Presentations: Plan versus Actual

This image says so much.  It captures some of the principal Presentation Phobias, in my opinion.

Presentations reality

It is almost a self contained case for making the use of PowerPoint a criminal offence.

Think what would have happened if this presenter hadn’t got his 35 slides all nicely set up on his laptop.  How much easier this would have been for him.

For a start, he wouldn’t have had that stressful bit of connecting to the projector whilst everyone is sitting there, arms folded, waiting for you to crash and burn before you even open your mouth.

“Do I need to hit an F key here, or will it do it automatically?”  “Oh no, I forgot my Mac adapter.”  “Oh no, it’s an HDMI connection.”  I’ve seen all those happen, and worse.  It’s the first test, and you had better pass it or you are dead in the water.

I remember once having a speaking engagement at a conference. I had the 2pm slot, so could set up over lunch.  I wondered why no one was in the room at 2pm.  Five minutes later a flustered looking organiser arrived and escorted me to the correct room (!), where there were 100 or so people with “What sort of time do you call this?” written all over their  faces.  Needless to say that was not a great moment to have to set up in public.

Back to our illustration above.  If there had been no PowerPoint, there would have been no need to power through the 30 slides in the last 3 minutes.  Why?  Because as the audience doesn’t know what’s yet to come, you can just drop your content, and the only person who knows you did is you.  People often fall into the trap of thinking that because they have spent so long on designing their slides, they have to cover all of them.  I always tell people:

“If in doubt, drop it.”  They don’t know what they don’t know.

One of the restrictions of PowerPoint is that it limits your flexibility.  When a question comes in that is slightly off piste (because the person asking it thinks differently to you and is interested in exploring), you feel constrained to go back to what you have pre-prepared, rather than continuing to explore what seems of interest to the audience.  You have spent all that time messing about with your slides, and they are going to see them whether they like it or not!

“Open wide, here it comes!”  Or should that be “Bend over, here it comes!”?

Businessman sweating isolated on white

I love the last point on the cartoon:  “Awkward silence Q & A”.  I always think it’s a sign that you have created an audience of Children, who are probably thinking “can we go now?”, when there are no questions.  It’s a measure of having successfully shut them down when they smile at you politely, but silently.

And why, by the way, would you wait until the end before they can ask questions?  What if they don’t understand you, because your explanation was rubbish?  “Carry on not understanding please, I’ll deal with you at the end.”  You might was as well tell them to take a nap.

It’s normally the sign of a nervous presenter who wants to control the audience.  Learn to love those questions, I say.  They create energy, take the pressure off you (because you can hand them to others if you want to), and they give you a chance to gauge where the audience interest lies.

I’m not seriously suggesting that we do without PowerPoint.  If used intelligently as an AID, it can work well.  But when used as a prop, an excuse, a substitute for meaningful communication, it is a pernicious and much abused tool which does a lot of damage.

You are probably a victim of PowerPoint abuse each and every day.  Make sure you’re not a PowerPoint criminal as well.  Happy presenting!

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© Minerva Studio –

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at
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9 Responses to Presentations: Plan versus Actual

  1. Michael, great post. My top 5: (1) Presenter reading the slides. 2) The slides filled with words at 12-14 point font. (3) Presenter sharing little passion or human interest in content. (4) No WIIFM (What’s in it for me or why should I care), (5) Arrogance or talking down to the audience.


    • Thanks David. Yes, I buy all of those. Especially the first, actually. Puts the presenter into the role of voice over narrator! Trouble is they read 3 times faster than he talks, so end up having to wait for him! And also he is jamming their visual connections to the brain with his audio ones! If in doubt, shut up, let them read the slide, then hit B and pull out the important info for them.


  2. Hi Michael

    I’m a lover of flipcharts too! If you’re confident of your material (and sometimes when you’re not) you can blend audience interest with your material in a way that is almost impossible using slides. And I’m not a luddite – I’ve used Powerpoint – although Mac’s Keynote is a far better tool. I have experienced those interesting technical problems in getting pieces of equipment to talk to each other too.
    Some years ago at an ACEVO (charity chief execs) Breakfast meeting the director of the UK’s 2nd largest Ad Agency was fulminating over the inability of the large accountancy hosting firm’s technical guy to get his laptop to work with their projector.
    I quickly arranged some high speed copying of a paper edition of his slides and distributed them to the audience. The Ad man gave an inspiring performance without slides. At the end declaring it as one of the most enjoyable presentations he’d done. There’s a lesson here – lose the crutch and move to an infinitely adaptable medium. Just make sure you bring your own markers…

    Best wishes


    • Hi David. What a great example! Absolutely. Nothing like a bit of adversity to bring out the creative spirit and the human being within. You reminded me: one of the best courses I ever ran was when we had a bomb scare in the hotel and had to run it on a park bench in central London, with no materials! We had a fascinating and authentic dialogue about what was important to THEM!



  3. Lita Cavanagh says:

    Hi Michael,
    Good blog as always!
    My main ‘5 critical errors’ include:-
    ** Death by PowerPoint, over using them
    ** Transitions Transitions Transitions, I loath seeing slides flip, slide, toss and wave onto the screen
    ** Too busy with clip art 😦 Simple slides work best if using them.
    ** Lack of activities, learning styles can be met by a variety of activities to engage and help the information process, also delegates learn from each other during these.
    ** No time for questions/open forum, Debrief, this IS the time we learn and process all the information we have listened to.
    ** No response to good questions and ideas, demonstrating elitism
    ** Talk Talk Talk zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz sorry going over my 5, but do feel strong about this subject.

    Oh just one more, inadequate knowledge of subject delivering,
    Thanks Michael for giving opportunity to rant, I mean share my dislikes when delivering training.
    I am looking forward to you setting the website of ‘How not to vidoes’



    • Thanks Lita. Oh yes, you touched a few sore points there! I hope you feel better now! What to do about it, though, eh?


      • Lita Cavanagh says:

        * Relax! it is not the end of the world, just you imparting an sharing information.
        *Know your audience (learning styles) (job roles) Starting point, skills matrix,
        * Simplify
        * Mix it up (training strategies) (Design)
        * Encourage questions, if none prompt
        * Have fun!
        * Debrief ( ready for open forum to discuss areas missed)
        * Evaluate
        * Reflect…………………………………………


  4. Dave Loewy says:

    Very relevant article Mike. Flipcharts rule – and are much more versatile. Glad to hear that Rufus is on the mend too.


    • Thanks Dave. Did a course at a company you and I both know all too well last week, 3 days on Leadership. The whole room was wallpapered in flipcharts, nowhere else to put them! They loved it: took photos of them, kept them as if they were sacred or something!


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