“Bores bore each other too; but it never seems to teach them anything.” Don Marquis
I met a friend in a grocery store where he was stocking up on six-packs of a highly caffeinated drink. He explained that he needed continual infusions of caffeine to stay awake during a technical lecture at a local university. He later told me that he ended up falling asleep anyway, shaking from the caffeine.
So, what made this lecture so incredibly boring that my friend couldn’t keep his eyes open? If you would like to duplicate his experience for your own audience, here are ten things you need to do (although we all hope that you won’t!):
1. Talk about yourself for an hour. Some life stories are fascinating. Most aren’t. If your audience is there to learn something specific, spending an hour just talking about yourself will definitely cause them to snooze. Just give them enough information to establish your credibility then get on to the topic they came to hear.
2. Only talk about what interests you. Some presenters have pet topics that they love to discuss in great depth, regardless of whether or not it is actually relevant to the scheduled topic. Recognize and curtail lectures on topics near and dear to your heart that add no value to the listeners.
3. Read from the PowerPoint slides. It’s even better if you turn your back to the audience while you read the slides. Not really. If you’re just going to read to them, mail them your speech so that they can read it for themselves in private.
4. Don’t use audiovisuals. Unless you are incredibly dynamic and funny, a talking head without the relief of pictures, activities or props soon ceases to be informative and deteriorates into noise. Liven up your presentation with relevant audiovisuals.
5. Tell story after story after story, without cohesion or a moral. There is nothing wrong with stories that illustrate a point that is key to the topic at hand. There is everything wrong with spinning yarns that have no relation to each other. Pick your stories with care, keeping in mind what you want the audience to learn.
6. Drone on and on. It is occasionally true that some people love to hear the sound of their own voices. In fact, it may seem as if they are talking to themselves, because they are not projecting sufficiently for the audience to understand what is being said. If you can’t project, get a microphone. If you are talking just to hear yourself talk, stop it!
7. Ask questions and then immediately answer them yourself. Nothing tells an audience that you have no need for them so clearly as holding a dialogue with yourself. If you aren’t interested in what they know, don’t ask a question. And if you ask a question (it would be better if you did), then wait for an answer.
8. Deliver a litany of facts, figures and statistics. Blitzing an audience with fact upon fact, particularly when you don’t explain your source or their relevance, can wear down even the most enthusiastic data cruncher. There is only so much new information that human brains can take in at one time. Select the specifics you need to share and make sure to explain where they came from and why they are important.
9. Review charts and graphs the audience cannot see. It’s a real treat for an audience to try to visualize what is on a screen when it is too small or too faint to see. No, it’s a headache in the making. Use visuals that can be seen from the back of the room and/or make sure everyone has a hard copy to look at as you talk.
10. Say a lot, but nothing of value. This is the very best way to drive an audience to zone out. Emulate a windbag, spraying the audience with a torrent of words and sentences that are essentially meaningless. If you’re going to get up in front of an audience, make sure you have something of import to say that matters to them.
Don’t abuse the privilege of standing in front of a group as an expert or a presenter. Unless you own stock in highly caffeinated beverages or you are moonlighting as a sleep aid, it is best to avoid these ten guaranteed paths to audience boredom.
May your learning be sweet.