Why Last Year’s Great Presentation is Crap Today

on October 25, 2013

There are an endless number of blog posts offering tips on how to ruin your presentation. Each one of these redundant articles is filled with the obvious advice about being ill prepared and not making your presentation design friendly. If you’ve never given a presentation before, go ahead and read these articles. Otherwise, ignore all of them.

We’ve all at one time given a crappy presentation. It’s not because we violated one of these chronically echoed no-no’s such as don’t use too many bullets or don’t include too many graphics. It’s because the presentation game has changed, and most of us haven’t moved fast enough to catch up with it.

For years, going to a conference and seeing a bad presentation was the norm. We were obliged to sit in the audience and listen to whatever sales-oriented pitch disguised as information. We patiently waited until we had the opportunity to network. Today, we still enjoy networking, but we can now actually enjoy the presentations, and count on them being good, because presentations have improved dramatically, at a rate faster than any medium.

The explosion in high quality presentations has been the result of the following five factors:

1: Real-time critique of your presentation is being broadcasted

Prior to social media, if you had a crappy presentation only the people in the room knew about it and that’s it. Today, critiques of bad presentations are tweeted out to the world as you’re presenting. Want to really be embarrassed? Some event producers project the tweets behind you during your presentation.

Mark Zuckerberg and Sarah LacyThis was all going on rather quietly until 2008 when journalist Sarah Lacy interviewed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at SXSW in Austin, Texas. According to the tweets, the interview was a debacle with Lacy hitting on Zuckerberg and the crowd audibly heckling her to get the interview back on track (For more, read: “How to Deal with Rough Crowd’s: A Standup Comic’s Advice for Sarah Lacy”). The critiques lasted for at least a week.

After that moment, presenters realized that an amplification device and a slide clicker do not afford unilateral power. The audience had more power than you.

2: Audience is no longer captive

GreatPresentations03Prior to notebooks, mobile phones, and free conference wi-fi, audience members had no choice but to look at the stage. Now they have infinite reasons not to look at you. Presenters have to come out of the gate with a non-Googleable story that feeds the audience’s curiosity.

3: A presentation can be a performance

GreatPresentations04The free online broadcast of TED talks, Steve Jobs’ Apple keynotes, PechaKucha 20×20, and Ignite Talk Videos all changed how we view the possibility of a presentation. Presentations are no longer a lecturer reading a list of bullet points. They can now be a form of theater. A performance that elicits an emotional response.

4: Favoriting presentations on SlideShare

GreatPresentations05Prior to the launch of the online presentation social network SlideShare, one couldn’t easily find a presentation that was similar to the one you were producing. Now that presentations can be freely hosted on SlideShare, there’s a world of presentations available that others are comparing for you.

5: Presenterless presentations

SlideShare also introduced the need for design in presentations. No longer could you get away with just a PowerPoint template. The presentation needed style. The words and images alone needed to deliver impact. Developing a slide show that could just be read, it didn’t need a presenter. If designed well, the viewer could be entertained and informed just by flipping the pages and reading it.

New pressures, new capabilities, better presentations

Presentations are now universally public and competitive. All these new pressures have driven up the quality of presentations at a faster rate than any other type of content. No other media has improved so recently in such a rapid rate. If you want to produce a presentation that people remember, you have to consider how the presentation market has changed. Recognize how and who will judge you. Winging it and writing the presentation at the last minute are no longer viable options. That group of twenty in a conference room may seem small, but they could be communicating to the rest of the world.


Creative Commons photo attributions to NASA Goddard Photo and Video, Andrew Feinberg, Cydcor, and Chiu.

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