Lee Odden

Warning: Do Not Read This If You Want to Give Awesome Presentations

Optimize Presentations

Danger! Don’t Optimize Presentations to Suck. Image via Shutterstock

Over the past 5 years I’ve given a few hundred presentations in front of crowds from 10 to 1,000.

I also make sure to attend other speakers’ presentations, sometimes to delight and sometimes to horror.

Despite that experience, I’m far from a perfect speaker. But I am passionate, knowledgeable and continuously trying to optimize my speaking skills. Part of this comes from feedback but also from watching people give presentations.

There are many mistakes I’ve made that all could have been avoided. I have a feeling this is the case for many. Whether you give presentations at conferences or internally, here are a few tips on what to avoid.

1. With panels, a moderator isn’t worth listening to, so don’t cooperate. Don’t reply to their requests to prep for the panel or answer any of their questions about your presentation.

2. Ignore who the audience is and why they’re in attendance. This is all about you baby.

3. If there are technical difficulties, freak out or better yet, just give up. You didn’t prepare, so there’s no reason to give the presentation sans PPT slides.

4. Do not be funny or complement the audience, conference and co-speakers. Remember, this is all about you.

5. Spend a lot of time talking about yourself and why you’re so awesome.  Have at least 5 or 6 slides focused on you. Then a few more about your company.

6. If you’re on a panel, banter with other speakers that you’re old friends with and tell lots of inside jokes that the audience will be oblivious to.

7. Use as much stock photography as possible. Cats are good too. Kittens, actually. Meme it up.

8. Give the exact same presentation every time, just give the title a different name. Why go through the extra work?

9. Don’t include contact information on slides or a Twitter handle and hashtag to make it easy for people to share.

10. You’re the expert, so talk down to the audience. If they knew their stuff, they’d be on stage and not you, right?

11. Say umm, you know and ah. A lot.

12. Ignore what the session description says and talk about something related, but not really the same.

13. Speak in a monotone, quite voice and by all means, don’t show evidence of enthusiasm.

14. Use condescending commentary about your own examples, about competitors, the conference itself (including wifi).

15. Don’t bother citing sources when giving quotes or statistics.

16. Talk too fast. Overwhelm the audience with information and they’ll have no choice but to give up on doing it themselves and have to hire you.

17. Don’t follow a linear or logical structure. If movies can have simultaneous and erratic story lines, then your presentations should too.

18. Don’t give any practical examples or tell stories.

19. Spend all of your time “setting up the topic” and why it’s important. “How” can be covered some other time.

20. Blatantly pitch your own services or companies throughout. Make sure your slide templates use your branding in a way that covers at least 40% of the viewable slide area.

21. Don’t bother repeating the question being asked for others to hear when there’s no microphone for audience questions.

22. Deflect any questions you’re not interested in answering, “Great question but what I think you’re really asking is…”.

23. Interrupt other speakers and contradict the moderator. In fact, make jokes on Twitter about the other speakers and even the audience.

24. Forget about a takeaway slide that sums up the key points of the presentation.

25. No need to leave time for questions at the end. They should have been paying attention.

26. Whatever you do, don’t say thank you to the audience.

27. Make promises and then spam them. Tell the audience they can have a copy of your presentation if they leave a business card. Then spam the hell out of those emails.

28. Leave the room immediately. You’re a big deal and you have places to go, people to see.

29. On second thought, linger into the beginning of the next presentation and ignore requests to move things out into the hall.

That’s more than enough advice about what NOT to do with presentations. But surely you’ve experienced many others. Please share.

Giving relevant, interesting and sharable presentations have been an instrumental part of our digital marketing strategy. That’s right, presentations given in real life are part of our digital strategy. In today’s connected world, when you talk to one person, you’re talking to 1,000. So it follows that when you give a presentation to 100 people, you could be reaching thousands or more.

If you’re investing in the optimization of your content and advertising, then why not optimize the performance of your public speaking? Don’t ignore the impact of such a powerful means for connecting with people that want to buy from you or who can influence others to buy.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Love the angle Lee. Great read with great tips for a sucky presentation.

    • Thanks Grant. The coolest thing is, these are written to be reversed, turning it into a collection of what one really should do for awesome presentations.

