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You’re not as good at presentations as you think you are

Sartre said hell is other people.

I suggest that hell is other people’s PowerPoint presentations.

We have all sat through terrible presentations, whether in real life or in online meetings. We have all seen slides with too many bullet points, and charts we cannot read. We have heard presenters simply reading their bullets points to us, or improvising because they have not rehearsed. We have seen presenters cling tightly to the lectern or turn to face the screen rather than the audience.

We all know what a bad presentation looks like. It is hell to sit through.

So why do most people do the same when it’s their turn to give a presentation?

My personal hypothesis. Very few people have seen a genuinely good presenter deliver a good presentation that they do not understand quite how bad their own are.

It’s a version of the Dunning-Kruger effect. People with low levels of presentation expertise overestimate their ability.

There are plenty of examples of good presentations to learn from. Steve Jobs might have been particularly lauded for his presentations but all the presenters in an Apple Keynote event (the latest was 5 June 2023) are excellent.

TED talks are generally excellent presentations. Search, for example, for the ones given by the late Hans Rosling.

So, what is my point? Basically, you need an objective assessment of your presentation ability rather than relying on your (cognitively biased) self-assessment.

That means getting some feedback from audience members. In some settings, such as training courses and university teaching, there is a formal mechanism for the audience to give their views. In other situations you will have to ask for feedback. However, you might find it more helpful (for you and the audience members) if you phrase it as a request for advice. How do you think I could improve my presentation in the future? leads to a positive conversation.

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