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How to Fail Your Presentations.

November 13, 2008

This is the first post in a series I am proud to be able to say guarantees 100% results. “100%!” I hear you all say, “Are you crazy?” Well, no, in fact this is a different question but let’s continue…

How to Fail Your Presentations!


The first question you must ask yourself if you are seriously looking to fail your presentation is – why me? Why in God’s name have they asked me to present? I mean, with all the loudmouth, arrogant, power-seeking people in this company why would they decide to make me do it?

This is a good first step. No one likes public speaking, it’s stressful and humiliating and if you doubt your own legitimacy in presenting the idea, product, report, etc. you are well on the way to failure before you start.

Companies choose people to present because they also secretly want to fail.

By choosing ill-prepared and nervous employees
the company puts itself into a good position to fail. Other popular techniques companies will choose to prepare their employees for failure is to give them deadlines which are too short to seriously organize and practice efficient presentations and imposing PowerPoint slide templates which are designed for maximum boredom and minimum retention of information.

An easy equation to remember which companies use regularly is:

Minimal preparation + Badly designed PowerPoint = Maximum Boredom (Failure!)


So with your company behind you employing so many tried and true techniques which have lead to failure time and time again it’s really quite difficult not to fail. But if you are still not convinced of your full potential to completely fail your presentation, read on…

Failing a presentation means leaving your audience with little or no recollection of any of the points you have presented. Paradoxically this does not mean presenting the audience with a limited number of key points in an effort to reduce the retention of information but the exactly the opposite.

Yes, the opposite!

You must include as much information as possible presented in large blocks (sometimes called “information dumps”) and you should not be afraid to accompany this information with as many PowerPoint slides as humanly possible. It sounds crazy but it’s true.


Bullet Points – The Ordered Failure

PowerPoint is actually designed to help you fail. Copy and paste the same slide changing the information and adding as many different and disjointed points as you have time to. In the space under the title the main text is presented in a devilishly effective fast track to failure called the “bullet point”.

PowerPoint helps you to automatically create “bullet points” every time you hit enter to add new information. These so-called “bullet points” are useful tools in minimizing the retention rate through a process which lulls your audience into a state of hypnosis where you may see their eyes stay open but you can be sure at almost 100% that they aren’t retaining a single thing. Failure!

“A picture tells a thousand words”. This may be true but you know what replaces a thousand words? Two thousand words! Or three thousand!! There really is no limit to the amount of text you can copy and paste from your technical documents directly into PowerPoint. And, of course no limit to the number of bullet points you can use.


Clip Art – When Images Say Too Much

If you want to illustrate a point without putting your objective of failure into jeopardy, images can be replaced by Clip Art which accompanies heavily loaded slides perfectly without significantly raising the memory of any of the points presented in the brains of your audience.

Red and blue stick figures with question marks over their heads or strange monochrome people shaking hands thankfully don’t add any interest whatsoever to your presentation. It’s perfectly safe to illustrate some points with Clip Art and not worry about the information being retained.

Scientific tests have shown listeners have even managed to go into deep sleep cycles during presentations combining both bullet points and clip art which have failed spectacularly. Scientific tests!


Keep ‘em distracted

Distractions are a sure fire way to take away any remaining interest a studious audience might have left in your presentation. Vocal and gestural ticks and good places to start.

Repeating superfluous nonsense is useful in lowering the attention level and deflecting interest from the real information by creating easy diversions.

For example if I say “Well, come to think of it, actually, to be honest, it’s probably safe to say that…”

This doesn’t add any real substance to the presentation, is particularly inane, and will accelerate any remaining listeners to switch off. Now imagine the possibilities if I use the same phrase at the beginning of every third sentence! Or every second sentence!! You get the idea. Instant failure guaranteed.

Of course if you develop ticks when you are nervous these are great. Hair flicking, lip licking, coin jangling, pen tapping, knuckle cracking – we’ve seen them all contribute to wonderfully failed presentations.

Why? Because it’s impossible to concentrate when you have annoying ticks firing on all cylinders and deliver information at the same time.

It’s simple but true!

PowerPoint comes to the rescue again as a support for your failure by providing a range of tools all more annoying than anything you can come up with yourself.

Transitions – The Annoying Support

Transitions are fabulous ways to repel attention. Use funny sounds as the slides change and make them all different. From whistles and trumpets to animals to sounds from the world of small winged-creatures, I assure you it’s absolutely impossible to retain a single thing.

Use all of the wipes, whirls, checkers, black outs, white outs and fades on your slides as you can.
It takes a little time to make them all different but we see some of the best failures are the ones who have taken precious time away from their rehearsal phase and invested it in making all of the transitions as diverse and irritating as humanly possible.

To resume – old adages like “less is more” are for old people. More is more! More information, more bullet points, more slides, more transitions more graphs, more, more.

More of Everything = Impossible to Retain Anything

But hey, don’t take my word for it look at the founder of Microsoft himself Bill Gates using his own tools to their fullest to help him to one of the most notable failures in the world of presentations in recent years.


