Five Deadly Presentation Killers

Image by by zoomar.

Quick, name the last presentation that you attended. Now, name two things you learned from that presentation.

Can you do it?

If you can’t recall at least one or two things from that presentation, was it worth your time and investment?

Now try this. Name the last speaker or presentation that you heard that totally wowed you and you walked away with invaluable information and practical steps.

What made that presentation so good that you remember it?

Five Ways To Kill Your Presentation Dead In Its Tracks

Here are five things to avoid and make your presentation memorable.

1. Practice Information Hedonism

Avoid information overload and the data dumps. Less is more! People want value and meaning, not tons of information. Just because you like data and an excess of information does not mean that your audience will. And, they won’t remember all those stats and figures anyway. So why are you giving it to them?

When preparing your presentation, brainstorm your ideas and then mindmap it. Focus on three to five main points and make those the crux of your presentation. All other information should be supporting actors to the three to five points.

2. Expect Instant Microprocessing Of Information

Your audience needs time to process the information you’re sharing and create new meaning from it. They need down time to reflect on what is being said. They need to give up the external attention to everything around them and go internal to process the new information. They also need time for that learning to imprint. That means you need to stop talking. You can either have your participant’s attention or they can be creating meaning from the information. But you can’t have both at the same time. Meaning-making, reflection, association and consolidation can only occur during down time.

For every 20 minutes of new content, provide three to five minutes of down time during your presentation. During down time, attendees can discuss the new information, write down how to apply it or stand and stretch.

3. Keep It Impersonal

Even in the most technical presentations, people enjoy hearing the human side of the story. Provide relevant stories within your presentation that share the emotional elements of excitement, frustration, humor, hope, fear, disappointment, challenges and success. Share the humanness of your content, not a technical presentation about details. Practice humility vs. tooting your own horn too.

4. Multiply The Meat Of Your Presentation

Your presentation needs to chunk important information into 10 minute segments not multiply the meat into long-winded soliloquies. Chunking is the process of dividing information into smaller bite-size fragments so the brain can process it. The brain needs to move information from its working memory to its long term memory. Unfortunately, its working memory has a limited capacity of holding three to seven things at any given time. Moving that information into long term memory requires application, association, meaning making, reflection, and other brain processes. If the working memory is full, the information being shared will be forgotten. Chunk your presentation into bite-size 10 minute segments that are anchored with a personal story.

5. Focus On Gobbledygook, Mumbo-Jumbo And Technical Jargon

Even the most technical presentations need analogies, examples and metaphors to help make complex subjects more accessible. Filling your presentation with gibberish and uncommon drivel will propel your attendees’ minds into another galaxy.

What are some other deadly presenter mistakes that you’ve experienced either as a facilitator or participant? What do you wish presenters did more so that you could learn and retain their information?

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  2. Mike Burns says:

    Great info to keep in mind each time we get in front of an audience….number 4 is sooooo right on.

  3. Such fantastic advice.

    Here’s an old school tip…

    NEVER and I mean NEVER give out hard copy handouts BEFORE your presentation. The audience will spend more time reading and shuffling those handouts than listening to your presentation!


    – Don

  4. I don’t no how many times I have listened to a presentation that felt like it ran on forever, although the same points were repeated over and over. Just because you speak for an hour doesn’t mean you have an hour’s worth of valuable information.

    I completely agree with what you said in #5 – In many cases, the people you are speaking to are not in your line of work. “Simple” talk is more effective than using big technical vocabulary.

    Thanks for the article!

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I always have a problem with number four when presenting. There’s so much I want to share. For me, it’s about finding ways to remove the fat and get to the protein.

      Thanks for the comment. Ah, so you’re in the camp to keep the handouts until after your presentation that way the audience is surprised by your information. I can see that. I also get the other point of view where people need the handouts to write on and follow along.

      @Kristen (Smash Hit Displays)
      Thanks for adding your insights. Yeah, just because you have an hour to speak doesn’t mean you need to fil it with information and the speaker’s voice. Good point.

  5. Five Deadly Presentation Killers…

    If your audience can’t remember anything about your presentation some time afterwards, was it worth the time they invested? Here are five common mistakes to avoid, to help make your next presentation a memorable one….

  6. chris uschan says:

    Jeff — one main takeaway for presenters we learned at eventcamp twin cities was to provide your information in small takeaway chunks that can easily be shared (e.g., list formats such as 10 things, 5 ways…).

    It’s easier to process and easier to share back to your colleagues or your boss to help justify your learning.

    As well if your audience is sharing your key points via Twitter, make your point in one short sentence so the audience can tweet it if they would like.


    @Don (above) On giving out handouts before the talk… Know every person learns differently. If all you are handing out at the end of your talk are your slides, why wait? Printed slides help people take organized notes. Hopefully, your talk has good stories to support your slides. If your handout is not just slides, but something resourceful (e.g., web site references, a worksheet, 5 tips for xyz) – you can go either way.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      I so agree that chunking is important. It’s how the brain learns. You bring up an interesting point to chunk information for learning and then chunk information for sharing. I’m also a fan of using the 140 character limit to help people get main points. Good stuff. Thanks for adding it.

  7. Ed says:

    Great information. I recognize the bad practices from having sat under them.

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