These 5 deadly sins will wreck your presentation

How much time are we devoting to presentations worldwide? How much money are companies coughing up to have people attend presentations that have very little effect? And why do not all presentations have their intended effect?

Let’s first do the math

Recent numbers show that around 30 million presentations are being held worldwide each day(1). Worldwide. 30 million. Assuming that a presentation lasts an average of 20 minutes, that means 600 million minutes are spent each day by people speaking with PowerPoint in the background.

If each presentation is attended by 12 persons on average, that means that the presenter and his 12-headed audience are together sacrificing uh… grabbing his calculator… around 16,250,000 full working days for this. Or rather, every 24 hours a total of almost 1150 years of presentations are given and attended. Each and every day. I won’t bother equating this to an average remuneration, but I can assure you that it would be quite a lot.

Allow me to repeat this one last time, to truly let those numbers sink in: every 24 hours a total of 1150 years of presentations are given and attended. No wonder expressions like Death by PowerPoint or PowerPoint Poisoning have leapt into existence.

(Long live Dilbert)

If all those presentations and hours invested would actually amount to anything, we could only applaud this. But in all honesty, most of those daily 1150 years of presentations are going absolutely nowhere. Your audience still hasn’t a clue about the content of your research or has forgotten all about your talk before even having left the venue. Let alone, them taking action or handing you a great big bag of money for further research. And that is a pity. Because research is really of concern to everyone.

The five deadly sins

Most presentations fail to achieve their intended effect, and that is because they fall victim to one or more of five deadly sins.

With each of those wrongdoings, a presenter is wasting his and his audience’s time, energy and attention.

The five deadly sins in the world of Presenting are:

  1. No clear point: Presentations should have one, maximum two main ideas. Presentations with no clear point will leave you wondering: Now what was that about?
  2. No benefit to the audience: These presentations do not appeal to the audience and often bring to mind the question ‘So what?’
  3. No clear build-up: These presentations skip from one subject to another and do not hold a clear line. You wonder: ‘Hold on, how did the speaker get to this point? I must have missed a couple of slides.’
  4. Too detailed: Alongside the relevant facts, all too many overly technical or irrelevant pieces of information are provided. A common mistake in research presentation, which is easily revealed by such speaker comments: ‘This slide is rather difficult to read, but…’ or ‘This graph seems complicated, but …’ Otherwise put: too many slides overflowing with excess information.
  5. Too long: After all, after how many presentations have you honestly thought they had been too concise?

There you have it, a list of five deadly sins we should never commit again. There are no 50 quick prayers to absolve these sins, but instead you will merely be punishing yourself and your audience. Those five wrongdoings will in no time blow your presentations to pieces, completely alienate your user committee and have your audience promptly nod off to Death by PowerPoint.

What to do

Avoid falling prey to these five deadly presentation sins. With every future presentation, take a good look at your slides with this list in mind and keep out of harm’s way.

(1) This number can be found in the excellent book ‘Presenting to Win: The art of telling your story’ (Jerry Weissman)