Sins of the speaker

One of my favorite publications about presentation skills is Scott Berkun’s “Confessions of a Public Speaker”.  In his book, Scott tells about his life as a professional presenter and testifies about embarrassments and triumphs he has experienced when speaking to crowds of all sizes.

Over the past two decades I have crafted and delivered many public and private presentations too. Since I like sharing some best and worst practices through this blog, here’s a list of the seven cardinal sins that every presenter should try to avoid:

  1. Too long – Your audience may be spending valuable time and money to attend your presentation. Don’t waste it! (read also Andrew Dlugan’s blog post about Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule)
  2. Too much detail – Not everyone in the auditorium is interested in the nitty-gritty of your product or service. Present only the essential. (read also my “Living by numbers” post)
  3. No story – Get the crowd engaged beyond the rational and make them connect emotionally. Wrap your presentation in a story. (read also my “It’s the story, stupid” post)
  4. No call to action – Never end your talk with just a ‘thank you for your attention’. Always invite your listeners to engage in a next step. (read also my “Amen and… action!” post)
  5. Unclear message – The way you present may either help or hurt to make your point. Make your message(s) strong and memorable. (read also my “Master of the house” post)
  6. Boring slides – Sometimes a picture tells more than a hundred bullet points. Use images that complement or emphasize your message instead of boring clip art that adds no extra value. (read also my “Don’t feed the chameleons” post)
  7. Wrong pitch – Even the most beautiful slides may be irrelevant to the people in the room. Know your audience and tailor your presentation! (read also my “To whom it should concern” post)

And so I confess that I have repeatedly committed all those sins above. But no speaker is perfect. Let him or her who is without sin cast the first stone…


Amen and… action!

Storytelling is not only a hot topic in B2B. It is also one of the foundations of P2P (Pastor-to-Parish) communications. Biblical storytelling was already a common practice in churches and temples many centuries before the invention of PowerPoint, and has even not missed its entry into the transmedia age.

For all of us in business, religious persons or not, there’s a lot we can learn from pastors and preachers. As an example, here is an excerpt from a 2003 dissertation by D.E. Green, titled “The proper use of cinematic storytelling in biblical preaching”.

“The climax of any sermon must be the experiencing of the gospel. The call to action must be a direct reflection of the experienced gospel. A precise summation, then, directs the listener toward the appropriate response as a ‘receiver’ of the good news.
The pastors of many growing contemporary churches extol the power ending with a clear and simple action step. They do this because they know that if you want men to apply a truth, it is helpful to have it ‘spelled out.’ Women tend to translate principle into action; men need clarity.”

Can you find a better definition for –or application of– the Call to Action? A technique used by so many professional speakers today. In business, as in church, you want to dismiss the men and women in your audience with clear directions. Tell them what you want them to remember, what they need to do, and how they can get there.

Go in peace, and may your presentations always include a memorable call to action.