Coding Horror

programming and human factors

How Not to Give a Presentation

I hold speakers to relatively high standards. They get paid to present to large groups because they're ostensibly good communicators. And I cannot believe the beginner mistakes some of the speakers are making here at VSLive.

Based on my experiences over the last two days, here are a few sure-fire ways not to give a presentation:

  1. Begin by establishing how impressive you are. Make sure we know all about your accomplishments and any books you've written. Be sure to plug your company and/or website. After all, this presentation is about you.

  2. Present a detailed presentation agenda. Before you can get to any content at all, you must dutifully itemize the table of contents! You know how people love reading the table of contents. It builds suspense. It's exciting. It keeps the audience on the edges of their seats, wondering "when will I actually see any content in this presentation"?

  3. Every slide should be absolutely jam-packed with information. Use as many bullet points and words on your slides as possible. Feel free to slap a few helpful URLs in there, too. If you can't fit it all on one slide, try a smaller font.

    Sample slide, blurred to protect the guilty

  4. Explain everything with bullet points. Don't show the audience. Tell them. Avoid pictures or, even worse, actual demonstrations. Feel free to use several slides to properly explain things.

  5. Read every word on your slides. Audiences can't read. It's your responsibility to do all the reading for them. But don't waste their time with a bunch of elaboration. Be succinct. Say exactly what is on each slide, then move on to the next slide.

  6. If you make a mistake or something goes wrong, take a few minutes to fix it. The audience can wait. While you're fixing things up, try that NASCAR joke again. It's hilarious.

  7. Use the highest possible desktop resolution. Show off your laptop's new widescreen LCD. Besides, limited resolutions and large fonts are childish and unprofessional.

  8. Summarize everything at the end. Audiences are notoriously forgetful. Spend the last few minutes patiently recapping everything they just saw.

  9. If you run out of time at the end of your session, keep going. The audience paid good money to see your presentation, so make sure they see it all. Your time is important.

  10. Don't take any questions. The content and quality of your presentation speaks for itself.

This stuff would be funny if it wasn't happening every single day. Death by PowerPoint, indeed.

Written by Jeff Atwood

Indoor enthusiast. Co-founder of Stack Exchange and Discourse. Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Find me here: