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“Five Cardinal Sins” of presentations

February 2, 2012

As I noted in the prior posts, Jerry Weissman’s Presenting to Win has many great things to say.  Here’s a pair of brief extracts:


Photo of Jerry Weisman


…getting your story straight is the critical factor in making your presentation powerful. In fact, when your story is right, it serves as a foundation for your delivery skills. The reverse is never true. You may be the most polished speaker on Earth, but if your story isn’t sharply focused, your message will fail. The effective presenter makes it easy for the audience to grasp ideas… The effective presentation story leads the audience to an inevitable conclusion. The journey gives the audience a psychological comfort level that makes it easy for them to say ‘yes’ to whatever the presenter is proposing.

The importance of story is a theme that Weissman hits many times and in many ways. His experience much deeper, but matches mine:  it works and it’s a big reason why some presentations are memorable and most are not. Here’s one more I really like:

book cover imageThe Five Cardinal Sins

The vast majority of presentations fall prey to what is known as the Five Cardinal Sins:

  1. No clear point. The audience leaves the presentation wondering what it was all about. How many times have you sat all the way through a presentation and, at the end, said to yourself “What was the point? “
  2. No audience benefit. The presentation fails to show how the audience can benefit from the information presented. How many times have you sat through a presentation and repeatedly said to yourself “So what? ”
  3. No clear flow. The sequence of ideas is so confusing that it leaves the audience behind, unable to follow. How many times have you sat through a presentation and, at some point; said to yourself “Wait a minute! How did the presenter get there?”
  4. Too detailed. So many facts are presented, including facts that are overly technical or irrelevant, that the main point is obscured. How many times have you sat in on a presentation and, at some point, said to yourself “What does that mean? ”
  5. Too long. The audience loses focus and gets bored before the presentation ends. How many times in your entire professional career have you ever heard a presentation that was too short? The remedy is painfully apparent: Focus. Separate the wheat from the chaff.  Give the audience only what they need to know.

That’s a pretty good summary what’s wrong with the overwhelming majority of presentations.  But more importantly, if you take his five points and write them as positive statements, you’ll have a checklist for making your presentation have impact.

  1. Be clear about your purpose–what do you want the audience to do after the presentation?
  2. WIIFY — know what’s in it for them and state it.
  3. Establish and stick with a clear, logical flow throughout.
  4. Keep it simple, understand the audience and give them what they need and no more.
  5. Be concise.

Anything you think should be added to that list ?

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