The Seven Types of Presentation to Avoid

Have you inflicted one of these types of presentation on your audience? These seven types are all a result of a lack of planning or the wrong sort of planning. I’ll be looking at how to avoid some of these presentation planning traps in a live webinar with Ellen Finkelstein next week. The webinar is on Wednesday 29th September at 4pm ET. Sign up here.

1. The “I want to tell you everything” presentation

heart This presenter is in love with their topic and wants to share it all with you – every nuance, every subtlety, every story. Their passion and enthusiasm is great. But it’s not tempered with any discipline. And that results in information overload for the audience.

If you’re guilty of this type of presentation, checkout this post How to avoid information overload in your presentation.

2. The “grab bag” presentation

The “grab bag” presentation is one where the presenter has a miscellany of points which are only loosely related to each other and appear in no structured order. I’ve seen highly experienced, professional speakers fall into the trap of the “grab bag” presentation.

The solution to the grab bag presentation is to plan your presentation around a key message. That provides you with focus. For tips see this post How to Craft a Memorable Key Message in 10 Minutes.

3. The “shopping list” presentation

This presentation contains point, after point, after point. Often presented as bullet-point slide after bullet-point slide after bullet-point slide. It’s deadly dull. There’s no variety, no light and shade. It may be organized but it lacks any evidence: stories, case studies, endorsements, metaphors or analogies.

The antidote to the shopping list presentation is to include evidence to back up each of your points. I analyzed speeches from Al Gore, Seth Godin, and Malcolm Gladwell. 60-70% of their speeches were composed of evidence.

4. The “meringue” presentation

Emergency firefighting cover - Operation Fresco This is the opposite of the shopping list presentation. The presentation is chocka full of stories, anecdotes, jokes, shocking statistics, and metaphors. It’s highly entertaining and engaging – but an hour later when you try and work out what you learned – there’s a void.

To avoid this, plan your presentation using a solid three-part structure. Clothe your structure with your stories and anecdotes.

5. The “race against the clock” presentation

This presentation might be well-planned and have a good balance of points and evidence, but the presenter hasn’t rehearsed and timed it. Pretty soon, she becomes aware she’s not going to have enough time to cover everything she planned, and the race is on! Every two minutes she says things like:

“I’ll just cover this quickly”

“If I have enough time, I’ll let you know about X”

“I wish I had more time to tell you about this.” etc. etc.

Simple solution: rehearse and time your presentation. More tips are here: How to Keep to Time during your Presentation.

6. The “mystery novel” presentation

This is the presentation where the presenter holds back the most important point till the end – like a whodunnit. Sometimes this can work but it needs to be carefully planned. More often, the “mystery novel” presentation happens because the presenter didn’t think about the needs of the audience and simply followed their own train of thought which resulted in a conclusion at the end.

In this post Why its Smarter to put your Conclusion in the Opening I recommend that you should start with your conclusion, but I also list the exceptions to that rule.

7. The “perpetually taxi-ing” presentation

Consider a presentation to be like an aeroplane journey. The ideal presentation gets you in the air quickly. But some presentations spend so long on “background”, “methodolody”, “who we are” that they never get into the air. The audience never gets taken anywhere.

Do you recognise yourself here? If you do, don’t beat yourself up over it, but resolve not to do it again! And if you want some more specific tips sign up for next week’s webinar.

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  1. I’d suggest the City Engineer presentation, which always has several slides with diagrams so complex they look like a wiring diagram for Cleveland, Ohio.

    • Thanks Dave – there are so many categorizations we could make of the way we abuse slides!

  2. Excellent list of the general categories of horrible speeches. How do you get people to realize they are giving one of these unless they watch themselves on video?

    • Hi TJ
      Straight but compassionate feedback can work – but only if the speaker asks for it. I’ve recently experienced some of these (hence the inspiration for the post). In each case there were feedback forms – and I gave straight feedback.
      Watching back on video doesn’t always work with these particular problems – because they are content issues – not delivery issues. And when people watch video of themselves they tend to focus on the delivery.

      • Thanks Olivia. Yes, you are right, people must ask for it. That’s one advantage when people are paying lots of money for a training, they have decided they already want feedback.

  3. Unless there is some unforeseen time constraint out of the presenter’s control, the “race against the clock” presentation is inexcusable in my book. If the presenter has prepared and practiced properly, they should have their timing down. It’s inconsiderate to offer content to your audience that you have to rush through, only making the audience’s experience worse.

    Jon Thomas
    Presentation Advisors

    • I agree Jon. I’ve been on the receiving end of a “race against the clock” presentation recently and it was a professional speaker who was very comfortable with his material. But he was speaking on an unpaid basis. My assumption is that he didn’t prepare for the particular time slot he’d been given.

  4. This is a great list, Olivia!

  5. I know I am guilty of #1 and the “scarcity mindset” you refer to on previous blog posts. This is the only time I will see those in the audience…I have to overwhelm them with content and info. Gradually, I’ve been learning to cut back and figure out ways to group things together instead of having them separated, or use one really good image to get a point across where I may have had 2 or more in the past. I’ve actually found that shifting from PPT to Prezi has helped. I’ve been able to let my audience tell me what they want to hear about next, what is important for them, instead of being tied to PPT’s linear format.

    Great info on the post and the related how-to-fix posts linked within each one. I almost want to throw out every presentation I’ve ever done and start from scratch. Thanks!

    • Hi Brian
      Sounds like you’re making heaps of progress. Good on you for being willing to look at what’s working and what’s not working and making changes.

    • Hello Brian – Thanks for the Prezi reference!!! I’d not heard of it until I read your post. What a great way to present! I’ve tried to use MindMap for presentations, but Prezi is way better. Very nice.

  6. The best speeches have one compelling message or idea for people to walk away with, everything else backs this up. It should be interesting to listen to along the way. This is a great list. I have experienced these speeches and made these mistakes before – ie – the Meringue speech.
    I use alot of humor to get people laughing and engaged. trouble with humor is it is almost always a distraction, the unexpected. I come back to my point but it is a diversion

    • Humor does engage people. if you skilfully weave humor into your presentation so that it carries the points you want to make, then it’s not a distraction.


  7. Well done Olivia! One I might add as I deal with many different clients is: following the client’s presentation demands vs the audience’s needs. Always a balancing act to cover both…and still get paid! ha! I am more prone to be more learner centered and adapt the “planned presentation” according where sometimes some of the official learning objectives are not totally covered.

    • Hi Tony
      That is a tricky situation. I find that more discussion with the client before the presentation can often resolve the situation.

  8. Thanks alot, i’ve learnt alot. Could you pls be my metor?


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