How to make a presentation hard to follow

 Last week I went to the inaugural Smart Power Grid Technology Conference put on by ISQED.  It was a great conference with about 100 engineers packed into a tiny conference room in a Santa Clara hotel.  Lots of great information... if you worked hard to get to it.  And as I watched about five presentations I came to the realization that these guys must have had the same presentation training.  So I decided to go looking for the school they went to over the weekend.  I found it.  It was in the basement and a San Francisco cigar store.  The sign, hanging from a single nail on the left side on the door, said “Crappy Presentation University” in 9-point type.  So I went in.  What luck! There was a class in session.  Here are some excerpts:

  1. Typography:  If you use a font that is clear enough and large enough for people in the back rows to see, they will get your point right away, so whenever possible use a font that is difficult to read even if you printed the slide out and were holding it one foot in front of your face.  That way, when it is projected on the screen, it’s possible that the people in the first two rows will be able to read it, but no one else will.  Whenever possible use a very thin, calligraphic font, tightly kerned so the text looks pretty to the one or two women in the audience. they won’t know what you are talking about but they may appreciate your artistic sensibilities.  Remember, the more illegible the text, the harder it is for them to follow you.

  2. Staging and Lighting: Whenever possible, in fact, at all times, stand in front of the projector and block half the slide.  If you stand in such a way that the light makes you squint and blink, all the better.  It will make your audience wonder why you are blocking everything and they won’t pay attention to what you are saying.  If you wear glasses, angling your head correctly might make it possible for the light to bounce off the lenses and temporarily blind individuals in the audience.  The disorientation will las for as much as two minutes.

  3. Audience interaction: Use the slides as a script, reading the words exactly on the screen to the audience.  Assume they are illiterate idiots.  If you are opening the event for several speakers, tell them what is about to come, even if you have already given them programs.  Once you finish your presentation, tell them they will enjoy the day.  Don’t let them make up their minds from the content.  At all time, limit your audience’s ability to make decisions for themselves.  Extra credit:  If you represent a large, well-known and successful company, make sure you spend the first five minutes introducing your company and how great it is, assuming your audience are morons who have no understanding of their own industry.

  4. Content:  Whenever possible, avoid the subject matter of the conference and just do a sales pitch for your products. This is especially ineffective when the audience has no purchasing authority.

  5. Audio: If there is a microphone, try not to use it.  It is much more ineffective to wander back and forth and yell at the audience.  When you first step away from the microphone, ask the people in the back if they can hear you.  If they don’t respond, assume they heard your question and start talking.

  6. Graphics: When putting together graphics, remember the rule about fonts.  The elements must be small enough that only the first two rows can decipher.  And put as many as possible on each slide connecting them with arrows that denote some sort of flow.  Never, under any circumstances, explain that flow.  It doesn’t matter.  There just has to be the assumption of a flow.  Extra  credit:  When describing a particular graphic, always highlight to what you are talking about by pointing directly at your computer screen, never on the projection screen. That way you will know what you are talking about, but, with any luck, your audience never will.

 After the lesson I went up and talked tot he instructor. I said I noticed that he did not use any kind of presentation technology to deliver the lesson.  He explained that they guaranteed their students would learn to give ineffective presentations. If he actually employed any of the techniques they described, they would never learn anything, so they don’t use them.

Very instructive.