"The moment defines the creative expression."
Storyboarding & the art of finding your story

Activity for talking about good (and bad) presentations


This semester I'm teaching three classes on presentation for undergraduates at my university in Japan. On the second day, I have students share with the class what they think are the elements of a good presentation and what they think are the kinds of things that make for a bad or ineffective presentation. Students may still be quite young, but they have sat through years of classes in school and lectures in college, sat through orientation meetings, and they have seen many kinds of presentations online such as TED talks over the years, so students actually do have quite a bit of experience with various kinds of presentations.

I use a slide like this or just write something similiar on the whiteboard. "Think about the best and the worst presentations you have ever seen. What's the difference? What made the good ones good and the bad ones bad from your point of view? What are the elements of a good presentation, including visuals (if any), preparation, delivery, etc. What was happening during the presentations that you identified as 'bad'?"

For the activity I ask students to break up into groups of 4-5 to share their ideas—based on their experience—on what makes for a good presentation and what makes for a bad presentation. I give them about 20 minutes. One person in each group keeps notes using a t-chart with "Good" on one side and "Bad" on the other. Before this we discuss a bit on what we mean by "Good." A good or effective presentation, from the point of few of the audience, being one where the audience was engaged and learned something, but also was motivated, or inspired, etc. in addition to being informed. After students have discussed their ideas and they have a "good/bad" list, they then put that info on the walls around the room, edit as they like, and then finally share their ideas with the rest of the class.


There is no right or wrong answer for the exercise I tell them. The point is to share their ideas based on their real-life experience and to get a conversation started, a discussion that will last the entire semester. The point of the exercise, besides being a good icebreaker, is to introduce many of the concepts we will be talking about for the next 15 weeks, but in this case the ideas are coming from them, not just from "a professor" at the front of the room. "You know this stuff all ready" I tell them, but there is a difference between knowing it and having the skills—and eventually the courage—to actually do it. The students identify many classic elements of a good presentation of talk. Below is a list of some of the more common elements identified by the students. This is a rough assembly of the items that students, numbering more than 100 in total came up with. Each element is quite commonsensical, perhaps, but common sense is not common practice. We'll spend the reset of the semester learning the principles, techniques, and practices of 21st-century presentation.

Elements of a "Good" & "Bad" presentation
Here is a list that a group of about one hundred young Japanese college students came up with this week.


• Start with interesting hook
• Big Voice (good projection)
• Smile, friendly, natural
• Passion, excited by topic
• Conversational tone
• Points are clear
• Use of humor, emotion
• Use of great visuals
• Use of video/movie segments
• Simple design, delivery
• Has a clear main point
• Confident body language
• Use of interesting examples
• Uses personal stories
• Clear pronunciation
• Gets audience participation
• Speaker asks questions
• Q&A, discussion time
• Feels like a journey
• Lots of photos/visuals
• Good time management
• Clear conclusion
• Has surprises, unexpected bits
• Makes audience think
• Is entertaining, fun
• Has new or "rare" info
• Variety of content
• Statistics *with* context
• Explains why not just what
• Makes the abstract tangible
• Changes pace periodically
• Uses original content
• Shows "the big picture"
• Not just lists of info
• Presenter is "authentic"
• Presenter is having fun

• Rambling, boring, slow start
• Small, weak voice
• Reading a script
• Reading text on slides
• Lots of text on slide
• No eye contact
• Looks at paper all the time
• No gestures
• Seems not confident
• Looks bored/disinterested
• Too long/too short
• Too complicated, confusing
• No attempt to simplify
• Material only memorized
• Ugly, amateur design of visuals
• No clear point
• No examples
• No stories
• Faces away from audience
• Repeats a point too often
• No audience participation
• Monotone, monopacing
• Seems unprepared
• Talks too fast
• No body movement
• Data overly complicated
• Charts are irrelevant
• Charts impossible to see
• Using jargon
• Speaks down to audience
• "Showing off" by using jargon
• Presenter not motivated
• Talk contains nothing new
• Speaking sounds memorized
• No flow, just many "points"
• Does not inspire or motivate

Students listing their ideas on the whiteboard. Then we have a class discussion on what they think are the most important elements and why. A chance to share the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly based on their own experience.


Olaf Janssen

Thanks for sharing this, these are excellent checklists!

In the Good-list, can I add "Use of physical objects to illustrate (personal) story"

Martin Cohen

I agree that your talk should not repeat what is on your slides. However, when I have submitted a presentation for a symposium or conference, the only information available to them is the presentation itself, so it has to be complete in itself. They then require me to use that presentation, so that my talk has to essentially mirror my presentation.

What can I do about this?


A reply for Martin Cohen:

I have been in a similar situation, I submit the better version of the presentation that doesn't have all of the information in it. On one of the final slides, usually the one with my contact information, I include a link to the original paper (or a handout or some sort of explainer) so they will have access to the information as well. The abstract you submit with the presentation should have enough information for them to be able to make a decision. Otherwise, I would try to get into better organized conferences.
tl;dr: submit the best presentation and if they don't accept it, move along to a better conference.

Gihan Perera

Another option for Martin Cohen: Put the details in the Notes part of the slides, so the conference committee can refer to the notes for the details.

To be sure they read it, in addition to the slides, send them a PDF showing the slides + notes (You can do this from the Print options in PowerPoint).


I agree with Gihan's advice. Sharing the notes + slides with the participants have some benefits. You don't need to think your slides as it should contain all the speech, plus the conferences attendees can bring with them all the information containing in the notes. When printing in PowerPoint, you can also leave space to add notes, so this is a win-win approach.


You made a mistake on something. You said "Tdhe" when it should have been "The" on the large paragraph before the list of Good/Bad presentation. Very nice by the way!!

The comments to this entry are closed.