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Guide on the Side - Twelve Sure Fire Ways to Torpedo Your Presentations

By Marie Wallace, Published on July 31, 2001

Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O'Melveny & Myers. She is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries' highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute's programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms "Life in Progress," which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art.  She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her "free" time to various non-profit and civic activities.

 

Torpedoes are usually used in naval warfare but recently I discovered another application when I attended over 25 presentations in one week as a member of six different audiences. The speakers involved represented a variety of professions and spoke in an assortment of formats: public hearings, association meetings, and continuing education programs.

Most of the speakers torpedoed their own presentations using the same simple techniques. It was as if they all attended the Torpedo Alley Academy of Presentations. Although a few of the presenters were highly creative, delightfully direct, and as persuasive as a top notch litigator, these speakers were clearly in the minority.

Assuming that my experience is representative and since we live in a democracy where the majority rules, it occurs to me that the minority of effective speakers, who avoid torpedo techniques, may want some affirmative action so they too can alienate their audiences and join the status quo. If you are one of the many who have not learned presentation self-sabotage, here are twelve easy ways to do it. One or two will be effective but if you can manage to use them all, your audience is sure to be "dead in the water."

1. Speak in a monotone. Avoid showing enthusiasm or emotion. An easy way is use presentation software to "bulletize" your content and project it on slides. This provides an opportunity to read (changing your voice from conversational to a drone) from the screens. If you dim the lights, you can disappear and leave the audience with your disembodied voice.

2.  Avoid making eye contact with the audience. Look at your notes, the ceiling or your slides. If you turn your back on the audience to read from the slides, the audience will not be able to see or hear you.

3. Stand in front of the screen so a major part of the audience cannot see the slides. Combine this with Items 1 and 2 to thoroughly frustrate the audience.

4. Use at least four different fonts on each slide and remember to use point sizes that are too small to read at the distance the audience will be sitting. Don't forget to make the numbers on charts and graphs small too. Use a lot of punctuation for a more cluttered look. To make any important points stand out, use caps, bold and underline together and then you might consider shadows, texture or animation.

5. Pack in as much text on each slide as you can. Sentences are better than single words, phrases or graphics. Long quotations are best and lend themselves to Items 1 and 2 as you read the quote.

6. Use color combinations with low contrast on your slides to insure that the text is difficult to read. Pale orange on a yellow background is a good choice. You can make pie charts difficult to interpret as well by using closely related hues such as dark pink and red. Jackson Pollock is a good model to follow to add color designs to your slides.

7. Use clip art to fill in any blank space on your slides. Remember that the function of graphics is to embellish not to communicate. It is best when the clips reiterate your words, such as dollar signs when the word "budget" appears. If you print your screens to create a handout, you can express quadruple redundancy: the screen word, the spoken word, the written word in the handout, and the graphic expression.

8. Keep the audience guessing what your objective is and how you are going to approach your topic. Start off immediately with a dump of facts. If you have main points, take care to hide them under an avalanche of detail so they can't tell the cars from the gridlock. Try not to reveal your point of view either.

9. Organize your information around your interests rather than what the audience wants to know. Completely ignore the audience's knowledge level and interests. Under no circumstances, provide for audience interaction. Asking the audience questions makes it appear as if you need help.

10. Wait to test your equipment until it is time to start. This allows you to demonstrate your dexterity with technology. Even after you get the equipment working, spend more time testing to further delay the start time. Audiences love to watch speakers tinker with their equipment. One piece of equipment you should never test in advance is the microphone. You might discover it is not on and that you need to use it.

11. Do not bother with a handout but if one is required be sure to provide the audience with the most savory items (web site addresses, legal citations, financial data or numerical trends) verbally rather than in the handout. This increases the likelihood of the audience making errors and requesting you to repeat the information.

12. Pay no heed to your time limits. Continue until you have covered your material as you outlined on your slides. If you get a late start (see Item 10 for a good technique), you are still entitled to your full time allotment. After all, you are more important than speakers scheduled after you or the audience's later plans.

With a little practice and these simple techniques, you too can effectively bomb before any audience and join the detritus of torpedoed presentations in the briny deep.