How to Lose an Audience and 10 Ways to Get Them Back

Welcome to Bad Presentation Techniques 101. Almost everyone has sat through a bad presentation with poor techniques and unprepared presenters. There are also scenarios where presenters read verbatim from the presentation, mumble through their speech, or use way too many animations in their PowerPoint. Below are various presentations one has likely experienced, along with the solution on how to rectify it.

The Equipment Isn't Working

Many have experienced the scenario where the audience is settled, and the presenter is set and ready to start their presentation. All of a sudden, the projector doesn't work. Naturally, the presenter didn't bother to check out all of the equipment before starting.

To correct this presentation technique, it is recommended that presenters check out all of the equipment and rehearse their presentation, using the provided projector long before their time to present. Bringing extra tools needed like a projector bulb is a good idea, along with having a point of contact for a technician if things get beyond the presenter's control. If possible, presenters can check the lighting in the room they will be presenting in, prior to their time in the limelight, especially so they can dim the lights as needed during their speech.

Information Underload

Presenters may have experienced memorizing only the content of their presentation. In this scenario, someone in the audience may have a question and panic can set in. Because the presenter has not prepared for questions, all they know about on the topic is what is already written on the slides.

To rectify this situation, presenters should know their material so well that they could easily do the presentation without an electronic enhancement such as PowerPoint. Presenters can use keywords and phrases that include only essential information, to keep the audience focused and interested on the presenter. Lastly, speakers should be fully prepared for questions and know the answers or have an idea of how to guide the audience member.

Lack of Focus

The opposite of information underload, presenters may find themselves knowing so much about a topic that they jump all over the place. This creates a situation where the audience has no idea how to follow the thread of the presentation because there is none. 

The way to fix this situation is to use the K.I.S.S. principle, which translates to "Keep It Simple Silly." When designing a presentation, presenters can stick to three or four points at most about their topic. Then, presenters can expand on the information so that the audience is most likely to absorb it and understand the main points being driven.

Reading Directly From the Screen

Imagine a setting where an audience member raises their hand and mentions that she can't read the slides. In this case, the presenter may graciously tell her that they will be reading the slides directly to her. As the presenter proceeds to do so, they look up at the screen and each of the slides is filled in with the text of their speech. The problem here is that the presenter is not needed if the slides provide all of the information for the audience members.

Simplifying the content is the key here. Presenters can keep the most important information near the top of the slides for easy reading in the back rows. They can also focus on one topic area and use no more than four bullets per slide. It's important for presenters to speak to the audience, not to the screen.

Using Visual Aids in Replacement of Scarce Content

Presenters might figure that no one will notice that they didn't do much research on their topic if they add many visual aids, like photos, complicated graphs, and other diagrams.

This mistake is huge. Presenters need to create presentations that include well-researched content and topics that the audience is looking for. Illustrating points with true substance is a good format to follow, and visual aids such as photos, charts, and diagrams should be used in addition to content, to drive key points of the demonstration home. After all, visual aids add a nice break to the material but must be used correctly in order to enhance the overall oral presentation.

Setting the Font on the Slides Too Small

Small script type fonts might look great when audience members are sitting mere inches away from the monitor; however, presenters who don't consider audience members with poor sight, or those who are sitting a decent distance away from the screen, will miss out on an engaged audience who had the potential to read the slides.

It is best for presenters to stick to easy-to-read fonts such as Arial or Times New Roman. Presenters should avoid script type fonts which are generally hard to read on screens. It is also suggested for presenters to use no more than two different fonts — one for headings, and another for content. Lastly, presenters should use no less than a 30 pt font so that people at the back of the room can read them easily.

Choosing Poor or Complicated Design Templates

Presenters sometimes make decisions in their presentation based on what they hear. For example, imagine a presenter who heard that blue was a good color for a design template or design theme. They may have found a cool template on the internet and went for it. Unfortunately, in the end, the presentation ends up being about a context that doesn't match the look and feel of the visual presentation itself.

This scenario can be easily fixed when presenters decide to choose a design template that is appropriate for the audience. A clean, straightforward layout is best for business presentation, for instance, while young children respond well to presentations that are full of color and contain a variety of shapes.

Including Too Many Slides

Some presenters go overboard with their slide count. For instance, imagine the presenter who recently went on a fantastic vacation cruise and included all 500 beach photos in their slides. Presenters who use too many slides, or too much personal content, are bound to hear snores in the room.

Presenters should ensure their audience stays focused by keeping the number of slides to a minimum. It is recommended to use 10 to 12 slides. Some concessions can be made for a photo album since most pictures will be on screen for only a short time, and this will require a judgment call based on how the audience will feel and respond.

Losing the Message With Animations

Presenters can forget the focus of their presentation when using too many animations and sounds with the goal to impress everyone. This ultimately fails to work most of the time, because the audience doesn't know where to look and will lose the message of the presentation.

While animations and sounds that are used well can heighten interest, it is important for presenters to keep them to a minimum. Otherwise, this flair will distract the audience. Presenters can design their presentation with the "less is more" philosophy so that the audience doesn't suffer from animation overload.

Picking out Unusual Color Combinations

Some presenters love unusual color combinations together, but a PowerPoint presentation is not the time to use them. For example, an orange and blue combination is unsettling to an audience and there may be people present who cannot see red and green due to color blindness.

Presenters should use good contrast with the background to make their text easy to read. Here are a few tips:

  • Dark text on a light background is best but avoid white backgrounds. Tone it down by using beige or another light color that will be easy on the eyes. Dark backgrounds are very effective, but make a text a light color for easy reading.
  • Patterned or textured backgrounds make text hard to read.
  • Keep the color scheme consistent.

The Bottom Line

To be a good presenter, presenters need to be engaging with the audience and know their topic. Presenters should ultimately keep the presentation concise and include only relevant information. They should use an electronic enhancement, such as PowerPoint, as an accompaniment to their presentation to reinforce points, not as a crutch. Presenters should keep in mind that a slideshow is not the presentation — they are the presentation.

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