5 tips to help you not look like an “old fart” in your next presentation

5 tips to help you not look like an “old fart” in your next presentation

Originally published on Medium.com

We all have sat through a presentation and thought, damn this is bad. The reason that presentations are “bad” will always vary but there are a handful of techniques that I want to outline that can at least not make you look like an “old fart.”



Just to be clear, I’m not using the phrase “old fart” intending to be derogatory at all. It's a phrase that I have heard all my life used as a funny way to refer to ourselves that just says we’re a bit old fashioned or stuck in our ways. Ok, with that out of the way let's get to the tips!

1) Forcing Enthusiasm  

DON’T: If you get in front of a crowd and say “good morning!” then hear silence and then say “you all can do better than that!” - sorry but you sound like an old fart.

Your audience should have a reason to feel enthused; never force them to do this. It brings back bad memories of elementary school and makes you look, well, like the lame principal of said school.

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DO: Give your audience a reason to feel engaged and enthused with you. There are a myriad of tricks to do this. Start with a well told joke, tell a short personal story. Do anything but force them to fake enthusiasm for you. No adult (or child) enjoys being told to be enthusiastic. This often shuts people down and increases the chance they’ll have a negative view of you from the first 2 sentences that come out of your mouth.

FURTHER READING: Talk Like Ted will help you figure out how to open your talk with techniques like jokes, a prop, or a short personal story to help engage your audience.

2) Yes to Slides, no to Powerpoint

DON’T: It’s true that Powerpoint lead the way for 30+ years, and for a time it was good. But as soon as Google slides came about many of us converted. Slides has a lot of benefits over Powerpoint (which i'll summarize in the “do” section) but it’s also clear that it is advertised to a very different audiences. In the office I have worked in (tech, startups, web development) if you came in with a Powerpoint presentation it was seen as an indicator that you are not up to date on current technology. Therefore my advice is if you choose to not switch to Google Slides that you DON’T pull up your Powerpoint in front of the audience. Weather you like it or not Powerpoint can be a silent indicator to your audience that your skillset might remain in the past.

Your audience, especially if it is a product or technology related talk, wants to feel as though you are a wealth of knowledge they can trust, and one way to surely kill that trust is to use a tool that is (very) dated.

I understand that some companies with security concerns do not allow the use of cloud services like Google slides. So in this case you must use Powerpoint so I advice just make it a PDF or hide the program well when you are screen sharing.

DO: When Google Slides hit the scene in 2014 it took a minute for people to adopt it but once we all realized we could collaborate and edit together in real time on a document it was bye bye to Powerpoint. We could get things done so much faster because we no longer had to save the Powerpoint file and email it to a colleague to “take a look.” Now we can tag them in it and collaborate in real time.

I do understand that Microsoft has since added this feature but they we’re already so far in the grave it was over for them.

FURTHER READING: Read about the pros and cons in this article about Powerpoint vs Google slides. There is another article that takes the opposite approach; boasts that Powerpoint is the better platform. But it should be mentioned that this article makes this case case due to things like file conversion, font support, animations, and embedding of video. But I argue that one can easily find a work around for all of these points and some of these points are not really required at all in a presentation (complex animations are kinda overrated in this context). The main point still stands though, Powerpoint does not allow for easy collaboration and NOT FREE. So pick a side.

This is a sticker we made circa 2015 when I worked at Webonise, a digital agency specializing in web and mobile apps. Thanks for the graphic @danasmith!

This is a sticker we made circa 2015 when I worked at Webonise, a digital agency specializing in web and mobile apps. Thanks for the graphic @danasmith!

3) Unnatural Participation

DON’T:  Ask a series of silly questions and make people raise their hands. SUPER DON’T DO THIS: When your audience doesn’t want to participate in your hand poll, point out each one of them and ask them to vote or raise their hand. Similar to the “forced enthusiasm” example above this just annoys your audience, and makes them feel like they are in grade school again being called out in front of the class.

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DO: If you feel audience participation is valuable to your presentation, there are a few techniques you can take advantage of. The first of which is pretty basic; make sure your content and your message is engaging. If you learn the art of speaking effectively (I’ll reference books below) then when you want to ask “raise your hand” style questions people will want participate.

The second technique can only really be done with smaller groups and you might find that people resist at first but I'll tell you from experience, it works. IMPROV warm up techniques (links below) can break down awkward barriers and help your audience get in sync with not only you but everyone else in the room. Afterwards they often feel more relaxed having done something break the ice.

FURTHER READING: The book I can recommend to help with this issue is To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink. This book will show you effective styles to win the trust of your audience.

The two improv techniques that will work well for this are embrace the ensamble and follow the follower. It’s gonna feel awkward at first but I’m telling you - this stuff really helps your group relax before your talk and want to engage with you and the group more because they are now in “sync.”

4) “You’re too young to remember but…”

DON’T: Continually remind the audience of your age or their age. Its tolerable if you want to do it once but NEVER do it more than once. It gets very annoying to continually bring up age and will actually have the younger people in your audience start to pull away. You might think its cute but its not. It often feels condescending.

DO: Add context to what you are using as the example that might be from the past. If you want to talk about the original Blade Runner movie for example - don’t start by calling out all the young people in the room saying “you’re too young to remember this…” Instead mention the movie and then say “in case you are not familiar with the film…” then a brief synopsis on what it is and relate it to what you are about to talk about.

FURTHER READING: I wasn't able to find a lot of resources on this specific topic but what I can offer is this: I have done this to others and had it done to me and it never really feels good afterward. My advice is watch people’s visual cues, if you want to call out age see how they respond. I have found more often than not it makes others uncomfortable and can be a much more enjoyable conversation if you explain the reference rather than shame someone for not knowing it because they're “too young.”

5) Hate on things you didn’t take the time to understand

DON’T: Say you dislike a popular site/product/app BUT you haven't actually tried it. I recently attended a presentation where the following was stated “How many iPhone users in the room? [lots of hands raised] Ugh, well I love Android because I like to get work done.”

It's not uncommon to have people to hate on Android, Apple, Snapchat, NYC, etc in presentations and in normal conversations but if you ask them if they ever tried it more times than not they have never tried it or only did for one day.

If you can’t intelligently speak to the pros and cons of the site/product/app you are hating on please don’t. This conveys to the audience that you’re not a credible source of knowledge and increases distrust.

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DO: If you're going to call out people for liking what you dislike, you better either have a strong, credible argument OR be a comedian.

If you want to hate on a mobile device, do your homework! Try the other side, not for a day, for a month. I have done this several times and have found there are pros and cons I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

This also goes for hating on cities, websites, apps… anything really. Make sure you have really used the site/app or visited the city. It drives me insane that people will get in front of a NYC crowd and hate on NYC, then when you ask where they have been they say “Times Square.” Well no shit you hate it, that is the worst spot!

Ok I could tangent on this so i'm gonna stop myself. :)

FURTHER READING: I don’t have a direct resource for this but I was reminded of a book I completed recently called Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America by Jeff Ryan. This book will introduce you to the ups and downs of how a small team of people we’re able to take a playing card company (yes Nintendo was a playing card company) into one of the largest video game companies in the world. All by being curious and exploring new technology without question. Constant attention to the fringes of technology helped catapult Nintendo to becoming the household name it is today.

In conclusion

With these five tips I think we can all be more conscious of how we present to an audience to not sound like an old fart. And even if you choose to still do the things I have mentioned not to do, at least now you know how it could be perceived.

My hope is that we can all create a more effective presentations so that your message can better impact your audience.


Erin Essex is a UX designer, blogger, and creative that enjoys exploring ways to help grow herself and others.

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