How to survive a boring presentation

By James LeGrand

So, there you are, sitting through yet another boring presentation. As you are actively not listening and you sit back in your chair, you suddenly feel the sharp poke of an elbow from your neighbour. That’s when you realize that you’ve been asleep. What’s worse is that as your eyes open, the first vision you see is your manager glaring at you in disgust. Only after the meeting are you informed of how long, and sometimes how loud, you were sleeping. Has this happened to you or someone you know?

Surviving a boring presentation or meeting is a key skill. Executives and co-workers in business feel respected and appreciated when you listen and disrespected when you don’t. And let’s not forget the potential of missing great information hidden beneath the presenter’s inability to captivate you.

Here are five strategies for surviving boring presentations.

1. Sit up to stay up

Think about your body language during a presentation you were interested in, and mirror that. You may have sat on the edge of your seat. Your feet may have been flat or on the balls of your feet. Your head was possibly slightly slanted, your eyes slightly more open than usual, and your body core was more than likely turned towards the presenter. This is the body language of active listening.

When you sit up to stay up in this fashion, not only will you stay awake, but also you will take in the content of the presentation, despite the information’s delivery. That body language also communicates to others in the room and the presenter that you are attentive, interested, and that you find the information important, whether you do or not. This is especially necessary to communicate to those you lead, as they tend to follow the behaviour of their leader. Also, the person presenting may perceive you with higher regard for being attentive during their presentation, rather than as someone who insulted them by sleeping through what they perceive to be of great interest.

2. Nod and smile

For those of you that have presented to an audience before, you know that speakers will seek out positive affirmation from the audience. That connection typically comes from the nodders and smilers in the audience. These people demonstrate that they are understanding and enjoying the material as it is being presented. This encourages the speaker to deliver the remainder of the presentation with enthusiasm, as it appears to be appreciated.

As the presenter is speaking, just nod the ‘yes nod’ while smiling as the speaker makes each point. You’ll notice when you do this that the speaker will automatically start speaking in your direction because they see you as ‘getting it’. Some times presenters will thank you after a presentation for connecting with them, because you are acknowledging the speaker. This nodding and smiling also keeps you engaged in the presentation, as you are now an active participant. Nodding and smiling completes the communication loop. The presenter sends the messages, and you communicate back receipt of that message.

3. Take notes

Regardless of your interest in the style or content of the presentation, take good notes. Before each meeting or presentation begins, endeavour to take notes as if you were going to present this same topic to someone else. Your notes should be neat and organized, and should logically group the data for easy reference in the future. For those of you that would like to make note taking more useful, fun, and have greater recall ability, learning about mind mapping in your local bookstore or on the internet is recommended.

When you take notes during a presentation, the information seems to be easier to remember. If you later review your notes, your comprehension and memory of the presentation goes up significantly. If you re-review your notes a week or two later, your memory of the content goes through the roof.

In addition to all of these great benefits, because you are actively listening and taking notes, you will be actually interested throughout the presentation, rather than pretending to be.

4. Ask questions

As the presentation begins, write down in your notes three questions you derive from what you’ve heard in the first few minutes of the presentation. Your mind will always seek to answer questions. Having open questions written down in your notes will actually force you to pay attention as you listen for the answers.

If the presentation delivered doesn’t answer the questions you’ve written down or any new questions you generated as the presentation progressed, then directly ask the speaker. Presenters will usually ask if there are any questions. Take that opportunity to ask your questions. You’ll usually find that others in the audience will have the same question, and will appreciate that you asked. In addition, questions make the presentation more meaningful for the listening audience. Your open questions will create interest in the presentation content, regardless of its delivery.

A longer version of this article first appeared at