by Theodore May

7 things you should never, ever say when giving a presentation

Feb 12, 2018
IT LeadershipIT SkillsTechnology Industry

Common expressions that instantly undermine all your efforts.

faces with speech balloons floating above
Credit: Thinkstock

A presentation does not begin in silence. It’s not drawn upon a blank slate.  A presentation is born into a world of noise. 

There’s ambient noise in the room. Most slides are visually noisy. The head of every member of the audience is filled with noise: afterthoughts from the last meeting; mental reviews of emails unsent; thinking ahead to what follows this meeting; and small crises on the home front. 

The task of a presenter is to reduce and cut through this noise. First and foremost, that means speaking clearly and with precision.

I’ve addressed the challenges presented by a heavy reliance on filler words in “Leaving ah, um and uh behind.” Even more egregious is the use of a number of words and phrases that seem to pop up again and again, especially in presentations delivered by technologists. This may be because of a developer or engineer’s lack of practice in public speaking, or their giving primacy to diligent coding over word choice. We place a premium on writing clean and efficient (if not “elegant”) code, but that premium does not always extend to speaking well.

Here are a few of the words and phrases that you should NEVER say in a presentation. They have little intrinsic value and add to the noise rather than reducing it.

1. Whatever

This word often appears as the speaker gets lost in his or her own argument. This single word signals defeat and is capable of dismissing an entire presentation. It’s to be avoided, as is its sibling, “and whatnot.”  When the speaker has run out of examples (usually after giving a single example,) embellishing with “and whatnot” reveals the speaker to be jejune.

2. Now I want to talk about…

We don’t want to talk “about” things in our presentation. Our goal is not to verbally circumnavigate an idea. It’s to present key insights, essential information and data, with clear objectives; directly and with precision. Talking “about” something is ultimately passive. What you are striving for is active engagement. And you do not “want” to present something, simply do it!

3. You know as well as I do…

Really? What if the audience knows better than you do? If they already know it, are you sure you need to repeat it? Don’t condescend to or bully your audience. You also don’t want to alienate the 2-3 members of the audience who may not know this. Try “As many of you may know…”

4. This slide is kind of hard to see…

Fix it or get rid of it.

5. I alluded to this earlier…

We don’t allude to or hint at things in a presentation. This isn’t a magic show. Speaking with distinction and conviction, with a mind to presenting information that the audience needs to make decisions and do their job, is not furthered by alluding to things.

6. Here are some of the financials…

What happened to the rest of the financials?  What are you not showing us? 

7. Sorry

When a competitive skater slips on the ice during a routine, they don’t apologize to the audience. They pick themselves up as quickly as possible and soldier on. You can save any apologies — if you think they are absolutely warranted — for the end. Don’t waste a nanosecond of your presentation on “sorry.”

They sound innocent, but these words and phrases can damage your presentation. Run them together, “Whatever. Now I want to talk about something that you know as well as I do and while this slide is kind of hard to see, I alluded to it earlier. These are some of the financials. Sorry.”  You can easily see that this is not the kind of presenter you want to be or the kind of presentation you want to give. It’s all noise,