Presentation Pratfalls

This time of the year for me is chock full of presentations.  People stand before me holding sheaves of notes in one sweaty palm and microphones in the other.  The topics are either required by state law, already detailed ad nauseam in the employee handbook, or a favorite subject of someone in higher places.

A funny thing happened to me on the way to this presentation. I can't see the punchline in my notes because I'm wearing this mask to put the audience at ease. (photo of the author, by his doting wife).
I can’t see the punchline in my notes because I’m wearing this mask to put the audience at ease. (photo of the author, by his doting wife).

As such, this provides me with more than ample opportunity to critique individual presentation styles and keep score with my patented “OP-5” (One Point Perspective’s Presentation Pet Peeves).

In no special order, here are a few of my presentation pet peeves:

  • Power Point Border Patrol – In this scenario, the presenter has no idea how to give us the Power Point without the working border being visible to the audience.  People with good vision can actually read ahead in the slides on the left margin, assuming they are literate and awake.
  • An Old Fashioned Read-Along – This one really drives me insane.  The presenter puts together a presentation, and then reads it from the screen – verbatim – to the captive audience.  I have yet to sit in an audience where there were known illiterates, but if there were, these knuckleheads are only enabling them.
  • The Tongue Twister/Ear Acher – This involves rubbing salt in the wounds of the pre-annoyed victims of The Old Fashioned Read Along, wherein the presenter reads the presentation and butchers words with which they obviously have no familiarity.  This faux pas tends to take away credibility from the presenter  (For the record, it’s pronounced “fox pass”).  Mispronouncing words in your own presentation is the epitome of bad form (That one is epp-ee-tohm)
  • Such A Freaking Joke – There is some sort of public speaking wives’ tale which says that breaking the ice with a joke will put everyone at ease.  The audience is generally already pretty relaxed, sitting in chairs and waiting for the dog and pony show.  Obviously, the joke is only to put the presenter at ease, but it seldom works.  Telling jokes takes a little bit of talent and timing which many presenters simply do not possess.  In addition, there is the matter of the joke being worth telling in the first place.  Tapping the microphone and asking “Is this thing on?” will often result in ear splitting audio feedback.
  • If You Have To Ask… – Many presenters like to offer the audience the chance to ask questions, and this should be applauded.  One can only hope the presenter knows enough about the subject to actually be able to answer.  The pet peeve in this case is when the presenter forgets that he or she is the only one with a microphone and very few people in their audience can actually hear the question.  This renders the answer essentially meaningless.  This is easily remedied by having the person with the microphone repeat the question before answering it.  In the 16 presentations I attended this September, not one presenter employed this simple strategy.
  • There IS Such A Thing As A Stupid Question – Every so often, the audience member asking the question will be sitting close enough for others to actually hear it.  Unfortunately, some people have such enormous egos that they believe that there could possibly be one or more audience members who actually share the exact same problem as them.  As an example, an assembled crowd of four hundred employees are listening to a presentation about their new healthcare plan.  A person raises his hand and asks whether his preferred brand of toe nail fungus treatment will be covered under the prescription coverage.  Those in the audience who could actually hear the question can only stare in nauseated disbelief.
  • Smart Phone/Dumb Owner – This issue is far from being restricted to presentations, but it needs to be included.  Assemblies of employees are frequently interrupted by cell phones, usually those of audience members, sometimes the actual presenter.  When buying a new cell phone, customers should not leave the store without first finding out how to silence the device.  If you refuse to learn how to silence your smart phone, it should be mandatory that your ring tone be changed to “Hey! It’s for me, [insert name here]!  I’m too ignorant to silence my phone.”  This would be particularly embarrassing to anyone unfortunate enough to be named Insert Name Here.
  • It’s A Microphone, Not A Magic Scepter – This is pretty simple.  Microphones work to amplify the voice of the speaker.  The mike doesn’t work if the speaker’s gestures include pulling the device away from their faces. I’m sure someone in the tech department will read this and buy a few really expensive head-piece microphones to keep the big wheels from embarrassing themselves. You sir, are no Phil Donahue.
  • A Little Bit of This ‘An ‘At – We’ve all got our little speech idiosyncrasies.  For example, it’s accepted that teenagers of a certain era put the word “like” in between every couple of words.  Teenagers get a free pass, because correcting them will result in eye rolling and possible sulking.  If as an adult, you feel the need to refer to additional thoughts as “this an at” or to use the non-word “irregardless” throughout a presentation, you will incur my wrath.  I will keep score and draw non-flattering doodles of you in the margins of my hand-out.

