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From Lame to Fame Presentations – Don’t Blame the Audience for Your Lack of Communication


You’ve seen slides of this ilk before.

The title on the slide said something like the 3 Most Important Points to Remember about XYZ.

That was followed by

1.  Here’s the First Point

2.  Here’s the Second Point


Then instead of the Third Point, the speaker had a cartoon pasted at the bottom of the slide.


It was a cleaver cartoon and the caption along the bottom made the speaker’s third point with brilliance and humor.


But here was the problem.


The cartoon was at the bottom of the slide.  The caption with the speaker’s punch line and third point was at the bottom of the page.  Do you see where I’m going with this?

If you guessed, “I bet it was hard to read beyond the first row,” you are correct.  With the cartoon being on the bottom of the page and with the size of the cartoon being small enough to fit on the slide with points 1 and 2 above it, the caption was illegible to a large portion of the audience.


To make matters worse, the speaker started talking about the point of the cartoon without reading the caption.


A woman, a few tables back asked what the speaker what cartoon said.  The speaker either didn’t hear her question or assumed she didn’t understand the connection to his point.  He wasn’t exactly rude, but he wasn’t totally gracious either.  And he certainly didn’t seem to think the communication issue was his fault, despite the appearance of the slide.  I noticed several people exchanging glances as he addressed the woman.  It was clear I wasn’t the only one uncomfortable with how the interaction was handled.


The speaker seemed like a likable guy.  He had a nice smile.  He appeared confident in himself and knowledgeable on his subject.  But he lost credibility with the audience because he was unwilling to see himself as part of the problem.


So What Could the Speaker Have Done Instead?


Put each point on it’s own slide.  Or at the very least put the third point on its own slide.

Read the cartoon caption or ask one of the audience members in the first row to read it loudly to the rest of the audience.

Listen and not assume that he knew what the woman audience member was asking.

Read the body language of the audience.  If people are looking at each other with furrowed brows, check to see if you’re the one who’s missing something.



Karl Popper, author of Unended Quest said, “It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood.”  From my own experience, I believe that to be absolutely true.  So what can we learn from this exchange to improve our future communications?


Don’t Try to Put So Much Information on One Slide


Generally, keep to one point per slide.  That will give you more room to make your point – preferably with two or three words and a strong visual.  And audiences won’t likely have a problem follow a numbered sequence across a series of slides.


Make Up for Small Print


Don’t use small print if you can avoid it.  If you have a cartoon or drawing with small print, ask yourself if there’s a way to make the print bigger.  If the image will scale, make it as big as possible on the screen, perhaps even stretching beyond the edges of the slide.


If that doesn’t work because the image becomes too distorted, add a text box with an enlarged font on the top where it can be more clearly seen.


Or use this as an opportunity to let an audience member get involved.  Ask if there are any thespians in the house.  Ask the actor to come to the front and read the caption.  Or read it yourself.  Pause after the caption is read for people to laugh and let the message sink in.


Put Yourself in the Audience’s Seat


Arrive early to the venue and sit in the back row.  Imagine what the view will be like with people sitting in the rows in front of you.  Click through your slides while in the back of the room.  Can you read them?  If you can’t, what will you do to compensate for that?  How would you want to be treated if you were the audience member straining to see?


Watch the Audience’s Body Language


If you see people with furrowed brows, if you see people glancing at one another, if they’re trying to tell you something and you can’t clearly hear it, start with the assumption that you’ve dorked up the communications and see if you can figure out where the mismatch is.  Your audience wants you to be successful.   If you’re at all likeable, they’ll want to help you out.  Don’t get so tied up in your message that you can’t stop and listen when there are signs that there’s a disconnect.  Assume your audience is smart and is trying to help you get reconnected.   Listen to them.



The speaker in the story above was speaking to inform but also as a way to promote his company.  After watching his presentation, I’m lead to the conclusion that he’s not a good listener.  I wonder how many prospects in the audience felt the same way.


Let this be a cautionary tale.  Don’t let this happen to you.