My veg patch tells you why your presentation training didn’t work.

(Bit of a ranty post, this one!)

I have a small patch.

That’s not a sexual euphormism – I’m talking vegetables here! It’s not the best little veg patch in the world, but it’s mine. And I like it. I have to admit I like it less today because I’ve just spent a bit of back-breaking time digging it over in an attempt to be weed-free and ready for planting. (Yes, yes, I know – I’m at the wrong time of year. So sue me, it’s my only free time!)

Cleaning is bad.

My philosophy – with thanks to lookmamaloves.files.wordpress

As I dug, I mused the fact that I was actually re-digging. I’d dug over once and removed the weeds but stubborn little buggers had grown back. (I’m minded about that famous joke about cleaning the house and it not being worth it because you’ve just got to do it again next year). And then I got to wondering why the weeds came back. They came back for two reasons.

Firstly, weeds are opportunists and grow faster than the plants we want. And secondly I left the soil free and clear for them: I hadn’t put anything there to replace them. So what the hell did I expect?

So it is with your presentations training – or almost any training for that matter. There’s no point in someone telling you not to do X, or Y, or Z unless they do two other things as well – specifically give you something to put in their place (the plants you want) and tell you how to keep the bad habits away until the new things have become established (hoe-ing to keep the weeds down).

It’s one of my bug-bears about hopelessly naive things I’ve heard from places like ToastMaster or even the Professional Speaking Association or my fellow trainers. Simply saying “Don’t say ‘um’ or ‘err'” doesn’t help. People say ‘err’ because they don’t know what else to do. So you need to tell them, show them, help them, to find other things to do or say instead.

“I think I’ll stand in front of my audience and say Errr so that I look like a fool!” said no one, ever.

Similarly there’s no point in just saying ‘Use fewer words on your slides” unless your training also shows people how to do other things instead. And helps them do it.


And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the zillions of lists of hints and tips of “How to make better presentations” which scatter the internet like dead flies simply don’t work.

You’re better off having a cup of tea instead, and thinking about what you can do to make your presentations better instead of wasting your time reading stuff like that (this?). Seriously how can you not laugh at a bullet-pointed list of tips which says

  • Don’t use bullet points

I’ll get off my soap box now before my blood pressure goes any higher :)

Simon is one of the UK's most highly regarded presentation skills trainers and professional speakers in the fields of presenting, confidence and emotional resilience.