Constructive Criticism: “How Can I Say This Nicely?”

Criticism Of An Engineering Presentation
Criticism Of An Engineering Presentation

Last week I was invited to sit in on two sets of presentations by junior members of a very large telecommunication firm’s IT department. They are part of a management training program and the program’s instructors asked me to visit because they had had some guest presenters who were *really* bad. The hope was that I could provide immediate feedback for the teams that presented as well as things to avoid for the teams that had yet to present. Sounded fair enough, eh?

During the presentations I wrote notes like a madman. Ten separate engineers presented material and I filled about seven pages of a notebook with comments and ideas. To keep things brief, let me share with you the top three things that I noticed:

1. Who You Talking To?: Each and every one of the presenters spent a lot of their “stage time” with their bodies pointed towards the projection screen and actually talked to the screen instead of the audience. This happens way too often when you use PowerPoint to create an outline of you speech and end up reading it off of the screen.

Solution: The correct way to present material is to make sure that you always face your audience. The slides are there to reinforce your verbal message — you should spend no time staring at them. Instead, have a conversation with your audience and let us choose if we want to look at you or your slide.

2. Here? There? Over There?: Just where to stand was a major problem for each presenter. There was a lectern on the stage (def: a lectern is big and goes all the way down to the floor, a podium is shorter and generally sits on a table. They both hold a speaker’s notes) and nobody seemed to know what to do with it. Some stood behind it, some stood off to its side, and some completely ignored it. They all moved from behind it to in front of it and back during their presentations. The end result was that this turned out to be a distraction to everyone who was watching the presentations.

Solution:: Make a decision before you start to speak — in front of the lectern or behind it. Once you make this decision, stick with it. Neither decision is right or wrong, only alternating between the two positions is wrong because it becomes distracting.

3. Handy Hands: Hands sure are nice to have. Except when you are presenting to a group. Then the difficult question of what to do with your hands when you aren’t making a gesture comes up. Each of the 10 engineers who presented did something different with their hands: in the pockets, behind the back, crossed in front, praying that they don’t get kicked in the groin, etc. What this ended up doing is once again distracting the audience as we watched the speaker try to determine with what to do with their hands.

Solution: When not using them as a part of your speech, let your hands drop to your sides and let them dangle there. This sounds soooo easy; however, it really is quite difficult to do. If you spend time practicing talking in front of a mirror at home, you’ll be able to catch yourself doing “handy” things and can quickly put a stop to it.

Ok, that’s it for now. I’ve got much more to share. Let me know if you’re interested in learning from the faults of others and I can post it.