Although this blog is supposed to be about writing and media relations, recent experiences make it necessary to comment on how people conduct themselves in front of an audience.

I get to sit through a great many presentations at trade shows and events. The general quality of presentation is low despite the fact that many of the speakers do have valuable content to relay. Here are some of the common issues:

Mumbling: So many speakers just mumble along reciting what is on their slides. They display lots of bullet points on their PowerPoint for the audience to see and then what do they do? They just read them out. To make matters worse, they don’t look at the audience. Instead, they look at their laptop or the screen and repeat what is written there. They often cap it off with a monotone delivery that can really send you to sleep.

Safety NOT First: A recent speaker had ten minutes to get his message across. He spent five of them talking about safety. Now safety is important. Vitally so. But it is an internal matter. If you produce bolts, you don’t spend a precious window to a large audience talking about how safe your bolting processes are, how many hours of accident-free bolt production you manage, or the best practices you employ to keep your workers safe. Yet this speaker did just that. I don’t even remember what his company produced. But I do remember his sermon on safety.  I suspect his company got slammed by the Office of Safety and Health Occupational (OSHA) a year or two back for some workplace tragedy or terrible accident. That made it a major priority within the company to ensure that should never happen again. Understandable. But it is NOT what your message should be to any audience except those within the company, or to a safety conference. I bring this up as this is not the first time I have come across this safety briefing phenomenon. At big engineering conferences, I frequently hear that their corporate priority is safety. No, it is not. The priority is to sell and deliver products and services to customers. Safety should be a given – a part of corporate responsibility for its own people. But speakers should skip it at conferences.

Bobbing Billy: Another interesting manifestation is the bobbing head. The speaker has most of his/her attention on the laptop and once every 30 seconds, their head pops up for a brief moment before diving back into the laptop. This must be infuriating for photographers. I took 100 shots of one speaker and 98 had his head down. Please. Look at the audience.

Heavy accents: speakers from Asian and Arabic countries often demonstrate an excellent English vocabulary. But they can spoil their talks due to a heavy accent. The point of the presentation is to communicate. Yet I see this time and time again: A native English speaker (presumably from a regional office of the company) will introduce a superior from head office in some foreign land. Status seems to play into this. The big boss wants the glory. He stands up, limps his way through the presentation and doesn’t get his point across. High value content gets lost in poor diction and pronunciation. Meanwhile, the local rep could have done a far better job due to his command of spoken English. Lesson learned: Let the locals do the talking. I’m sure this works the other way when English speakers go overseas to talk in front of an audience that speaks little or no English. It’s probably better to walk a local rep through your presentation, let them translate it and leave them to put it across to the audience.

Attitude: For some reason, most engineering or IT talks seem to be put across in a conservative tone.  I suppose the idea is to lend sufficient gravity and dignity to the talk so that it will be taken seriously. But an hour of that attitude is too much. And in any case, most speakers slide down into boredom or disinterest after a few minutes. A kind of stultified haze descends over the audience. How about injecting a little interest into the proceedings? Maybe a little humor or even some enthusiasm? Passionate speakers engage the audience, retain their attention and get their point across far better than those in monotony.


Drill your speech through several times before giving it.  Gain so much comfort with your slides that you can do most of your talk without referring to them.

Look at the audience frequently, and for more than a millisecond at a time, during the presentation. Talk to them, not the screen or your laptop.

Inject some life into your presentation with some interest, passion or humor.

Drew Robb