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Mike Figliuolo

FDA Compliance

Three Things You Should Never Say When Presenting

How to get the decision or outcome you want

Published: Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 11:29

PowerPoint is the devil’s instrument, and when you use it, you risk becoming a musician in his demonic orchestra. All of us are required to give presentations in some form or fashion at various points in our careers. If you’d like to succeed in those efforts, there are three things you should never say when you’re presenting.

I’ve witnessed my fair share of presentations (and given more of them than I care to count). I’ve personally made all of these mistakes at one point or another. I’ve also seen others make all of these mistakes, many times with ugly results. I’d like to spare all of you the same fate.

First, remember why you’re presenting in the first place. You’re likely either teaching or sharing information, or trying to influence someone to make a decision about something. You are not there to show off your wicked-awesome PowerPoint skillz that killz. To convey that information and influence that decision, you must get your point across clearly and concisely. Given those two purposes, be mindful of what you say and how you say it, as well as the information you use to make your case.

If you’d prefer to fail miserably instead, say or do any of the following three things:

“I know you guys probably can’t see this chart, but...” Seriously? You’re going to put up a chart that’s overly complicated with tiny little words and letters and then publicly and proactively acknowledge your audience can’t see it?

The fix: Look at all your charts before you present. Take a tour of the room you’re presenting in. Put your slides up on the screen and stand in the back of the room. If you can’t read them, neither can your audience. Simplify them.

“As you can see on page 47…” Are you kidding me? How many times have you gone into a presentation with a 30- to 50-page presentation and walked out having only covered a small fraction of those pages? Take the hint. You can’t cover that much material. If you try to, your audience will either die of boredom or become homicidal.

The fix: Have a clear, well-structured story (which you can easily learn how to do). Also do some basic page-ratio math. Personally, I calculate that I can cover one page for every three minutes I have in a meeting. This includes title page, tracker and agenda slides, and any other pages I plan on showing. Additionally, for any meeting, only plan to take up two-thirds of the time for your presentation and leave time for questions. In other words, if you have an hour, plan to speak for 40 minutes. For 40 minutes, you should have a maximum of 13 slides (assuming you talk as fast as I tend to).

“Our speakers for today’s 30-minute meeting include Bill, Susan, Kim, Frank, Henry, Jill, and Bobbie.” No! All too often we want to give everyone “air time” in front of our senior stakeholders because everyone wants “visibility.” It’s childish, insecure, and inefficient. Your audience knows all of you worked on the presentation and content therein. Not everyone needs a speaking part. It breaks up the flow of your story or recommendation, creates “time friction” (i.e., lost time as you transition between presenters), and comes across as clunky and amateurish.

The fix: Grow up and let go of your personal agenda and insecurities. Pick your best speakers (one or two at the most). Let them drive the flow and trust that the audience will mentally give everyone credit. List everyone on the title slide. Also, have speakers reference the work of other team members to give them credit (e.g., “In the analysis Bill did, you can clearly see the massive insights he came to in that ginormous cranium of his because he’s the smartest man alive even if he’s not up here speaking to you right now.”). By picking your best speakers, you allow your content to take center stage. Your recommendation will be made more clearly instead of having your audience focus on the clown car show of you handing off the clicker to 38 different speakers.

Remember: You’re holding the meeting to influence people. Think about things from your audience’s perspective. Focus on the most critical information only. Realize the presentation isn’t about you personally; it’s about getting the decision or outcome you’re most interested in. Don’t fall prey to the above varieties of stupidity. If someone on your team is advocating any of the above idiocy, please forward them this blog post.


About The Author

Mike Figliuolo’s picture

Mike Figliuolo

Mike Figliuolo is the author of The Elegant Pitch (Weiser, 2016) and One Piece of Paper (Jossey-Bass, 2011), and co-author of Lead Inside the Box (Weiser, 2015). He’s also the managing director of thoughtLEADERS LLC, a leadership development training firm. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog.


Spot on!

Good article Mike.  Another one that just slays me is when someone (usually a new instructor) gets up and says "Well, I'm new at this..." or "Well, I'm really not the expert on this..."  In most cases, the person will probably do a fine job, but why set the audience's expectations so low and kill your own credibility?

Respecting the Audience by Providing Context

Thanks for the article Mike. Too often in presentations the adult learner is not respected. The presentor gets up and goes through a snappy presentation; projector off. Then there is a clamoring for the slides by the audience. The presentor then walks out, maybe without leaving a trace that anything happened. Edward Tufte refers to this as disrespecting the audience.

In your article you discuss "turn to p.47..." for me this would be a relief. Now I have the ability to see the context from which your summary bullets are emerging, references you have used, etc.  When we use powerpoint to share what is in a paper or what we have written in a book, we are choosing the "key points" for our audience. Another adult learner may read the same material lin context and add a point or two based on their experience and circumstances or have the ability to disagree with our assumptions. The fix for me is the for the presentor to advise their audience that they are being respected as adult learners and are being given far more than a set of slides so they can study the ideas in context. Tufte would probably say, "drop the PPT and just use the paper.

Edward Tufte shares your warnings on Power Point. Here is a good link where he discusses the "context" idea and a few others: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/ppt2.html

Unfortuantely, we have dumbed it down to the point that some people would rather be fed some slides than actually read the material. As Tufte notes in the article, we have now moved to something even worse:

"Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something."

Best Regards,