Five ways to know if you are a presentation professional or a presentation amateur

Professional or amateur?

What is a professional? My key words are high standards, excellence, role-modelling, expertise, high status and remuneration.

The original meaning of amateur comes from the Latin root for love {amo} and used to be applied to hobbies and sports eg Olympian athletes had to be amateurs until the 1970s and today all boxers must still be amateurs. While it does have positive meanings, the word tends to be used more with “sub-par” and shoddy performance. Used as an contrast to professional performance.

I am a keen observer of business presentations, and have seen common behaviours that I think are amateur and should not be employed by business professionals, especially the C-level executives that I work with. If you are doing the following five things in your presentations, you might wish to consider the message you are sending your audience, and consider taking a more professional approach:

#1 You hit the microphone before you speak [to test that it is on].

The message you send the audience: “I have not done a sound check before the meeting and I have no concern at all that blowing or hitting the microphone sounds awful and looks worse.

The Professional’s approach: You arrive early to the venue. You seek out the technical staff. You check the volume and sound quality from all the microphones. You prepare a backup microphone. You make sure that there is no feedback from the microphones when you move around on the stage.

#2 You run your presentation off a USB stick

The message you send the audience: “I didn’t think through the possibility that there would be a problem. Don’t worry, I’ll take a couple of minutes during the presentation to reload my USB and presentation.”

The Professional’s approach: You realise that it’s quite easy for a USB stick to disconnect, and that the most stable solution causes the least problems. You load your presentation onto the computer’s desktop. You test it by running through all your slides. You still plug in your USB stick as a backup. It’s there in the unlikely event that you will need it.

#3 You read from your slides

The message you send the audience: “I have done so little preparation that I don’t know what I really want to say, so I have written my whole script on this slide. And now I am going to read it word by word, even though you can read it much faster than I can say it.”

The Professional’s approach: You understand that text based slides are boring, dull and result in very poor memory retention. You know that the audience switches off when they see such slides. You rehearse thoroughly so that you have a clear message which each slide supports. You make your slides more visual – using pictures, simple charts and tables – rather than dumping data or cramming text. You prepare a handout if you need to pass on technical details or financial information.

#4 You walk across the screen while you are presenting

The message you send the audience: “I am so unaware of how this looks, that I think it’s fine to walk in front of the screen, stretch across the screen to reach the computer to advance the next slide, or even present with the slide projecting onto my face.

The Professional’s approach: You understand that a presentation is a performance where you are in control of the stage including the technology and lighting. You use a wireless clicker to remotely advance slides. You practice with the clicker so you know how to use it. You are discreet while using it and point it at the computer – not the screen – when advancing slides. You ‘black out’ the screen when you need to walk across the stage so that the slide is not projected onto your face. You are in control of how and when the audience sees the slides. The slides support you and your message, not dominate the whole presentation.

#5 You finish with the Q&A

The message you send the audience: “I don’t mind the presentation finishing with low energy, or the final words being, ‘No more questions? I guess I’m finished then.”

The Professional’s approach: You know that the main purpose of a presentation is for you to deliver a message to your audience that they will remember, take away and possibly act on. You know that question and answer sessions often peeter out and are not a strong way to round off a presentation. You have prepared – and perhaps scripted – your close so that your key messages get reinforced and the audience know exactly the next step they should take upon leaving your presentation. There is a clear and motivating call to action.

About the Author

Warwick J Fahy

“I work with senior executives working for multinationals in Greater China who lack the executive presence to effectively influence key stakeholders. While these executives are very smart, very knowledgeable and highly capable, a key piece missing. Their executive communication skills need polishing. I help executives build a strong foundation in executive communication so that they are able to better think, speak and act like a leader to set and implement strategy. Recently, we helped a CEO turn his communication style from being nervous and uninspiring into a more engaging, confident and purposeful executive.”  Learn more about who I help here.

Find out whether your executive team is performing to the best of their potential with Warwick’s article “10 Warning Signs Your Leaders Lack Executive Presence”. Email me and I’ll send you a PDF version.

Warwick is the author of “The One Minute Presenter: 8 steps to successful business presentations in a short attention span world”. Warwick is author of the forthcoming book ‘Speak with Executive Presence in China’

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©2011 Warwick John Fahy

4 Responses to “Five ways to know if you are a presentation professional or a presentation amateur”

  • I would say the 5 points are little things. But little things that count! Good suggestion and can apply them immediately in my next presentation.

  • Hi Warwick, thanks for your sharing. About #5 finish with Q&A, what would be a perfect way to balance? Shall I put a Q&A part after each session during the presentation, if possible, or just leave it after the presentation, down the stage? Thanks again.

  • Thanks Andy. Sometimes it’s the small things that make a big impression.


  • Fanic, both approaches can be effective depending on the length of your presentation, your audience and the type of material.

    My preference is to allow short check points between each section. If the audience has a question, they can raise it. This allows more frequent audience interaction, makes sure the questions are more focused and keeps the audience’s attention longer as it provides a break between the presentation parts.

    If I feel it will take too long to answer a particular question,or it is not relevant, then I will let them know we will have time at the end to handle these type of questions [or you can speak to them after the presentation].

    The key point to remember is always finish on your message regardless of the format of how you arrange the questions throughout the presentation.

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