  2. Hilarious list. How about #30: Use buzzwords and jargon to fill in for actual content.

  3. Avatar MirandaM_EComm says

    LOL I love this. Ooh, I have one! Make sure you tell the audience not to dare tweet or blog anything you say, because it’s so super top secret it’s not for public consumption.Then rhyme off the same old schtick and don’t deliver on your promise to share earth-shattering, life altering information. People love that.

  4. This is funny! Great article.

  5. Love this!

  6. You forgot to be sure to have a Sun Tzu “Art of War” quote somewhere in your presentation!

  7. Avatar Molly Smith says

    Excellent visual list! Thank you for sharing your expertise.

  8. Avatar Adrienne N. Hester says

    Hilarious. I love points 8. Give the exact same presentation every time, just give the title a different name. Why go through the extra work? and 27. Make promises and then spam them. Tell the audience
    they can have a copy of your presentation if they leave a business card.
    Then spam the hell out of those emails.

    • Glad you liked it Adrienne. Re: biz card collection, I once watched a moderator say to the audience of a panel, “I’ve taken great notes of the panelists’ presentations, so if you want a copy, leave your business card”. He did this as the panelists watched all the audience members go to the moderator and leave their cards while they paid their travel and time to be at the event. That’s hustling, but it’s also pretty spammy in real life.

  9. (Stops giggling in order to write this) I think turning up at all is overrated. You’ve been invited to speak, you’ve ignored all emails about you participating, people on the panel are wondering where you are, so why bother speaking at all. (That actually happened recently. A guy just failed to respond to communications and to turn up. He won’t be speaking at THAT conference again!)

  10. Witty way of giving tips on presentations 🙂 I cannot agree with you more on #12. I recently attended a webinar where the hosts totally went off topic!

  11. Avatar Carlos Abler says

    Competing for my #1 most hated presentation maneuvers:

    – Pictures of animals and children. Breeding and owning other species are not professionally relevant, not terribly novel (as global population and the humane society can attest to) and are things we should all know how to action by now. These images are as biologically cheap gimmicks as boobs in a beer ad. If the kids and animals are doing something pertinent to the topic, then that’s great. Plus it shows you know how to work with content. Somebody had to say it.

    – Presenters who ask audiences questions they know the answers to every 10 seconds. We will never get those moments of radio silence and inaudible murmurs back.

    • I am sorry you feel that way Carlos. I’ll remove the images of Grumpy Cat immediately. Or was it Frowny Cat? Ha ha. Wait, that was on Tim Brunelle’s slides not mine 🙂 Great to see and talk with you yesterday. Congrats on the great work!

  12. Wow! Lol! Great article! Thanks for the tips all of them make so much sense. I’m not a public speaker but will be doing a lot of presentations in the future! good tips!

  13. Avatar Private investigator in Canber says

    Amazing one where you are giving hope of ray in between many confusion.

  14. Avatar John Trader says

    Nice tips Lee. The one I would add is “Make sure to always stand behind the podium and never move a muscle during the presentation.” Reason I say this is that one of the best pieces of advice I received from a graduate professor about presentation skills is to move around and don’t stay in the same place all of the time. May sound nuts, but it increases engagement, helps drive across a point and (when possible) allows you to get closer to the audience.

    • Good tip John. As a blogger of presentations, I can tell you that it can be really annoying when a speaker does this and NEVER stops so I can take a good photo LOL 🙂

  15. it is really good

  16. Thanks Lee for sharing this post! It will definitively help me in reaching out to target audience and leaving a impact on their minds. presentations form a part of my daily tasks and these pointers will do a lot of value add to my role in Synechron.

  17. Great list. I’ll add one that has to be in top-3-of-most-annoying-speaker-oh-my-God-I’m-going-to-throw-up lists, which is: Make SURE you have the ENTIRE audience REPEAT whatever inane phrase you utter, preferably every 10-15 seconds. If the audience does not repeat the phrase loudly enough, and without enough GUSTO to meet your satisfaction, be sure to CUP your HANDS behind your EARS and say “I CAN’T HEAR YOU”. Because people who attend seminars are like kindergartners at nappy time – prone to sleeping unless they PARTICIPATE in your spellbinding presentation.

  18. Nice… Jaja i hate when a speaker gives the same speach everytime… I loved this post. Thanks man