In fairness, I should disclose that I myself gave several presentations to co-workers in early September on the basics of using a patient lift.  There was no Power Point and I didn’t use a microphone, so I able to avoid many of the fox passes I listed above.  I put my cell phone on silent and stayed away from jokes, deciding that the sight of me hoisted up in the sling would be comic relief enough.  Irregardless, I’m sure some of the audience members did not enjoy my presentation.

Photo by a bored, vengeful coworker. Smart phone alteration by the author. Does this sling make my butt look big?
Photo by a bored, vengeful coworker. Smart phone alteration by the author. Does this sling make my butt look big?



21 thoughts on “Presentation Pratfalls

  1. As one of your presenters I find your post a tad insulting. It is very difficult to present the same material to the same people year, after year, after year and still make it interesting. Maybe those “in power” should look at the redundancy and expect people to learn it the first time. Isn’t that what new employee orientation is for?

  2. I promise we will never do any of this at the NWR office. We don’t have enough chairs for everyone. And the ones we do have wobble to the left. So we’d be talking in circles.

    Plus, our microphone is still not working after that unfortunate incident when we all took turns trying to unblock the toilet.

    Other than badly presented presentations, how’s things with you?

    1. I replied to this comment hours ago on my not-so-smart phone – but due to the concrete bunker construction of my place of employment, I guess it never went through. I wonder what the hell I said….

  3. Oh yes, I know of what you speak. I’ve seen many Power Point presentations in my day, and I’ve experienced all of these things. I’ll add to it the people who keep asking questions beyond the allotted time, so the group can’t move on or leave, whichever the case may be.

    That being said, I’m sure some of my own presentations have been less than stellar. At least I finally learned to quit rocking back and forth on my feet. That’s something.

    1. I taught a course a few times on pediatric wheelchair assessments. I pity those poor people who had to listen to me drone on for hours, without a single minute spent with my ass in some sort of swing.

  4. Sound effects in powerpoint. Specifically the typewriter one that sounds like a machine gun on especially long slides.

    My last job LOVED those effects. Of course, it was the same place that demanded I use 12 pt Comic Sans on everything.

  5. This post made me nauseous (another word right up there with irregardless). hahaha! I’ve attended two conferences in the past week, and watched several presenters commit all of these fox passes. There is one pet peeve I have that wasn’t on your list – the person who has a computer staring him/her in the face with all the material from the slides, and continues to turn away from the audience to read from the big screen. Yikes! Someone needs to do a presentation on “How to Do a Presentation.” And yes, the sling makes your butt look big.

    1. Actually, I have it on good authority that the sling actually has a slimming effect. Since you’ve never seen my ass, you have nothing to compare it to. That being said, I truly appreciate your taking to the time to read my captions, which I feel are often neglected.

  6. I would rather put a pencil in my eye than sit through a presentation on a new healthcare plan. I couldn’t agree more with the despise you have for the person who reads along … step up your game man, step it up.

  7. That photo is proof that you are the epp-ee-tohm of effective presenters. And now I’m ONLY going to be able to say it that way, so thanks for that.

    p.s. Was that a REAL co-worker getting ticked-off for what is obviously just a funny?

  8. Pretty good list you’ve made here, but you forgot the people who don’t show up early and spend the first half hour working out tech issues between the computer and the projector. I witnessed one who got the Blue Screen of Death.

    My personal favorite, though, was one who decided to show us a video off the web, relying on the minmal wifi service in the rented meeting room. Guess how that worked out.

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