The seven worst presentations of all time and why they went wrong

There is a multitude of advice out there telling you how to do an excellent presentation. Articles like this one are always telling us what techniques and advice can create a fantastic business pitch or inspiring speech. Public speaking can be daunting, but companies find good presentations essential and often, there is not much patience for unnecessary mistakes. After all, you don’t want anything to distract the audience from your message.

However, sometimes the best way to know to do a good presentation is by looking at a bad one. Know what to do by knowing what not to do! We have collected some real life examples, in order to analyze and learn lessons of how to avoid the bad presentation trap. So, here is our list of the five worst presentations of all time – and why they went wrong.

1. Lung Cancer Surgery PowerPoint

Kshivets O. Lung Cancer Surgery from Oleg Kshivets

Most of us have had to sit through some bad PowerPoints during our lives. They can make or break a presentation. Denying the most basic rules of good one can be detrimental. This PowerPoint on Lung Cancer Surgery does just that, ignoring the fundamental guidelines for a successful presentation. Large blocks of text, overload of graphs, a plan and boring format: it has it all.

Charts are usually an excellent way to visualize a concept. They can captivate the audience and provide a visual aid, which is an key factor of great presentations. However, another core concept is simplicity. This PowerPoint takes the visual aids a step too far, overloading the presentation with mind numbing statistical graphs. Alternatively, they attempt to make it as complex as possible.

One slide even includes 100 charts on a single slide. Stuffing a slide full of information is never a good idea. But that they filled it with so many images side by side so the audience can’t even grasp one singularly? That is definitely what clinches this presentation as one of the worst of all time.

The lesson from this presentation: Use visual aids sparingly and effectively!

2. Dragon’s Den Pitch by Gayle Blanchflower

PowerPoints make a huge impact on the value of a presentation, but they are not the only factor. The skills of the speaker can also make a lasting impact, whether that is positive or negative. This episode of Dragon’s Den introduces Gayle Blanchflower and her product of disposable outdoor furniture. Nobody wants to give a bad presentation, and the impact of one is only amplified when shown on television. Due to poor speaking skills and the public nature of the presentation, her pitch is one of the worst of all time.

One of the most important things to remember in any presentation is that you sell yourself as much as you sell your product, concept or proposal. However, Gayle seems to make no attempt to win over her listeners. She gives defensive and unprofessional answers that dismiss her role as a businessperson. We struggle to get a sense of her personality and passion. Ultimately, because they cannot connect with her, they cannot invest in her product.

People like the personal touch; this is why storytelling is a popular way of presenting. There is a thin line between confidence and arrogance. It seems that Gayle’s desire not to be intimidated caused her to become defensive and closed off. Remember: you are not against your audience. Instead, work with them, engage and listen to what they have to say. After all, when you invest in the product, you invest in the person.

The lesson from this presentation: be personal and passionate about your product!

3. The Call to Learn by Clifford Stoll

We all love a good TED Talk. They are inspiring, entertaining, engaging and usually full of an addictive energy from the speaker. But once again, The Call to Learn by Clifford Stoll takes a good thing too far. As he talks about his life as a scientist and passion of always learning something new, his energy on stage is certainly captivating. However, his style is also frantic and distracting, relaying a stream of consciousness that’s hard to follow.

Rather than using a PowerPoint presentation, Stoll prefers to engage with props scattered around the stage. He even performs a live science experiment. Although this is an original and creative technique, by using slides, his audience might have had a better idea of what he is talking about exactly. His full throttle energy is almost wasted on the fact that he has no clear structure and no clear point. Perhaps it would have been better to channel such energy through a more defined format by collecting his ideas and placing them beneath comprehensible headings.

One of the top tips for a great presentation is to focus on the needs of the audience. However, Stoll’s talk is more about his own wacky personality than the content of the presentation. You should be speaking for your audience, not for yourself. By lacking focus, it comes across as quite a self-indulgent talk about his own thoughts and ideas, but without passing on anything useful. The result is that the audience is left slightly baffled by the bizarre experience. His original methods might be great for entertainment, but not for a good presentation.

The lesson from this presentation: Have energy but also have structure!

4. US Wireless Data Market PowerPoint

If there is anything worse than fitting 100 graphs onto one slide, it is fitting hundreds of words onto one slide. Once again, this PowerPoint on US Wireless Data Market fails terribly through an attempt to stuff too much information onto one page. The worst thing is that the overload of text is on the very first slide. Impressions are made within the first minute of a presentation. Without even an introduction or some friendly bullet points to ease you in, you can bet this first impression is not a good one.

Most presentation advice states that you should use no less than size 18 text. In general, the bigger the font, the better. With a whole page full of font size 10 text, this block of text is unengaging and even intimidating. There are only two results from the slide. The audience will attempt to read it and be unable, through sight or boredom. Or, the audience will read the text and the speaker will have nothing to say.

