Bad presenters bore audiences.Bad presenters bore audiences.

I was at a conference in San Francisco last week. It was at the of the moment MidMa event space known as The Village. A massive video screen – hundreds of feet wide and nearly floor to ceiling – covers the entire back wall, adding to the feel of electricity. The setting demands dramatic presentations.

Then came the first presenter. And the second. And the third. In the span of just two hours, I saw three smart people make all four of the mistakes I’m going to cover below. And the gaffes just killed the energy. I’m not going to name names. Truth be told, I could probably find these same errors if I went to a conference every day. But if you care to be a presenter that the audience admires and roots for, read on.

There are plenty of great books on how to be a great presenter. You won’t become one in just the three minutes it takes to read this post. What I can do in those minutes is move you out of the basement of bad presenters. Just don’t do these four things and you will be on your way.

Reintroducing Yourself – “Please join me in welcoming Jack Smith, head of R&D from Acme Widgets” [applause] [Jack takes the stage] “Hi, I’m Jack Smith, head of R&D from Acme Widgets.” Really? You have nothing else to add? You need to engage the audience right away.

Garr Reynolds, author of the must-have book Presentation Zen, puts it well:

“Start strong. The first 2-3 minutes of the presentation are the most important. The audience wants to like you and they will give you a few minutes at the beginning to engage them — don’t miss the opportunity. Most presenters fail here because they ramble on too long about superfluous background information or their personal/professional history, etc.”

Staring at the AV Guy – AV problems will happen. Always have, always will. While the AV guy is fixing your slides, don’t turn your back on the audience and stare at him. Silently. For several minutes of dead air. You should have your whole presentation memorized. If you can’t (and you can), then memorize your opening slides. Just start giving the presentation and catch up to your slide when the glitch has been fixed.

Pacing – Back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. That sentence was annoying to read, wasn’t it? That’s how we feel when you pace. The very worst pacing presenters don’t even look at the audience, walking back and forth looking toward the edge of the stage. If you are a pacer, try what I call ‘stand and deliver.’ Walk to a spot, deliver a slide or two, and then move to another spot and do the same thing. Movement can be effective, but not if it’s peripatetic and distracting.

Reading Your Slides – Are you a presenter or a narrator? It’s not called a ‘narration,’ after all. We can read the slide just as well as you can. We are here to hear you and what you have to say. Give us your perspective. Tell us a story. Please.

Once you banish these behaviors, you will be moving out of the basement of bad presenters, on your way to the keynote stage. Promise me you will never ever do any of these four again and I will be right there, in the front row, rooting for you.

For extra credit, and if you really do want to become a great presenter, I highly recommend The Power Presenter by Jerry Weissman, and my chapter on giving presentations from The Professional Marketer.