know your presentation well enough that you don’t need to read it.
  • Move away from the lectern to appear more open to your audience.
  • Tell your audience what to notice when you use videos.
  • You might even stop the video part way to draw attention to an important point.
  • After the video review the message.
  • If you take them to an emotional low – be sure to bring them up immediately after.
  • Close your presentation. Don't just end it.
  • Demonstrate that you care about your audience.
The best news for you as a speaker is that the standard for awful has been set. And you now know how to be better than awful.

Executive Speech Coach, Business presentation tips from George Torok, the Speech Coach for Executives. Share/Save/Bookmark

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