The 5 Cardinal Sins of Presentations

Jerry Weissman, in Presenting to Win, says that there are 5 Cardinal Sins in Presentations:

  1. No clear point – the audience leaves wondering what it was all about. “What was the point?”
  2. No audience benefit – the audience doesn’t see how they can benefit. “So what?”
  3. No clear flow – the sequence of ideas is so confusing that it leaves the audience behind. “How did he get there?”
  4. Too detailed – so many facts are presented that the main point is hidden. “What is that all about?”
  5. Too long – the audience loses focus and gets bored. “What’s on at the cinema tonight?”
…but…  there is something worse than these 5 cardinal sins…


Something so painful that we should all work to put an end to this cruelty…


Something so agonizing for audiences that some decide to give up on the corporate life rather than have to face another day of meetings with this type of presentation…

Medieval torture

Something so unfailingly bad that medieval torture techniques are too light to punish the inflictors…
It is the Data Dump presentation.

The Data Dump presentation

The data dump is an excessive, meaningless, shapeless outpouring of data without purpose or plan, with not one single moment’s thought from the presenter about the existence of a listener, a human being with a life, needs, goals, dreams…

Never do a Data Dump again

Watch this video.  “The most important thing a speaker can do”.  Clarify your Communication Objective.

How to clarify your communication objective:
In my classes on communication at IESE I start by making every student define their objective prior to starting to prepare any communication. This might sound too basic to be important, but I can guarantee that more failure in communication occurs because the requester really has not clarified what they want and thought about whether it is realistic to expect.

The Most Important 8 Words in Speaking:
Finish this sentence: “When I have finished speaking the listener will _________________”

The sentence must be completed with an active verb. “meet on thursday”, “phone me immediately”, “vote for me”, “visit my web site” are all active. “understand more about the situation” is not active. Most communication fails at this step – lack of clarity of the realistic, do-able, specific next action that will move you closer to your overall objective.

When you write this sentence, it will force you to think about the audience.  What do they need to know, feel and believe in order to take this action?  This immediately puts you in their point of view and clarifies what is important.

Please.  No more Data Dump Presentations.

7 responses to “The 5 Cardinal Sins of Presentations”

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  3. […] The 5 Cardinal Sins for Presentations […]

  4. […] It allows you to get started, and to tell the reader in the first sentence what the purpose of the memo […]

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