Worst Presentation Ever: Part Two: Clear?

George TorokCommunication skills, Insights, Leadership communication, Presentation Tips, Public Speaking Leave a Comment


Lessons from the worst speakers, because you can learn from the mistakes of others

You develop your presentation skills by learning from the best presentations and the worst presentations. When observing, ask yourself, “What’s working well?” and “What’s not working?”
You might also ask, “What are you enjoying” and “What do you find annoying?”
This presentation answered the questions, “What’s not working” and “What do you find annoying?”
He was a Harvard Professor with exalted credentials and endorsements, yet he was the worst speaker I’ve heard in decades. He was speaking to a meeting of about 300 CEOs and business leaders. Academic knowledge doesn’t imply effective communication or self awareness.
What this Harvard Professor persistently do to sabotage his presentation? These three major flaws weren’t isolated or even occasional. They were persistent throughout the presentation.

We Can’t See You

The first sign of a keynote-gone-wrong was his position on the floor instead of on the stage. He never stepped upon the stage. That meant that the only image that the audience of 300 executives had of him was the video crew scurrying to follow him amongst the tables. The lighting was poor and the video became boring quickly. The room was set up for a stage presentation (so everybody could see him) which this professor ignored. I’m not against a presenter leaving the stage to walk into the audience for specific reasons. As a keynote speaker, I’ve ventured into the audience to dramatize a key message then returned to the stage. He never set foot on the stage. Why was he afraid of standing on the stage?

The stage is there for a reason. We want to see you. Stop hiding. Rummaging around the floor doesn’t make you closer to the audience. It is annoying and you appear unprofessional.

An audience attending a keynote presentation expects to be able to see the speaker clearly most of the time. This presenter didn’t seem to know how to use the stage to his benefit. He was always lost in the crowd.

When we can’t see you we lose interest in listening to you. Did you know that?

That suggested that among other things he simply wasn’t an astute big-room presenter. Perhaps he would have been more comfortable speaking in a classroom of 30 students or boardroom of 12 executives. If he didn’t know or appreciate the difference between a keynote speaker and a boardroom speaker, he shouldn’t have accepted the speaking engagement. But the money was lucrative and he didn’t care about the audience, or so it seemed.

He didn’t use slides, which certainly doesn’t make or break the speech. But, good slides might have filled the gap for visual messaging. Most of the audience tired of watching the video of the wandering professor. They looked annoyed and searched for something more interesting to watch on their phones because they couldn’t see the speaker.

Worst presentation can't hear you

We Can’t Hear You

The second flaw was that we didn’t hear or understand many of his words. Why? He mumbled often. Mumbling is a sign of incomplete thoughts and the lack of editing your words for a clear message.

His voice often trailed off at the end of his sentences. That’s a common mistake made when a speaker is thinking about their next thought instead of finishing the current thought.

He wore a lapel microphone and often turned his face away from the mic which meant that his voice faded. That’s a mistake made by novice speakers. He didn’t know how to use a microphone.

He had a slight accent which made some words unclear. He made a joke about his accent in one of his online videos. But that wasn’t the real challenge with understanding him. When we heard him we could understand him. When we didn’t hear him – no one could understand.

If we can’t hear what you said, it was wasted words. Your word appeared to be for you – not the audience. Glad I wasn’t a student in his class.


The real issues were:

  • He didn’t know how to use a microphone
  • He failed to enunciate his words clearly
  • He seemed uncaring about his audience

You Insulted Us

The previous two flaws suggested ignorance. He didn’t know what he didn’t know.

This flaw suggests arrogance. The man was insulting to the audience. Is that something they instill at Harvard? Or is that what Harvard students expect from their professors?

His arrogance was expressed in the phrases he used and the manner he used them.

During his presentation, he’d state what he probably felt was a profound statement. Then he’d pause, look around and add one of these admonishing declarations.

“Everybody got it”

“Everybody understand”


These didn’t appear to be questions. They might have been phrased as questions but the tone didn’t suggest a question.

He stated these phrases so often that the audience recognized that he wasn’t asking a question or expecting an (honest) answer. It became obvious that this was his way of saying “I just said something important”.

He seemed to imply that “if you didn’t get it, you are stupid or weren’t listening closely”.

It felt like he was asking for praise of his brilliance.

No one dared to respond with “No, I didn’t get it.” or “What do you mean by correct?” Instead, the audience simply ignored him.


Worst presentation ever. Speaker insulted audience. Clear

The most annoying phrase he used was the word “Clear”. This seemed to be his favorite word because he uttered it more often than any other word. He barked this word most often after delivering a (profound?) statement.

He appeared to be pleased with himself when he said this word. Perhaps this word was a way of stroking his ego. The word “Clear” was never delivered or received as a question. It was a challenge at best and more likely a boost. I was reminded of a doctor or medic yelling “Clear” immediately before applying the defibrillator paddles to the chest of an unbreathing patient. Was this his way of trying to recharge a dying audience? Or was he sensing disaster?

Worst Presentation Ever: Part Two Why did you insult your Audience?

Worst presentation ever Ram Charan


Read Worst Presentation Part One




Worst presentation ever from Harvard professor


Worst Presentation Part Two (You are here)




Worst presentation ever manure


Read Worst Presentation Part Three





Tell us about your worst presentation. What did the speak do that made it a painful experience?




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