Review: 11 Deadly Presentation Sins by Rob Biesenbach

deadlyThis review first ran in the March 3 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

11 Deadly Presentation Sins

By Rob Biesenbach

Eastlawn Media


Not only does Jon Favreau know how write a great speech, he knows how to deliver one too.

I was at conference in Washington where President Obama’s former speechwriter delivered the opening keynote.

Favreau owned the podium. He came prepared. He told stories. He gave us three lessons learned from his time with the President. He didn’t inflict death by PowerPoint.  He was authentic and self-deprecating. He talked candidly about his greatest hits and misses. He spoke for 20 minutes and then spent the rest of the hour fielding questions.

It was a gold medal performance free of the 11 deadliest presentation sins catalogued by author Rob Biesenbach.

“It’s happening right now,” laments Biesenbach. “Somewhere in the world, in a windowless conference room or a cavernous ballroom, people just like you are suffering through PowerPoint Hell. Their only solace is their little smartphone screens, which they use to steal occasional glimpses of an outside world that now seems hopelessly out of reach.”

How do we take audiences to this forlorn place? As a presenter or speaker, commit any or all of the following sins.

Don’t bother trying to understand your audience. Be clueless about who we are, where we’re at and where we want to go.

Deliver a flat opening.  Read us your resume. Tell us a joke that’s familiar and not funny. Give us the dictionary definition for teamwork. Or tell us how you’re really nervous or deathly ill.

Be completely unfocused. Cram everything into your presentation even if it means you ultimately communicate nothing. Ramble on and leave us guessing what you want us to know, feel or do.

Either skip telling us a story or walk us through a long, tortured tale that never gets to the point.

Deliver a presentation that’s drained of all emotion. Numb us with numbers. Ignore the heartstrings and just hammer us in the head with blunt force logic.

Use dull, ugly visuals. Or better yet, skip the 1980s clip art and overload your slides with words, sentences or best of all, complete paragraphs.

Turn down the volume. Talk with little or no energy and suck whatever life is left out of the room.

Don’t interact with your audience. Look over our heads while delivering your monologue. Pretend we’re not there.

Fool yourself into believing that how you say it matters more than what you say. Compensate for your complete lack of content with some razzle dazzle and jazz hands.

Skip rehearsal and just wing it because your time is so much more valuable than ours and we have nothing better to do.

And close with a weak finish.  “I guess that’s it and there’s nothing else to say” is always a crowd favourite that brings us to our feet.

Biesenback offers practical tips for avoiding these 11 deadliest sins in your speeches and presentations. “Work on a few of these tips at a time. Learn from your mistakes and measure your progress against yourself. Don’t despair when you see a TED Talk that knocks it out of the park. That’s not a fair comparison. Nobody who watches Tiger Woods on TV expects to get off the couch and join the PGA Tour.”

Or deliver a keynote like a former speechwriter for President Obama.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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