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  • Writer's picturePeter Yawitz

How To Avoid Trainwreck Zoom Presentations

Dear Someone Else’s Dad,

My last Zoom presentation was a total trainwreck. Three people interrupted me on Slide #1 - Agenda, so I never got to the main points I wanted to discuss. Other people looked like they were doing emails, looking at their phones, or snoozing. Any tips on what to do next time?


PPT Failure

Dear PPTF,

Even though listening attentively in Zoom meetings is a skill everyone should master and demonstrate, it’s easy to fake paying attention by nodding, smiling politely, or slightly discreetly knitting. I can happily show you a nice afghan I finished this morning. I’ve written about the new normal meeting where I suggest everyone read in advance a document containing material to be discussed at an upcoming meeting.

I’ve gotten feedback, however, saying that people will find excuses not to read anything in advance (“I had no time in my calendar.” “Huh, you sent a doc?”). Others pointed to the famous Amazon meetings where the first 20 minutes or so is a dedicated collective silent memo-reading time.

Still, If you’re in a PowerPoint-or-die culture, I strongly urge you to put together a deck in a way that keeps everyone’s attention level high as soon as you open your mouth. Here’s how to keep them engaged at the outset:

  1. Set the stage before you show your first slide. Say why you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing and mention the people who support your effort. You’ll immediately enhance your credibility, especially if the people you’ve spoken with are higher up than your most senior team member.

  2. Say something about your audience’s shared goals. They’ll appreciate that you know the corporate culture and mandates, even if they’ve forgotten what they are. Watch people nod in agreement here.

  3. Make sure your first slide is an executive summary for the entire presentation. Don’t save any big surprises for later, even if you’re asking for $20 million for a system enhancement. If you’re interrupted here, at least you’ll have all your main points on everyone’s screen.

  4. On subsequent slides use clearly labeled graphics supported by data and facts. If you’re making assumptions state your rationale, and be prepared to show a sensitivity analysis, which you’ve cleverly put as an appendix.

One more tip: anticipate questions and prepare answers. Make sure that your manager or key decision maker knows what you’ll be presenting and has your back. Ask what questions you can expect from other stakeholders. Also find out who likes to knit.

Good luck,


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