A PowerPoint should only be a guideline for the listeners. It should summarize ideas in visual, engaging ways that simplify the more complex meanings of the speaker. The presentation improves from this point, with graphs and charts that are colorful and simple enough to engage the audience. However, such a bad start is detrimental to a presentation, making this PowerPoint one of the worst of all time.

The lesson from this presentation: Use larger and more concise text to engage the audience!

5. Sony Presentation for PS4

This is one of the more controversial choices for the worst presentation. Although it isn’t terrible, many people criticized the unnecessarily long length and tedious content of the 2013 Introduction of the PS4. It starts hopeful, with an engaging video that immerses the audience in the product through screens covering the whole room. However, the energy and act of captivating the audience does not extend to its speakers.

When you compare to other technology presentations such as Steve Job’s Introduction of the iPhone in 2007, you can see the huge difference in presentation standard. His presentation is much simpler, much shorter and much more impacting. Jobs makes the most of simplicity, clearly explaining the product and answering the unspoken questions of the audience.

In contrast, the Sony presentation depends upon using vague language and single words like “quick,” “curious” and “connected,” which flash on screen meaninglessly at the beginning. The result is a two-hour long presentation, sometimes impressive but never explaining the product practically. Clever visual features and technological displays can only take you so far; the content is core.

This gamer website article summarizes the flaws of this presentation well: “it leaves gamers with questions, few answers.” Ultimately, the presentation leaves the audience with questions, unanswered even by a two-hours of talking, making it one of the worst of all time.

Lessons from this presentation: Don’t get carried away by visuals, focus on content first!

6. Business pitch in The Apprentice by Lauren Riley

You know your pitch has gone poorly when your boss describes it as “dull, dull, dull.” Those are exactly the words of Alan Sugar in Series 10, Episode 7 of The Apprentice, in which contestant Lauren Riley gives one of the worst presentations of all time. Not only Dragon’s Den stars snap under television pressure. Giving a pitch for a soft drink campaign in New York, the presentation skills of Riley and her team fell to pieces.

From the beginning, the speaker was unprepared and stuttering. With the first 40 seconds as the most important part of any presentation, this stumbling start let her down. This bad presentation highlights the importance of confidence in a presentation – in both the product and yourself. The team’s lack of enthusiasm for their poorly designed soft drink shone through in Riley’s monotone voice. Without the vocal melody that comes with energy and passion, the audience didn’t believe in the product or the people selling it.

Riley was also criticised for her lack of eye contact, which is a small but vital part of a presentation. Psychologists agree that at least 60% of our communication is non-verbal. This means body language says more about us than our words do. Regular eye contact reassures the audience, it helps them stay connected with the speaker and pay attention to what they are saying. It is important in any presentation to use gestures and the space of the room to your advantage. Walk the space and embrace your body language; that’s the key detail missing in this example, which ultimately resulted in a terrible presentation.

The lesson from this presentation: Use engaging body language to be inviting and exciting!

7. US Military PowerPoint Presentation

It’s not only business people and TED speakers who give terrible presentations; the US government is even guilty of it too. This US Military PowerPoint has faced online criticism for its terrible use of visuals. Ranging from overly simplified statistics to extremely complicated diagrams, the information is lost within a jumble of useless diagrams.

Visuals should be both engaging and informative, used as support for a larger point. Instead, this presentation uses them as a colorful distraction, with so many connecting lines; it is impossible to know the exact core meaning. Although some concepts may be too complex for bullet points, it is still necessary to simplify or divide the idea over multiple slides to aid the audience’s understanding.

Tiny fonts and unclear highlighted sections are similarly detrimental to a good PowerPoint. Text should summarize a concept and prompt further thoughts and discussions. Rather than aggressively telling the audience something, use bullet points minimally in a way that trigger a response from your listeners. This presentation, through its over-analysis and non-captivating style, does the opposite by displaying solid and impenetrable blocks of information.

Lessons from this presentation: Produce thought-provoking slides open for discussion!

Do not join this list!

Finally, use these examples to ensure you stay off your own list of bad presentations. Many small details can quickly transform any presentation into a terrible one. Remembering them all may seem overwhelming at first, but once you learn the ground rules for a bad presentation, they are easy to avoid. Then, along with knowing the basic rules for a good presentation, all you need to focus on is your pitching style and confidence.

If you need even more advice, videos like this one demonstrate the perfect example of a bad presentation. It raises awareness of the speaking pitfalls and unprofessional flaws to avoid. So, learn from it and these five worst presentations of all time; follow the lessons and ensure that every presentation you make is a great one!

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