How to be Rubbish at Presentations

The time has come: You’ve been asked to give a presentation at the next team meeting and you are dreading it. As part of the How to be Rubbish at Everything series, this article will help you understand what NOT to do.

Knowing how poor presentations come together will hopefully help you to avoid these common pitfalls. How many of these anti-tips are you currently guilty of?

Don’t plan

When you are creating a presentation, is your first action to fire up PowerPoint and start creating files? The problem with this approach is that you are not thinking about the bigger picture of your presentation. This means your focus is on the individual slides, and not the whole presentation – leading to a disjointed slideshow which does not deliver a cohesive message.

Think about why you’re giving this presentation; what outcome do you want to achieve? What are the ‘take home messages’ you want your audience to go away with? Now grab a pen and a notepad and start brainstorming slides. Think about the logical flow of the presentation and to to build this around your key messages.

This approach will ensure you get a presentation that flows well, stands up on its own and tells a story.

I’m a bit obsessed with telling stories; probably due to all the reporting I’ve done as a finance professional. I would recommend investing time in the stories that you tell in your life – make sure you define what people to think about you! My guide to How to be Rubbish at Interviews also talks about stories…

Don’t practise

Probably the second biggest reason why people give bad presentations is a lack of practice. EVERYBODY needs to practise presentations. Attempting to give the presentation without having rehearsed your story will make you sound like someone that doesn’t know what’s happening in the slides.

People are generally on your side when you stand up to present. However people switch off and get annoyed fairly quickly if you look unprepared and under-rehearsed. Perhaps another guide to “How to annoy people while giving presentations” would be good here (not really)…

Don’t spell and grammar check

Madness. Not spell checking and reading through for grammar? Madness. Most office packages out there do a pretty good job of finding the stinkers, but you’ve still got to engage your brain and make sure you haven’t used the wrong version of there/their/they’re. Don’t forget the title too! Our brains are good at overlooking stuff, and slide headings are a prime example of this.

Get someone else to read through the slides who wasn’t involved in producing them, they will spot little typos and errors fairly quickly. If you’re blessed with a team then great, delegate, otherwise work on your team-mates or colleagues (get your influencing skills up to speed right?)

Include more (or less) than one slide per minute

How long do you have to talk for? 30 minutes? Rule of thumb – one slide per minute, so 30 slides. This is a guide, your particular industry or specialty may call for more or less, but use this as a starting point and scale from there.

Turning up with more slides means you won’t talk about everything that you’ve planned, and turning up with less will mean you don’t fill the time.

Use lots of flashy graphics

When I created my first Powerpoint presentation I was really excited by all the shiny buttons and flashy graphics. I feel sorry for all those people that had to sit through my presentations (if you saw me present anything from 1999 to 2002 this applies). Correctly used graphics can have a great impact, incorrectly used they can ruin your flow. Have you ever seen someone click through 20 bullet points on a slide? Aside from the repetitive strain injury and the fact that they have too much on the slide, this just looks lame.

Rule of thumb? Probably look to use graphics once or twice in your presentation – certainly no more than five. Think about what the impact is you wish to achieve – a revealed question answer or the punchline to a joke – and then have fun making this stand out. Don’t just whack animations on every slide.

I once saw someone present who had got the graphics totally wrong. The answers to the questions (which he wanted to reveal at the push of a button) were the only items on the screen at the beginning, totally ruining his presentation (and reputation as a speaker).

Turn up without a backup

Uh oh, you feel hot under the collar and have started to sweat. The email you sent to the PA with the presentation has been lost and you have no presentation to give! What are you going to do?

Unfortunately without a backup, there is nothing you can do (unless you turned up with handouts – see below – and will at least be able to talk through something).

Always take a backup on a USB stick. These things are ridiculously cheap these days so there’s no excuse not to have one.

Turn up without handouts

Turning up without handouts has 2 major drawbacks:

  1. If your laptop fails you’ve got nothing to talk through
  2. People like having something to make notes on and will be more engaged

Powerpoint makes it really easy to create handout notes from the print preview screen, so make sure that you use it!

If you are running a quiz at some point which has the answers on the slides, you’ll need to make a second presentation with the answers deleted out for the handouts. This does add time to your preparation, but will make you come across a lot more credible.

Don’t introduce yourself and your topic

The first one minute of any presentation is key – it is then that first impressions are made. Your audience will be drawing conclusions about your presentation skills and deciding whether or not to be engaged in your content. So launching into the first slide at 100 miles-per-hour will seriously dent your chances of appearing like a great presenter.

In your preparation, spend some time on your introduction. Make sure you say:

  • Who you are
  • What you’re talking about (briefly)
  • Why you’re qualified to speak about this (don’t brag though)

Even if most people know who you are, this will help set the mood and expectations of the audience. Plus you’ve ‘broken the ice’ if you’re nervous and hopefully have built up some momentum.

Let nerves get the better of you

Talking of nerves, this is one area that can seem hard to overcome. If you find presenting about as appealing as a dentist appointment then there really is only one way to overcome this: Do more presentations.

Ask your boss for help with this, he/she should be able to find some low-key, low-risk opportunities for you to present. By doing a few of these presentations you can get a feel for presenting and start to deal with your nerves. I would never recommend drinking alcohol as a way to cover up nerves. This is a short-term fix that may make you feel better, but will seriously impact your ability to deliver.

Before I started working in finance I worked as a professional musician. I played a few instruments but also sang lead vocals. The very first time I was being paid to sing at a function I was very nervous; thankfully I had prepared well and once I had nailed a few tracks things got easier. 50 gigs later and the prospect of singing was no longer a problem for me.

Read the slide out word for word

You’ve seen people do this before I assume? A slide comes up with loads of text and they start to read every line out, word-for-word. Somewhere deep within you a yawn begins that it impossible to keep from spilling up out of your mouth!

Just don’t do this – each slide has it’s own story and you need to make sure you know what this is…

Do not engage the audience

Audience engagement is a key factor in the success of your presentation. Rubbish presentations are those that go on-and-on about boring topics with no chance to ask questions or interact with the speaker. There are a couple of ways to engage your audience that are worth mentioning.

Allowing interaction with your content is the best way to ensure engagement. Asking questions, mini-quizzes, straw-poll hand raises, getting people to stand up – all these are great ways to keep people’s attention and engagement.

Use eye contact – attempt to look your audience in-the-eye as you progress through and they will feel like you are speaking directly to them. Sometimes people don’t want to return your gaze, but keep tracking through the crowd as you speak and looking directly at people.

It is important to face the audience, even if the room is not set up well (sometimes the laptop stand is facing sideways, or you have to stand to the side of the audience.)


I hope you now know what it takes to be truly rubbish at presentations. Make sure you plan, practice and deliver great presentations in the future by NOT following any of these tips…

If you’ve enjoyed this article, why not have a look at some of the other “How to be Rubbish at Everything” articles here.

I have pulled together a simple checklist that you can use to see which of these tips you are following – just click the image link below to bring up a printable PDF.

How to be rubbish at presentations check list