Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

Bad Presentation Skills Break Your Brand


When we present, be it in an internal meeting or in the public arena, our personal brand is being evaluated.  Actually, in the case of public presentations there are two brands being scrutinized – our personal brand and our organization’s brand.  We judge companies and organizations based on our exposure to their people.  In a public setting, we come away from the presentation either impressed or otherwise, based on the performance of the representative we have just seen in action.  Uh Oh!

I attend an average of 8-10 public presentations every month and as a public speaker, I am up to nearly 500 myself.  I see simple things that are detracting from the message because the delivery is so unprofessional.  We know that when the delivery component of what is being said and the message itself don’t match, the message is almost totally lost. 

The irony is that the worst offenders continue to bang away regardless. Believing that the "quality" (in their own mind by the way!) will outweigh any personal flaws they may have in getting the message across.  "My content is good so I don’t have to be a good presenter", "The quality of the information is more important than some mumbo jumbo presentation skills", "I know I am not a good speaker but people came here for the data not for me".

Delusional is the best word to describe this thinking!

Make no mistake, we judge you and your data.  We make assumptions about the your professionalism and your organization’s credibility, based on what we see and hear.  Bosses – please do not send out technical experts to speak publicly, who are clueless and guaranteed to tear your brand asunder.  Give them the proper training, prepare them and make them a brand ambassador, a brand saint!

Here are some recent presentation examples, where mistakes could have easily been avoided.

A reasonable presentation by someone who had long experience in the industry was severely diminished by three errors. 

The first was to use the screen as his prompt for the content.  He would ignore the audience, look backward toward the screen and thereby surrender the opportunity to make eye contact with those gathered.  Turning your back on the audience doesn’t enable you to watch for their reactions to what you are saying or to drive home the key points by using your "eye power".

The second problem was a common one – the misuse of Powerpoint.   Too much detail on a screen is hard to digest, it diffuses the key point being made and distracts from YOU, the main part of the presentation.  That is right – YOU are the main part of the presentation, not what is up on screen.  We buy YOU and your information or point of view comes with the purchase. 

Another unfathomable choice was the use of color.  Red on black is always going to be a losing proposition from a message clarity point of view, especially on a "busy" screen.  It may look hip on your laptop screen when seated 20 centimeters away.  However, by the time it goes through whatever random selection process there is for the in-house projector and backing screen, the hipness factor dissipates rapidly into incomprehension.  This is accentuated when the audience distance from the screen becomes 10 meters or more. 

On the subject of projection tools, another presentation I attended used a wall mounted whiteboard as the screen.  Too much reflection of strong white projector light off the shiny whiteboard, combined with black text content on a white slide background, produced snow blindness.  The content became insipid and hard to read.  A better choice would have been white text on dark blue background for contrast -  a relatively simple but highly effective change.

Back to our hapless hero.  Another self-inflicted wound to the personal brand was Q&A time.  We are all 100% in control during our presentations, but this is all out the window once the floor is opened up to questions. 

If you know what you are doing, you never lose control of the proceedings, even when you plunge into the black hole of question time.  Our presenter didn’t know what he was doing and that lack of ability to handle questions professionally was like watching the life force ebb from the body of his professional image. 

Now on to another day, a different presentation and a different set of unforced errors.  Take careful note of your speaking venue.  If you are trained properly, the layout will tell you immediately what you need to do, to accommodate the various peculiarities on offer.  This particular venue was special – it was quite wide but not so deep, with the screen right in the middle. 

The speaker chose to use a microphone, when for that size and layout of venue and the power of his voice it wasn’t necessary. 

Use a microphone when you need to be heard, otherwise give up the option provided by the organizers, who usually are not public speaking experts.  Having  a microphone means you have only one hand free for gestures and often you are locked into the positioning of the microphone on the podium, so you are restricting yourself.  If you are nervous, there is nothing like the microphone to be shaking away, to let everyone know!

There was a podium, kindly provided by the organizers, basically there to rest the laptops upon.  The propensity is to get stuck behind the laptop stand, aka podium!  This means half of your body is no longer visible to the audience so you are unnecessarily giving up access to half of your body language. 

Shortish (are we still allowed to say short?) people should be very careful.  I have seen many a combination of high podiums and a bobbing talking head, just making it above the waterline – not a great look.  Arrive early and check how you will look from the bleachers, before you get up to speak.  Get the organizers to get you something to stand on or even better get rid of the podium. 

The final nail in the coffin for our speaker was his foot placement.  Foot placement you ask? When we stand with our feet facing at a certain angle to the audience, we can find our upper body is now positioned such that we are unconsciously favoring one side of the room over the other. 

Our speaker ignored half of his audience, without even being are of the fact.  He could have compensated by turning his body to the left to include that part of the audience, but we are asking the upper body to torque against our natural body angle and we just don’t want to do it.  Better to stand with the feet facing at 90 degrees to the audience (this means our shoulders will face nicely forward neither favoring one side nor the other) and just rotate your head, so your eyes can use "eye power" with every pocket area of the room.

The final example, this time done by a group of speakers, was the high risk nature of technology.  Video and audio are great – when they work properly.  This was not one of those days and everyone was struggling to get it to work. There is nothing so brand destructive, as when your IT person is one of those speakers and they can’t get the equipment to work either.  It is Schadenfreude moment of derived amusement for the assembled crowd of non-IT experts but sad and destructive for your personal and organization credibility!

Make sure that the benefit of using the video is worth the risk.  If it isn’t really, really central, then just drop it and replace it with something a million times more powerful – YOU! 

If you do need it, then load all the speakers’ videos on the one laptop (and have a fully loaded back-up), embed the video (don’t even think of using Wi-Fi) and test it before hand, for ALL of the presentations.

If something goes wrong anyway, don’t grab the toolbox and try and get under the hood – abandon the video at that point and just tell your audience the key points you wanted to get across.  Keep tap dancing and move onward! Don’t have your audience become bored contemplating the hair on top of your head (even if ravishing and luxuriant), while you visibly panic eyes looking down at the keyboard.

These are a few examples of brand destroying, unforced errors from the front line, which can be easily fixed.  There is no excuse really – get clued up, get the training and stop embarrassing yourself and your organization. 


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