The four cardinal sins public speakers continue to break

The last few months, I’ve attended a number of local events here in Minneapolis. Good events put on by great people. And, in all cases, the speakers were solid.

Except for one thing.

They all continue to break a number of public speaking cardinal sins.


Which is surprising, really. I mean, these cardinal sins, they’re kinda common sense. I would think any speaker who’s done any amount of public speaking would know enough not to break these rules.

But there they were, breaking rules left and right.

Let’s look at five of the key cardinal sins I see being broken fairly regularly:

Cardinal Sin #1: Thou shall not spend too much time on your “About Me” slide

A minute or less. That’s my ground rule. In fact, when I speak to groups, I fly through this so quickly, I usually under-sell myself. People don’t care about WHO you are–they care about what you have to say. Get to the “what” and minimize the who.

Cardinal Sin #2: Thou shall not include any slide that uses 8-point font or smaller

My rule: If your audience has to squint to read it, then don’t include it in the damn deck. I’ve seen multiple speakers lately that will show a slide with TONS of copy on it–mostly about 8-point font or smaller–and then say “I know this slide is hard to read, but….”. Nope–there is no “but.” There is no explanation. There is no rationalization. There should only be the sound of you clicking delete on that slide.

Cardinal Sin #3: Thou shall always focus on takeaways for the audience.

I’m constantly amazed at decks that don’t have key takeaways clearly outlined for the audience. A while back, I presented a deck that talked about how to keep up with social media. I was so focused on audience takeaways that I actually SPELLED THEM OUT for the audience. And guess what? A bunch of people were furiously scribbling down notes. Heck, a few of them even took photos of the slides. That’s how you know you’ve outlined takeaways effectively. ALWAYS highlight what you want your audience to learn from you–and SPELL IT OUT.

Cardinal Sin #4: Thou shall always research your audience before the presentation.

As a speaker, I realize it’s easy to get caught up in the ego of the whole thing. People are coming to hear you speak. People are interested in what you have to say. It appeals to our core being–the need to feel important and wanted. But, that doesn’t excuse speakers from the fact that they should always research the audience they’re presenting to. Get a feel for who’s in the crowd. What is THEIR background? What do you think they want to learn? Why are they coming to see you present? Just a teeny bit of research can go a long ways here. It can inform your content. Influence the style of your presentation. And, it can also help you anticipate questions before you get blind-sided on stage.

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