The Best Advice for Not Giving a Boring Presentation
Somehow, no matter how many presentation gurus advise against reading one's slides, many presenters continue to do so. If you are one such, take note: People don't like to be read to. In most circumstances, posting a slide and then reading it amounts to treating people like third-graders—and third-graders with a reading deficiency. It's just plain insulting.
Even more irritating than a presenter who reads the slides is one who posts a slide filled with a big blob of text and then explains what the slide says, using different words. I encountered exactly that when listening to a colleague who is highly regarded in the software world, and deservedly so. Yet, at the start of his presentation, he put up a text-filled slide about the objective of his presentation and, while pointing to the slide, starting elaborating about his objective.
I wanted to read the slide and also listen to what he was saying, but the reading and listening competed with each other. As a result, I missed some of both. That's not surprising; research into cognitive load theory confirms that it's difficult to process information that's coming at us in both spoken and written form at the same time. If you absolutely have to use slides with a lot of text in your own presentations, pause and let people read it. Then proceed with your patter. Even better is to use as little text as possible. The audience is there to hear you, not read your slides.
Presentation flaws like these can turn listeners off at any point in a presentation, but they can be especially annoying right at the beginning. At a lunch meeting I attended, an executive began his presentation by saying, “I want to get through the initial slides so we can get to the interesting stuff.” We'd just finished a high-calorie dessert, which was coaxing our minds into nap land, and this fellow was about to treat us to boring material. I wondered how I'd know when he'd gotten to the “interesting stuff.” As it turned out, he never did. Instead, his rapid pace, monotonous delivery, and slides crammed with tiny text and tedious detail caused many an eyelid to droop.
Eliminating content you view as boring, presenting with enthusiasm, minimizing the use of text, and not reading your slides can make all the difference between whether your audience enjoys your presentation or spends the time nodding off.