PRmoment Leaders PA Mediapoint PA Assignments PRCA PRmoment Awards Winners North Creative Moment Awards 2024 PR Masterclass: AI in PR

When presentations go wrong…

The worst presentations can send audiences to sleep, make them feel embarrassed or just annoy them. These are obviously not the reactions you want, so to make sure you don’t fall into common presentation traps, we list six gripes about presentations and offer some words of advice to help you get it right.

It terms of what not to do, the prime minister gave a great lesson a few weeks ago. Discussing her disastrous speech, Charles Rhodes, media trainer at Charles Rhodes Media says: “It wasn’t her cough, loss of voice, or the letters falling off behind her that was most damaging to Theresa May at the Conservative Party Conference. The prime minister’s failure to communicate her policies constantly frustrates her audience. Whilst not everyone can be charismatic, we can all become proficient in the basic presentation skills required to get our message across.”

Rhodes points out that even the best presenters can get it wrong. “Remember Tony Blair failing to negotiate PowerPoint to explain tuition fees?”

Rhodes lists some common mistakes that ruin presentations: “Shuffling the slide deck to find a particular slide. rambling on too long; reading the slides, which is often caused by another pet hate – using full sentences and cramming small text onto slides; confusing visuals; and avoidable technological problems.”

Your job, as a presenter is to keep your captive audience engaged. Below we list six common gripes about presentations, so that you can avoid making obvious mistakes, and three golden rules to follow to help you shine.

Top gripes about presentations

  1. Reading slides. Matt Steele, associate director at PR agency Pegasus says: “It’s a presentation, the clue is in the name. You need to ‘present’ it. So don’t read things word for word. If you do that there’s literally no point you being there, you could have emailed it.” Simon Turton, owner of agency Opera PR, agrees: “In my opinion the worst presentations are where the presenter simply reads each slide, which is going to get your audience comatose in minutes. Let the slides reinforce or illustrate a point, but try not to be reading a script to them.”
  2. Too much information. Steele says: “Just because you have 100 cuttings, doesn’t mean you need to put every single one on the slide. Not only is it a pain in the arse to create, it’s a pain to look at. Much better to pick one image and make that the whole slide. The same goes for small boxes of text. Ditch the clutter.” 
  3. Terrible graphics. Steele says his absolute pet gripe in a presentation is when someone stands up and says “you won’t be able to read this, but…” Steele explains, “It happens nearly every time. Normally because someone has copied and pasted something that wasn’t meant to be a presentation into a presentation.”
  4. Social media interruptions. Turton says: “Allowing distractions such as Twitter or other live social media conversations should be reserved for the annual staff knees-up, because they are just going to get in the way of what the presenter or presenters want to communicate.”
  5. Any phone interruption. Turton says: “I would say that phones should be off or at least on silent — certainly no calls should be allowed (unless it is an emergency).
  6. Unrehearsed babble. Turton concludes: “To keep things natural you must rehearse and rehearse again, so that you are talking as naturally as possible. By all means keep notes to hand, but maintain eye contact with the audience and depending on the ‘vibe’ of the presentation don’t be afraid to go off-piste and ad-lib.”

Top tips for getting it right

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare says Charles Rhodes: “Many presenters start work on their slides before they’ve decided what they want to achieve. This leads to confused thinking, poor structure, and a frustrated audience. The presenters we remember are those who have a clear message, join the dots between their audience and what they say, and say something we didn’t know or had forgotten, because they have taken the time to prepare properly.”
  2. Provide notes says Simon Turton: “You need to tell the audience that you will make the presentation notes available afterwards so that they don’t have to scribble notes during the presentation. Depending on how formal the event is you could invite questions from the floor during the presentation, but to keep things flowing you may prefer to do the Q&A session at the end.
  3. Make ‘em laugh concludes Turton, thought not necessarily using the same joke he used! “I was asked to compere a client event – which was in the form of an awards ceremony – when I had just started working for a design agency. Although I had rehearsed and run through the script many times, for one of the awards the winner started walking to the stage to collect his trophy whilst I was still introducing the winning client company. Without a second thought I announced that this person (it was a man) obviously suffered from premature collection!”

 You don’t need to be a performer to make a great presentation, but you do need to prepare. So, if you don’t want to see a sea of nodding heads, or embarrassed faces, make sure you carefully plan what you want to say, and the best way to deliver it  And then, whatever you do, DON’T READ THE SLIDES!

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for free to our twice weekly editorial alert.

We have six email alerts in total - covering ESG, internal comms, PR jobs and events. Enter your email address below to find out more: