How to make a boring presentation interesting #1

In my post Do you have to give boring presentations? I asked you to tell me about the boring presentations you have to give. The pain and frustration you suffer from having to give boring presentations poured into my e-mail inbox and the comments section of that post.

In this post, I look at the issues that can be solved by a mind-shift on the part of the presenter, or by doing things a slightly different way.  In the next post, I’ll look at presentations where the content itself needs a tweak to convert it from boring to engaging (well, engaging might be a bit of a stretch – we’re talking air quality regulations and pesticide labelling here – but I’ll do my best).

Issue 1: You think it’s boring

Francois Marier, is an Open Source Developer based in New Zealand. He wrote:

I often struggle to do a good non-boring presentation when I have to show source code snippets and lots of technical details to an audience of software developers. Sometimes I try to reduce the scope of the presentation and leave some of the technical details to the handout, but often people come for (and expect) the gory details. It’s hard to make visual slides with source code!

I pointed out to Francois the contradiction inherent in his statement: since people were coming for the “gory details” it wasn’t going to be boring for them. He replied:

That’s a good point. I guess I’ve been reading too many “put-pictures-in-your-slides” blog posts recently.

If you’re talking about code to an audience that wants to hear about code, then show slides with code!

Here’s another example.

I was working with a course participant last week who was convinced that the topic she has to present on is the most boring ever.

She works for a large organization that contracts firms to do construction work. The relationship between her organization and these firms is governed by a range of large and detailed manuals. She has to deliver presentations to the firms on the changes to these manuals. Not compelling stuff to you and me. But, as another course participant pointed out, those firms are vitally interested in the changes to the manual, because a good relationship with her organization is critical to their future.

Here’s the thing – both these presentations would be deathly boring to a general audience. But to the audience that they’re intended for – they are riveting. Relevance to your audience is the touchstone.

Boredom is in the eye of the beholder.

Issue 2: You’re bored with the presentation

Joy Simpson wrote:

We have a presentation about improving writing for teachers which lasts for half a day. The actual content is not boring it is just that we are presenting using the same type of slides that we always use (and have done so for 10 yrs). I think if I am honest it is me that is bored with the way they look.

Can you relate to this? I can. If you’re presenting the same information, it’s your job to make the audience feel like you’re presenting just for them. Joy, I think you’re right on target. If you’ve been presenting with the same slides for 10 years they are bound to need a freshen up. Get yourself the latest version of the slide software you use and give them and you a lift.

The next bulwark against your own boredom is to be on a quest of continual improvement. Each time you present this workshop make it your aim to present it better than the last time. For more ideas see this post How to give a great presentation the hundredth time.

Issue 3: Some people are going to be bored

Both Jeb and Heather Ackmann wrote in the comments to my invitation post about the pain of training people on technical stuff with varying degrees of experience:

How’s this for boring? I train end users, ranging from very savvy PC users to people who think more than one button is too complicated, how to use a corporate multi-function device (print/copy/scan). Training takes anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on how many. The only way to make it interesting is to make ME interesting.

Heather responded to Jeb:

Jeb, I so feel your pain. I’ve been training MS Office applications for a few years now and in the classroom I always felt obligated to teach to (I hate to say it) the weakest link in the class, which always made the more advanced students bored. There are just very few ways I think to make “here’s how to use a mouse” interesting or entertaining to the masses.

Yup, I tend to agree with Heather. If you already know how to use a mouse, there’s not likely to be much to engage you in watching a trainer teach somebody else how to use a mouse. And, why should you be trying to entertain people who legitimately have no interest in the topic. Those people should not be there. Period. Jeb identified this himself in a later comment:

If I’ve got one or two people who are particularly and obviously out of the pack in terms of aptitude (either above or below), then I tend to try to take them out of the group and schedule another session geared just for them. It’s easier than trying to be inclusive and makes everyone feel like they’ve got more individual attention.

I totally agree. In this situation, I would find out the technical level of each person before the training happens (a training needs analysis to use training jargon) and then organise them into groups of roughly equal levels. This will be a much better use of everyone’s time and more satisfying for you, as the trainer, and the learners.

Issue 4: You’re using boring and confusing slides

Marcin Chwistek wrote to me with this story:

I do a lot of presentations for pharmaceutical industries. These are promotional talks that explain a product i.e. a medication or a medical device and try to place it within a clinical context so the listeners – MDs, RN’s know how to use and when to use it.

The problem I encounter is that the slides that I use for these presentations are not created by me, but rather by a company with my minimal input. By the time a presentation goes through all the lawyers’ offices the slides look completely different and in many cases are verbose, dull and not helpful i.e. typical death by PP.

This is a challenge! We’ll presume that there is information on those slides that your audience must be made aware of for legal reasons. But that information doesn’t have to be on the slides. There are at least three different channels of information that you have available to you during your presentation:

  1. What you say
  2. The slides you show
  3. The handouts you give out

Take the information off the slides, put it in the handout and make a clear verbal reference to it. That should satisfy the lawyers. Now the slides can be used for what they’re supposed to be for – a visual enhancement of your content, not a repository for legal caution.

If you think your presentation is boring, could a mindshift or a change in the way you deliver the presentation, make a difference? What other tips do you have that could make a difference to the presentations that I’ve featured above.

And if you’ve got more boring presentations that you want some help with, either post in the comments or send me an email through my contact form.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for the very well thought out post here. One of the things that I find most frustrating when helping my clients to put together a presentation is convincing them to fully embrace the emotional side of their audience. It seems that the majority of of presentations, and presenters, are focused, almost exclusively, on getting the information out. And, because, the information is concrete, the presenters tend to spend the majority of their time combing through it again and again. The problem is that audience members are human beings. Human beings like to believe that they make rational decisions and are persuaded by facts and facts alone. In fact, decisions and a willingness to be persuaded are emotional processes. Emotions are vague and harder to tap into for most presenters. Therefore, it would seem to me that focusing on weaving an emotional journey into any presentation is key to success. More uncomfortable for the presenter…yes. More resonant for the audience and satisfying for the presenter…absolutely.