18 tips for giving a horrible presentation

David Sholl

David Sholl

Too many of us have sat through too many bad presentations. And no one wants to give one, either.

Someone who’s seen his fair share of bad talks is David Sholl, of the Georgia Institute of Technology. In this helpful video, “The Secrets of Memorably Bad Presentations,” he presents some tongue-in-cheek advice on how to torture your audience.

(If it’s not immediately obvious — Sholl wants you to do the exact opposite of what he’s suggesting, below.)

  1. Everyone always says lead with a joke. Instead of that, spend the first few minutes of your talk fiddling around with the computer, loading up the right presentation, etc. Don’t bother checking all that ahead of time — awkward silence is a good ice-breaker.
  2. If you do want to start on a light note, include a time-wasting — and completely unfunny — anecdote.
  3. Provide a long-winded introduction that includes stock art and unnecessary explanations. Talking about geochemical engineering? Why not start with the Industrial Revolution, and work your way to the present?
  4. List only your own citations (particularly if you’re first author, so all the citations say “your name, et al”) — if you end up ignoring the work of other people listening to your talk, so be it.
  5. Include a generic slide that provides an outline of your talk. The less specific the better: Introduction/Method/Results/Conclusion, etc.
  6. If you get nervous, don’t worry. Just talk really quickly.
  7. This goes without saying — make bad slides. Suggestions include using different fonts in different places, and cramming in as many acronyms and as much jargon as you can.
  8. When presenting data, include multiple, dense tables. The smaller the font, the better.
  9. Don’t bother explaining why certain data points are more significant than others — let the numbers speak for themselves.
  10. The same advice holds for figures and images on slides — don’t waste space by including words that explain what the images are depicting, or why certain features are important — let the audience do the work to figure it out for themselves.
  11. Check the clock — if you realize you’re short on time but still want to make a point, just click through some slides quickly. Your audience will get it.
  12. If you want to include text on a slide, just copy the long figure legends from a few of your images.
  13. Keep everyone guessing. In the corner of a slide labeled “conclusions,” note that it’s only slide 27 out of 104, so they’ll never know when the talk will truly end.
  14. On that note, talk about something totally different after your “conclusion” slide — maybe throw up some new data from an entirely different project, which you haven’t analyzed yet.
  15. When you really do end up concluding your talk, just assemble a bullet-point list of everything you discussed, and read it off, line by line.
  16. When acknowledging people and places who contributed to your project, mention everything — extensive acknowledgments are a great climax to a talk.
  17. Of course, continue talking long past your allotted time, showing no sign of ever stopping. This is particularly important if your talk is followed by refreshments, which should be plainly visible to the audience — but out of reach until the talk is over.
  18. If you have time for questions, use a question to talk further about another topic, unrelated to what the person was asking. (As a shortcut: Cut off the question before the person has finished, so you can really say whatever you want.) Even if the question appears to have a simple answer, make it long and complicated.

Some of this should seem painfully familiar to readers who attend multiple talks. If you foresee having to sit through some painful ones in the future, you can download “bad talk bingo” from Sholl’s website, which enables you to check off every negative element as it appears.

This article first appeared in www.retractionwatch.com

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