Sometimes you need to do a presentation for which you aren’t fully prepared. Maybe you didn’t get your act together, or maybe the presenter duties were thrust upon you at the last minute. Whatever the circumstances, there are usually two ways a presentation like this can go. If you’re an experienced presenter who basically knows the material, you can fake it ’till you make it. You speak with what seems like effortless ease while stealing glances at your slides to make sure you’re on course. If you’re a relative noob or if the presentation is out of your range of experience, you tend to rely heavily on the PowerPoint, even reading from the slides when necessary. Guess what? The audience can tell the two presentation styles apart. And they aren’t too impressed with the second one.
Reading slides is a bad idea
At a recent Toastmasters meeting I attended, one of the more experienced speakers was delivering a canned speech, one whose outline and slides were provided by Toastmasters International. I’ve heard this guy speak plenty of times, and he’s really good at it. He’s comfortable in front of an audience, tells good stories, and keeps us entertained. But it was painful to watch him presenting this speech. The slides were pretty basic and designed in the dreaded outline format. Worse, every time he advanced the slide or the animation that revealed a new bullet point, he’d pause, glance at the screen for guidance, then talk about that subject.
The whole click-glance-discuss routine really distracted from what otherwise could have been a great speech. It was clear that he was using the slides as a teleprompter, which is a big no-no (here’s a worst-case scenario). The speech suffered as a result because he gave the appearance that he didn’t know what he was going to talk about next.
Why is it a problem?
Now, we all glance at our slides periodically to see where we are in our presentations and to make sure that we’re talking about what the audience is currently viewing. But when you read your slides, whether it’s a brief pause to read it to yourself to get your place or, worse, reading the slides word-for-word to the audience, you do several things:
- You give the impression that you don’t know what you’re talking about.
- You waste the audience’s time because they probably already know how to read.
- The audience can come to resent you because you’re doing something that they could’ve done for themselves.
- You reduce your chances for spontaneity and interacting with the audience when you turn your back to them.
OK, now we know we should stop reading our slides. But what can we do when we need to be awesome at presenting when we’re unprepared?
Any preparation can help
You’ve been called upon to make a presentation in an hour. What kind of preparation could you do that time? Even preparing a little is better than not doing anything. Here are some things you could accomplish:
- At the very least, you should look at the slides before you present. Go through the deck in Presenter View and familiarize yourself with the content and how it relates to the Speaker Notes (if there are any).
- If the subject of the presentation is something you’ve experienced, try to come up with a story or two that expands upon the main message.
- If you have time, edit the text down on overly wordy slides. Add pictures to text-heavy decks, if you can.
Hopefully, you won’t find yourself in this situation very often. But even with a little advanced preparation, you can avoid being a slide reader and be a better presenter.