I Can Be This Boring. Really!

How many incredibly boring presentations have you sat through? How many times have you either missed just about everything that was presented because it was impossible to concentrate or you desperately wanted to get up and leave, only to remain because you didn’t want people to think you were uninterested in the subject or disrespectful of the presenter? As a former employee (now retired) of a large aerospace organization, I can tell you I have struggled mightily to stay awake through many a presentation consisting of literally dozens of bulleted PowerPoint charts being read, word-for-word, by the presenter, usually an Engineer . . . as a class not well-known for being the most exciting of speakers.

There is nothing quite so boring as a presentation where the person standing in front is reading the words you are quite capable of reading yourself, much faster than they can be spoken. As pointed out by both Edward Tufte and Richard Feynman, this kind of presentation is not only boring, but can be quite dangerous when used to convey (or obfuscate) critical information needed to make a life-and-death decision, such as those made with respect to both the Challenger and the Columbia disasters.

Admittedly, most presentations don’t convey life-and-death information, and I’m surely not implying they be given the same weight and import. However, there’s usually a reason, frequently a very good one, a presentation is being given and people are spending a portion of their precious time attending it. In that spirit and, thanks to Gil Yehuda and a Facebook share, I give you:

About Rick Ladd

I retired nearly 13 years ago, though I've continued to work during most of the time since then. I'm hoping to return to work on the RS-25 rocket engine program (formerly the SSME) which will power our return to the moon. Mostly I'm just cruising, making the most of what time I have remaining. Although my time is nearly up, I still care deeply about the kind of world I'll be leaving to those who follow me and, to that end, I am devoted to seeing the forces of repression and authoritarianism are at least held at bay, if not crushed out of existence. I write about things that interest me and, as an eclectic soul, my interests run the gamut from science to spirituality, governance to economics, art and engineering. I'm hopeful one day my children will read what I've left behind. View all posts by Rick Ladd

2 responses to “I Can Be This Boring. Really!

  • Steve

    As an engineering manager of a large aerospace corporation, I agree that reading charts verbatim constitutes extremely poor presentations skills and is typically done by presenters unfamiliar with the material and/or nervous about the presentation. Regardless of the circumstances, such performance/behavior is not tolerated as much as it used to be. In addition, our newest generation of engineers are far more adept at presentations and communications in general, likely attributed to the extensive number of group projects they participated on in the course of their modern undergraduate engineering education.


    • Rick Ladd

      Thanks for the comment, Steve. I hope you didn’t interpret my comment about Engineers as a slam on all. My experience at PWR (a large aerospace corporation) did, in fact, involve sitting through lots of briefings that were difficult to endure. In fact, I earlier wrote about my first briefing given by the Flight Ops team to NASA, where I fell asleep and started snoring. Truth to tell, I think the fact that so much of what was being discussed was new and sort of unknown to me had as much to do with how I responded as the presentation itself.

      Back then all the briefings consisted of overhead charts, some of which were hand drawn. I’m glad to hear Engineers, who weren’t in any way the only ones who presented poorly; just the predominant presenters, are learning to become better at communications. I think it’s not only due to the group projects, but also the proliferation of computers and other technology that allows us to create far more engaging presentations.


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