Last February I sat in the audience to see Ed Byrne, a stand-up comedian described by The Sunday Times as “a master of the comic art”. A skill that Ed has perfected, as has every top comic I have ever seen, is his ability to relate to his audience within seconds, keep them engaged throughout the performance and finish on a high note that leaves his audience wanting more.
Despite its title, Ed Byrne’s performance contained no spoilers at all but I have sat through thousands of presentations which did. Presentation spoilers are those things that a presenter does that detract from their performance, these are some of the biggest spoilers I have witnessed in the past year.
Reading you slides.
Every year I think that I will never see anybody do this again and every year someone proves me wrong. Filling your slide with text and reading it to your audience is one of the biggest spoilers when giving a presentation. Imagine that someone asks you to read a document and as you start reading it they sit next to you and start reading aloud the same document. Most people would find that distracting, rather than enhancing and would probably ask the person to be quiet so that you could focus on reading it for yourself.
Reading slides also runs the risk that the presenter disengages from their audience by turning their back to them and reading what is on the slide and reading from a set of notes is not much better as it breaks most eye contact with the audience. Filling slides with texts is also a missed opportunity to use visual content to enhance or make your points easier to understand. Often an image, a photograph or a diagram will make your points easier to comprehend or more memorable.
Text filled slides read by a presenter are distracting, irritating and full of missed opportunities. Worst of all it makes a for a boring presentation.
“I’ve only been in this job for six months so…”.
This was the opening phrase of a presentation given by an executive whose salary was in excess of £80k/year! The reason why the person introducing the speaker so often mentions the speaker’s qualifications, experience and achievements lends to credibility. An audience needs to believe that the speaker has an excellent grasp of the topic that they are presenting, it is why they are investing their time listening to them. A presentation should never start with the speaker giving an excuse for why they are not going to be very good in the hope that if they prepare the audience for a poor performance it will somehow make them a better speaker. Introductions are more effective when they draw the audience into the speaker as someone who is knowledgeable, experienced and ultimately worth listening to.
“This next bit is rather confusing…”.
As a professional it is your job to help your audience understand the point you are making. Telling someone that something is bad does not make it any better or acceptable. Should you have to present a complex idea, ensure in your preparation that you are presenting the information in logical, understandable chunks of information. If in doubt you might try a dummy run with your colleagues who are as close a fit to your intended audience as possible and test if what you are presenting is understandable.
“We’ve put this together at the last minute because…”
This is another excuse of an opening which essentially says that what follows is not going to be very good. In this case the speaker was reporting on an ongoing project which had had a myriad of problems and was undergoing a major re-think. True, they were not presenting, as hoped, a nearly completed project but that situation still does not call for a weak opening. The chances are that your audience want to know that you are in control so an opening of “Most of you know that there have been issues to overcome so I going to give you a synopsis of what we have achieved so far and then, an idea of what the future holds” is honest, realistic and shows that you are in control of the situation.
Closing with “I know that was a bit boring but…”.
Never finish your presentation on a negative. Not every presentation you give will consist of delivering great news on a scintillating topic, there are times when most of us have to present on a rather dry, functional subject and your audience will understand that. There are always people in your audience who will find what you are talking about interesting and some people may well have a job which to some extent involves your topic, you might like to imagine how you would feel about someone who has just described your interests, or you job as boring. As a professional you will have made your presentation as interesting and informative as possible and ending with a negative will only detract from all your hard work so ensure that you always close on a positive note and leave your audience on a high note.
Unlike Ed Byrne’s show, your presentation probably does not have to be funny but it does have to be engaging. A practised introduction will draw your audience to you, a well presented talk will keep them interested and a positive ending will help ensure you leave your audience on a high note. Avoiding the “spoilers” outlined above will help your audience stay engaged throughout your talk and help make you a presenter worth listening to.