Bullet points a-go-go!


Clouds, arrows and logos like he can’t get enough of them!


I don’t even know what the hell this is. Fantastic! It’s impossible to even begin to understand what might be the eventual message here. Text, boxes, and headers all swimming before your eyes in a random ballet of certain eventual failure.

Of course Bill is not alone. The internet is a wonderful source of PowerPoint slides which guarantee a bored and confused audience.


What are you waiting for!

Don’t feel like you are alone. Thousands of professional people are failing stupendously every single day. In the 21st century with the internet permanently at our fingertips there is no excuse now not to fail.

One good technique for failing easily is to look at the wealth of information out there which is helping business people to present with success. Clean, simple slides designed to trick your audience into thinking of nothing but your presentation. No daydreaming, no sleeping, no failure.


Over the years I have followed such sites like Guy Kawasaki, Garr Reynolds, Seth Godin, Bert Decker, and many more who are all good resources to study because all you need to do is the exact opposite!

I know it sounds too good to be true but I assure you despite the information out there people are failing their presentations just like you will if you follow this advice.

These guys will tell you how to put together presentations which will have the interest levels at fever pitch, the retention rate at 100%, and audiences wanting to hear more. Don’t be a victim! Turn all that stuff to your advantage. Interest levels – zero, retention rates – zero, and audiences waiting to get out of the room as soon as their sleepy limbs can carry them.

So what are you waiting for? Join the crowd! Fail!

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2008 3:48 pm

    OK. I think I’ve got it. Oh. OK, one question. Can I still fail if I use massive blocks of text without bullet points? You know, like a fifteen line paragraph? And just read it, verbatim?

    Can I still fail if I do it that way? Because that’s really my favorite way to bore people into a trance.

    I once heard some famous dude and successful presenter say “No more than six words per slide! Ever!” I have to assume he meant, “No less than 600 words per slide! Ever!” Common mistake, I’m sure. 🙂

  2. GirlPie permalink
    November 15, 2008 12:38 am

    All those slides in your post made me drowsy… but that last pair, presented as they were:
    #1: 72% of workers in Japan are women.
    #2: 72%
    woke me up.
    The large font and sole focus on the “72%” in #2 did EXACTLY what my brain was doing: echoing: “holy crap — 70-effin-2?!”

    This made it so much more effective. I’ll never be able to get that stat (or the graphic of the stern business woman) out of my mind.

    So while I didn’t get what you wanted me to get (I suspect), I did get a new trick. Thanks.

    (Yeah, @TheGirlPie, same one.)

  3. Tim permalink*
    November 15, 2008 7:23 am

    @Naomi Exactly. To fail one needs to read between the lines (or listen between the words in this case). Seth was certainly converting his calculations to metric to help his international readers.

    Bullet points give the impression that every line is super important which is actually devilishly effecient in putting people to sleep. It’s subtle like over-using exclamation marks! After two you are already sick of them! See what I mean!

  4. Tim permalink*
    November 15, 2008 7:28 am

    @GirlPie Be very careful. Garr Reynold’s slides will lull you away from your objective of failing almost immediately.

    I, of course, would have written the statistic long hand accompanied by as many charts and graphs as I could find, backed up (if need be) with one of those blue clipart men with a light bulb over his head.

    At least you seem to understand where your problems are. This is a solid base to begin failing with efficiency.

  5. November 17, 2008 11:15 pm

    I can recommend Max Atkinson’s ‘Lend me your Ears’. He’s an academic who’s looked at communication with audiences and the book covers this kind of presentation stuff and explains why different approaches do and don’t work.

    Fascinating listening to Obama’s rhetoric and spotting the key pattern that he uses (triple everything, puzzles and contrasts) – and then hearing them work.

    (I’m a different Tim Coote)

  6. Tim permalink*
    November 18, 2008 7:19 am

    I have a Mini Me! Thanks for the recommendation…Tim.

  7. November 22, 2008 11:50 pm

    Great posting, Tim.
    Informative, easy to understand and very practical. 🙂

    Keep up the great blog. May you Excel Beyond Excellence!

    Warmest regards,

  8. Tim permalink*
    November 23, 2008 10:56 am

    Hey, thanks Wekie!

  9. June 20, 2009 4:32 am

    If you are ever dealt the cruel hand of receiving an effective PP presentation, you can still ensure failure by maintaining a monotone voice throughout. The keys are: Don’t get excited, don’t slow down, don’t speed up, and what ever you do don’t let the volume waiver. This takes some talent to pull off, but with practice can be accomplished.

  10. Tim permalink*
    June 20, 2009 5:40 am

    Ah, I see I’m in the presence of a connoisseur. Failing a presentation when you have all the elements for success is indeed a tricky proposition. Fortunately there are some spectacular examples of presenters snatching defeat from the jaws of victory from which we can all learn.

    Thanks for the advice!

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