Bad Manners = Bad Presentation

You’ve prepped and practiced, and now it’s time for the big presentation. But if something goes wrong and you lose your cool, you’ll lose the audience, too. Modern Manners Guy has 3 proper presentation tips

Richie Frieman,
May 27, 2012
Episode #203

Bad Manners = Bad Presentation

Last week, a colleague of mine had to give a presentation that he spent 5 weeks preparing. On paper, he had everything he needed; charts, stats, facts, goals, jokes, you name it. However, when it came time to actually give the presentation, things did not go quite as planned…Okay, they went awful. Beyond awful. It was as if “awful” had an arch enemy whose power it was to make things even worse, and this was it.  I really felt bad for him. So, while he spent 20 minutes improperly presenting his pitch, I spent the time praying for the power to go out, the fire alarm to be pulled, or anything else that would make this disaster stop. But it didn’t.

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Improper Presenters

My fellow Quick and Dirty Tips host, The Public Speaker, is hands down the go-to person for help in presenting. I’m sure she would agree with me that when things are going south in a presentation, you can’t lose your manners. Such was the case with my colleague. Since I couldn’t help him in that moment, I figured his epic debacle would be the perfect topic for my next Modern Manners Guy episode. What can I say, I felt inspired!

So before you get ready to step up to the podium, check out my top 3 Quick and Dirty Tips for presentation etiquette:

Tip #1 – Keeping Cool is Underrated  

I’ve seen countless movies where con-men remain slick and cool under the harshest of circumstances. Even when they are cornered with no place to go, they never break a sweat. Granted this is fiction, but you can’t help but get caught up with how easy some people can make stress appear.

Take my colleague for example – he is a bright guy and pretty confident, yet for whatever reason, after one of his slides went missing during his presentation, he simply lost it in front of the crowd. This small hiccup in the plan wasn’t a make or break situation, but he let it get to him. Once he saw the slide was missing, his eyebrows raised, his hands balled into fists and he muttered, “Damnit Steve!” loud enough for people in the audience to hear. Steve is…er…was his intern. His job was to compile the presentation properly, but now I’m sure he is compiling burgers at the local fast food joint. After the slide snafu, my colleague was furious and couldn’t shake it off. He let his frustration show for the entire presentation.

This is a situation where someone was not as prepared as they thought (or wanted to be) and the littlest thing caused them to lose focus. One small slide will not kill a presentation – or it shouldn’t anyway, if you know your stuff. In any case, it’s pretty rude to curse or throw someone under the bus while all eyes are on you. Yes, this presentation is important to you and yes, it means a business deal, but confidence and cool will always prevail. If something goes wrong, you have to be able to cope with it on the spot. For example, if a slide or an idea was left out or accidentally missing, simply circle back to it at the end with something like, “One more item that didn’t make it into the slideshow but that I felt was important is…” No one will know that it wasn’t meant to be this way and you won’t look like a frantic amateur.

Tip #2 – Stay On Topic

As many successful presenters will tell you, using personal stories to emphasize a point is key to making a more natural connection with the audience. I saw one presenter who spoke about mobile technology and described how it has changed over the years through his own experiences with technology. He even talked about his old cell phone from 1999 as an example. This is a very good technique.

However, some people tend to go so far off topic that they turn the presentation into a one-man (or woman) show about their life. I’ve actually witnessed people take 20-minute detours from their main topic to talk about how they backpacked through Europe, or met Bill Gates, or got their umpteenth degree at Harvard. Come on! Yes, these stories are great, but if they have little to no bearing on your presentation, they will sound as though you are bragging and you will lose people. Oh, and it’s rude! Trust me, if people sense that you are trying to brag about or embellish your life, they pick up on it quickly. I saw one woman giving a presentation on life insurance at which she inexplicably spent 10 minutes talking about her elevator ride with George Clooney. Great story…but I’m pretty sure it never happened the way she told it and I’m very sure it had absolutely nothing to do with life insurance.

When talking to anyone – let alone a room full of people – it’s rude to talk about yourself. Unless the topic of the presentation is actually you, anything that brings the presentation back to boasting about your life is highly improper. Take the woman I just mentioned. She said she was in an elevator with George Clooney, which certainly “could” happen. But that’s not the point. While the story was amusing, it had nothing to do with the presentation and the crowd picked up on that. I watched my fellow listeners look lost and tune out during her speech. This is an example of how going off topic is not only bad for your presentation, but also shows a lack of concern for other people’s time. Highly unmannerly.

Tip #3 – Time is of the Essence

I’ll never forget the episode of Seinfeld in which George was trying to be funny at office meetings, but it kept blowing up in his face. He’d say a killer joke, everyone would laugh, and thinking they enjoyed his sense of humor, he would follow up with another joke, only for it to fall short. So, he came upon an idea: He’d say a joke, make them laugh, and leave the room right away, making it appear as though he went out on a high note.

This is a great tactic. Knowing when to stop is the best way to avoid putting your foot in your mouth. But unless you tell jokes for a living, it’s hard to have a joke-filled presentation with all “A material.” In fact, if you try to be funny, and you aren’t, that is the best way to kill your presentation.

Knowing when to wrap up is about having respect for your audience. If you are taking 20 minutes of their time, and go over, people will not appreciate it. Everyone is on a clock these days, and time is money – so don’t think your views should take precedence over their time. I know that last slide of your cat sitting on your keyboard is hilarious, but if you’re running late, Kitty will have to wait another day to make her debut. Respecting people’s time is a sign of class and professionalism. It shows that you understand they have things to do, other than listen to you. So, don’t go over, no matter how funny you think you are, how great the presentation is going, or how amazing your last slide may be. End on a high note and leave them wanting more.

Do you have a great story about a presentation fiasco?

Post all the details in the comment section below. As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Check out my Modern Manners Guy Facebook page, follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT. And of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

Presentation image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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