Why Your Presentations Are Putting People to Sleep

Did your last presentation leave your colleagues rubbing their eyes and chugging coffee? During your time at the front of the room, did your voice sound a lot like when an adult talked in the old Peanuts cartoons? Then your presentations are putting your audience to sleep—and your professional reputation is taking a hit in the process.

The ability to communicate verbally, including those seemingly hard-to-achieve presentation skills, is something employers want in employees. Even if you don’t enjoy it, your career will benefit if you become a better presenter.

There are a few simple reasons why your presentations might be putting people to sleep. Here’s what could be happening and how you can put a stop to it:

You’re bored

No presentation is more soul killing than one in which the speaker themselves isn’t interested in what they’re presenting. If you’re bored while you give your presentation, your audience will be bored too.

Even if your topic secretly doesn’t thrill you, fake it ’til you make it—act like it does so that the people in the room are more engaged by your presentation. If it’s a dull topic, spend extra time preparing a quality presentation that you’re excited by and you’re more likely to captivate your audience.

One trick is to make your presentation more interactive so it’s as much the audience’s responsibility to keep a lively conversation going. Ask people questions, devise a hands-on exercise, give a pop quiz with prizes, or break out into groups to brainstorm new ideas and solutions.


You’re boring

Some people are just not cut out for center stage. You’re shy. You’re soft spoken. You prefer to be behind the scenes. You’re not cool. Public speaking makes you nervous.

Stop it. All that negativity is self-fulfilling. The more you tell yourself those things, the more you’ll believe and become those things. Instead, tell yourself you can do it and eventually, with some work, your presentation skills will improve over time.

To start, curtail your monotone and put some pep into your speaking voice. Use vocal inflections and emphatic body language to bring energy into the room. Get psyched to give a presentation that no one can sleep through.


Your slides are ugly

PowerPoint (or Keynote or Prezi, for that matter) is just a tool. It’s up to you to use the tool well. The easiest way to boost your slides is to add interesting images that reinforce what you have to say, steering clear of tacky clip art and cheesy stock photos.

If you’re required to use your agency’s ugly PowerPoint template, do the best you can to minimize the ugly. Use fewer words on each slide. Make the font bigger. Push the limits of the template to make your slides more beautiful. Browse through Slideshare for inspiring presentations like those by Eugene Cheng, SlideComet, and the classic “You Suck At PowerPoint” by Jesse Desjardins.

Before you use bullet points, ask yourself: Do I want people to hate my presentation? If your answer is “Yes, I’m a misanthropic sadist,” then by all means use bullet points. But, if the answer is no, avoid bullet points like Neo in The Matrix.


You’re ugly

Calm down, you’re not ugly. You’re fly. But, what is unattractive in a presenter is a lack of confidence.

If you’re not confident, you can make people uncomfortable and you may lose their trust. They’ll avert their eyes from your awkwardness so they don’t need to bear witness to your discomfort. They’ll welcome any distraction, including sleep.

Exude confidence and people will be more inspired by you and what you have say. This confidence comes from being prepared and by following these tips for being a confident pubic speaker. And, believe in this mantra by Stuart Smalley, one of Al Franken’s characters from Saturday Night Live:


That daily affirmation must work—after all, he’s now a U.S. Senator.

Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and trainer. Find her on Twitter at @girardinl.


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Brenda Dennis

Thanks, timely post! I just did a presentation yesterday that had definite room for improvement. I appreciate the actionable ideas to go put some life into it for next time. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about how to approach the situation when you are the last of several presenters and not only is the audience tired and ready for lunch, but your time has gotten severely limited by your previous presenters.

Mark Hammer

The single biggest crime in presentations is presenters behaving as if they are recording a “book on tape”. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER stand at a podium and read your notes or the full content of the slides aloud. Your audience is actually literate and can read for themselves. If there is anything on the screen that needs to be shown in a manner that is hard to read from the back of the room, then make handouts. What’s on the screen will let them identify the printed material of current relevance. Even there, talk *about* that content, and do not read it.

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS give your self every opportunity to look up, out, talk to and with your audience. Even if they are only conversing with you, agreeing, or vehemently disagreeing, with you in their heads, it will keep them awake and engaged.