The World’s Worst Presenter

One of our favorite TV shows, Whose Line is it Anyway?, frequently includes a bit called “The World’s Worst . . .” in which the players must come up with various examples of the worst characteristics of a variety of professions. The world’s worst surgeon, for one example: (Player mimes performing an operation.) “Am I putting something in or taking something out?” The world’s worst president: “I hereby abolish congress and am going replace it with a gigantic water slide!” The world’s worst person to lead an army into battle: “Look out! It’s the enemy! Ahhhhhhh!” The world’s worst superhero: “Don’t worry—Forgetful Man will save you! Where’s my costume?” And so on.

Ellen has long used this game in her presentation skills classes, with successful (and often hilarious) results, even among her Chinese students at Peking University. (Apparently, the ability to know what constitutes a BAD presentation is universal.) Here are five frequent responses she has gotten to the prompt, “Show me the world’s worst presenter.”

1. Presenter holds a piece of paper and reads from it. (Extra points if his/her hands shake as well.) Variations include the following: presenter turns his/her back on the audience and reads directly from the screen; presenter hides behind the podium; presenter looks over the audience’s heads.

So everyone knows how important eye contact is when making a presentation. And yet how often presenters ignore this most basic characteristic of good public speaking. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “An eye can threaten like a loaded and level gun; or can insult like hissing and kicking; or in its altered mood, by beams of kindness, make the heart dance with joy.” (We don’t recommend the threatening or insulting, but agree that making the audience’s hearts dance with joy is a worthy goal.)

2. Presenter sways back and forth and from side to side while speaking, as if making a presentation from the bow of a ship in a hurricane. Audience soon grows nauseous. Variations: Presenter fiddles with her hair, his tie, her necklace, his keys in his pocket.

As the great American actress Lynn Fontanne once replied, when asked what the secret of great acting was, “Speak louder than normal and don’t fidget.”

3. Presenter speaks so softly that no one can hear him/her. Variations: Presenter speaks so loudly that audience members lean back in their chairs; presenter does a perfect imitation of the Star Trek computer; presenter speaks like a Valley Girl. (“This quarter’s sales growth was good? We have plans in place for being even better next quarter? I am sure of it?”)

“Your voice can change the world,” Barack Obama said. Not if no one can hear you. Or if you’re monotonous. Or just simply annoying.

4. Presenter has obviously not rehearsed enough with the technology and is constantly surprised by what is on the next slide. Or he/she hits the wrong button on the remote slide advancer and freaks out when all the slides advance quickly to the last slide.

“Confidence comes from being prepared,” says Coach John Wooden. Be a scout. Be prepared.

5. Presenter’s laptop crashes and presenter falls apart. (“Ahhhh! Noooo! Not now! What am I going to do???”) Presenter has no back-up plan.

If you put all your eggs in one basket, and then you drop the basket, you’d better be ready to make an omelet.

You see? You already know what the worst habits of highly ineffective presenters are. Go forth and do the opposite.

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