Monday, May 26, 2008

Bad PowerPoint: Rocketdyne Table Syndrome

How can you put your audience to sleep in less than five minutes? No problem! Just open your 50-minute technical presentation by showing a huge table lifted directly from the written version. Then spend the next four minutes pointing to and describing the contents of that table in excruciating detail. The engineer who committed this travesty 35 years ago retired long ago, but that event is burned forever into my memory.

I was projectionist for the opening evening session of an international conference at a mountain resort. Table 1 listed the detailed chemical composition (about fifteen columns) for each of about twenty different metal alloys. Only the presenter could read Table 1 from his viewpoint onstage close to the screen. The audience in the auditorium could not see anything. After less than two minutes they were both literally and figuratively in the dark. Their heads began to drop from a combination of jet lag and boredom. After five minutes most of the audience were fast asleep. Only some of them awakened when I turned the lights back on at the end of the presentation.

"Rocket Science" for Speech Topics

Sometimes we just run out of topic ideas for speeches. One unusual source is from NASA Headquarters - their Work/Life Navigator newsletter. It was a four-page monthly publication issued between 2000 and 2006. Navigator discussed serious issues like workplace stress, but it also had humor, health tips, food for thought, etc.

It is a hidden, noncommercial jewel buried on the Internet. You can find an archive of the last two-dozen issues stored as Acrobat .pdf files at:

I found the Navigator when looking on the web for articles on business networking. That search pointed to "How to talk to Anybody, Anytime", the lead article in the March 2005 issue.

(Added May 2010) The archive now is here. This post also was published as an article in the District 15 Toastmasters quarterly newsletter for Spring 2008 with the image shown above.


Welcome to Joyful Public Speaking. This blog will discuss going from fear to joy. It will include tips and hints, links to articles and blogs, and brief reviews of relevant books.