Avoiding Death by PowerPoint (and other Presentation Arts)


With either of those word pairings, you can set yourself off on the right foot for your next presentation. But, with the wrong opening, you can kill it with equal levels of ease.

We’ve all been there. It’s the presentation from Hades. The speaker seems a bit confused and ducks behind the podium or refuses to turn on his/her web camera. At that point, everyone knows the downhill slide of the fatal presentation is officially underway.


Death on the Dais

Whether the dais is real or virtual, it’s relatively easy to die there. Five ways to kill a presentation happen within the first five minutes of any presentation opening:

  • Death by Technology
  • Death by Disorientation
  • Death by Diffidence
  • Death by Recitation
  • Death by Dullness

You probably recognize at least one or two of the five deaths, and for each, you need to become the master of avoidance strategies.



You are an expert. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be presenting to a crowd, but if you haven’t mastered the tech, you’re going to appear insecure and unsure at a time when you’re trying to project true mastery of the subject matter.

You may be thinking, “But, Carl, there should be someone there to help me! I shouldn’t be doing their job for them.”

Wouldn’t that be lovely? Alas, in many cases, the speaker is actually more adept with technology than the support team. First and foremost, know what technology will support your presentation. For web presentations, AdobeConnect, WebEx, GoToWebinar, GoToMeeting, and Zoom all have their own individual quirks. Want to get a feel for which one to use? Talk to a salesperson at any of these providers and ask for a comprehensive demo. Ask them all the questions you need to ask and have a list of concerns prepared. They’ll provide support for their own product like no-one else.

If you’re going to be a live setting, plan for at least a 30-minute window to test everything out. For the lavaliere microphone, it should be clipped on the center of your blouse or shirt about four inches below your chin (with your head held erect). While you may be offered a “clicker” to advance your slides, be sure you know where the actual computer is and how to advance slides without remote support. You never know what may happen!



Now that you’re all set, you are 30 seconds away from glory…or fiasco. Depending upon your reference literature, you have between ten and thirty seconds to get any audience to appreciate and respect you. That’s it. In under a minute, you are a hero or goat (and no, I don’t mean “greatest of all time”).

Because you have less than half a minute, you should rehearse. Not once. Not twice. Shoot for 15 to 30 rehearsals of the intro. You can do this in the comfort of your car on your way to the venue, but better yet to have started practicing a week prior. You need that time to build confidence and nuance. And, even though you’ve rehearsed the opening seconds dozens of times, you’ll still be inventing a new opening when you’re delivering the remarks for the first time. If you know those words and how you’ll deliver them, you have a chance to look far more relaxed as you march through the content.



You are sharing insight! People came into your presentation, briefing, or meeting optimistic that you will succeed. They want you to “wow” them. This is not a time for apologies and a lack of self-confidence. It’s a time for gratitude and energy.

Thank them! Tell them why the subject matter matters, and remind them of it throughout! You are still grateful. The subject matter still matters. It shouldn’t feel forced. It shouldn’t leave you doubtful. You have one of the greatest gifts from your audience. Their time.



You learned to read in elementary school. So did your audience, and they can read silently at more than TWICE the speed that you can read aloud. So, if you’re tempted to read your slides, don’t. By the time you’ve clicked to the slide, and read the first two words, they’ve absorbed it. If you’re a natural-born reader, my best advice is to just tell yourself to back off. There are tricks; however, if you just cannot help yourself.

  • Read a single word. Give that one word on the slide power. Make it the focal point. Make your audience see that one word differently than they saw it before. Can’t find the power? Consider…
  • Turn the bullets into a story. Share names, backgrounds, cultural norms, and other information. Everything you see here actually relates to a co-worker of mine from years ago. Her name was Freda…
  • Bring the audience into the slide. Look here at this third bullet. Who here has actually dealt with that? Do you mind sharing how it happened to you?
  • Kill the slide. Learn how to black out the presentation temporarily. If the slide is too alluring and you really want to read it, just shut it off for a minute. Most people will believe you’re doing this for effect. They’re right. It changes the focus of the room and keeps the attention where it belongs.



You are not dull. Really. Even if you have convinced yourself that you are dry as toast, dull as dishwater, and the presenting ultimate snooze-fest…you’re not. Here are some quick turns on how to make yourself compelling:

  • Vocal tone and inflection. Use the full range of your voice. Don’t be afraid of talking like Uncle Bob if his vocal tone would better serve an element of the subject matter.
  • MOVE! Even in virtual settings, you need to maneuver around the dais. Look off-stage or off-camera. Create a fictional world just inches out of the audience’s sight.
  • Your smile gives people the sense that you’re having a good time, and they should be as well. Struggle with that, and they’re going to struggle with granting you likeability.
  • Once you identify a couple of people in your audience, make them the characters in your stories. You may recall that Edwina here said she really wanted to lead that project. Just suppose she told her boss, let’s call him Marty, that she…. The entire time you’re talking about Edwina, she’s the center of the presentation universe. For you? The pressure is off briefly. For her? She carries the aura of celebrity.

Virtual or live, it’s stagecraft. It’s a matter of building an environment where people are actually anxious for insight and engagement. They’re looking for insight. You have the honor of providing it for them. Seize that honor.

Want to learn more on avoiding what I call Death by Powerpoint? Watch my on-demand webinar, Winning Presentation Skills. It’s eligible for 1 PMI® PDU in the Leadership category of the Talent Triangle.


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Written by Carl Pritchard

Carl Pritchard, PMP®, PMI-RMP® is the author of seven project management texts, and co-produced “The Audio PMP Prep: Conversations on Passing the PMP® Exam” with Bruce Falk. He is the U.S. Correspondent for the British Project Management Magazine, “Project Manager Today” and serves on the board of directors for ProjectConnections.com

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  1. Mustafa, it’s all about leading by example. If you’re as good as you can be, others will ultimately want to emulate you.

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