Tag Archives: presentations

The 7 Deadly Sins

At Toastmasters we make a big deal of counting every filler word uttered by a speaker during their prepared speeches and uttered during impromptu speaking. The Darth Vader of the Ah Counting universe, and we have a few of them in my club, even catch the “ahs”, “ums”, “you knows”, “so”, “you see”, and other filler words uttered during every speaking moment. The Darth Vaders take their job very serious and take pride of reporting every lapse to the speaker when giving their role report at the end of the meeting. Regardless of what our beloved Darth Vaders would have you think, an occasional filler word will not destine your presentation to failure. A speaker with good content, content that is important to and useful for his or her audience will earn the audience’s forgiveness when an occasional filler word slips from between the speaker’s lips. There will be no forgiveness for the speaker who commits one or more of the 7 Deadly Sins and get caught in the act. Your presentation will be doomed to fail and you, the presenter, to disgrace.

Everyone knows what the Biblical 7 Deadly Sins are, they were drummed into our heads during those seemingly endless Sunday School classes;

  1. Sloth

  2. Envy

  3. Lust

  4. Gluttony

  5. Greed

  6. Wrath

  7. Pride

but how do the Biblical 7 Deadly Sin relate to the world of public speaking?

The First Deadly Sin: Sloth.

A speaker commits the unpardonable sin of Sloth when he or she fails to prepare properly for his or her presentation. Sloth is another word for laziness. Speaking in public, whether formally or informally, is an activity essential to our success in business, in life itself, yet many people never put forth the effort needed to master it.

People join Toastmasters because they see the need to improve their communication skills. They achieve that goal in a setting where everyone wants to see them succeed, a safe environment. Sadly, because it is a safe environment where their speeches are evaluated to motivate, they are never under pressure to become all that they could be. Many Toastmasters are guilty of Sloth because they never prepare for their speeches until the eleventh hour and depend on their ability to speak extemporaneously to get them through their 5 to 7 minute presentation. The Competent Communication Manual, the manual containing the first ten speech projects that every Toastmaster must complete to reach his or her first level of competency, is a veritable communications textbook, with a wealth of invaluable information on speech making, but far too many Toastmasters never really study that material. Far too many Toastmasters simply rush from one project to the next on their way to getting their Competent Communicator Certificate. They are guilty of Sloth because they do not put forth the effort to master each project before moving on to the next project.

The Second Deadly Sin: Envy.

As public speakers we are guilty of this unpardonable sin when we express the belief that truly great speaker got to where they are because of luck or because they were born with the gift of gab. Those guilty of envy believe that great speakers are natural born speakers. Speakers who are guilty of the Deadly sin of Envy are likely to commit other sins because of it.

  • They commit the sin and crime of vulgarism. They steal the stories and anecdotes of other speakers and claim them to be their own.

  • They steal other speaker’s Power Point presentations and tell everyone that they created them.

  • They copy the speaking styles of successful speakers, never putting forth the effort to find their own voice.

These speakers doom themselves to failure because they know that they are phonies. This self awareness leads to their lack of self-confidence and promotes their nervousness in every speaking situation. They are their own worse enemy.

Beginning with the Second Deadly Sin, a chain reaction sets in, each deadly sin leading into the commission of the next deadly sin. Envy leads directly into Lust.

The Third Deadly Sin: Lust.

Picture your audience naked. I cringe every time I hear someone tell a new speaker that. It is common advice. It is also the worse advice anyone could give a speaker. The theory behind it is picturing an audience naked makes them appear just as vulnerable as the speaker feels. Picturing an audience naked might help feed the speaker’s erotic fantasies, but it will not help them become better speakers. Picturing you audience naked is falling prey to the unpardonable sin of Lust. Picturing your audience naked can lead to other distractions that make speaking even more difficult. I’ll leave it up to you to imagine what those additional distractions might be since I want to keep this post G-Rated.

The Fourth Deadly Sin: Gluttony.

The unpardonable sin of gluttony is committed by speakers who believe that more is always better. More Power Point Slides, more numbered or bulleted lists, more graphs, more words on every slide, more detailed examples, more of everything. The speakers who have fallen prey to the unpardonable sin of Sloth are especially susceptible to the Deadly Sin of Gluttony because they allow their visual aids to take the place of a presentation. Gluttony leads the speaker down the path to Greed.

The Fifth Deadly Sin: Greed.

The unpardonable sin of greed is the sin of excess. Speakers commit this deadly sin when they go over the time limits of their presentation. Going over the time allowed for your speech is a violation of the unwritten contract that you have signed with your audience. The members of your audience are busy people and they have penciled in a certain amount of time to hear your presentation, to exceed that amount of time means that you are interfering with their next scheduled meeting or task, and that is never good for you or for them. On the other hand, they will appreciate it if you finish a couple of minutes early because that will give them a minute or two to relax between appointments. However never finish too early or the audience will fell cheated. If you are scheduled to speak for 30 minutes and finish in 27, that’s great; finish a 30 minute speech in 20 minutes and the audience will feel cheated especially if they paid good money to hear what you had to say.

The Sixth Deadly Sin: Wrath.

Commit this unpardonable sin and the wrath of God will descend upon you and your presentation. A speaker commits this Deadly Sin when he or she handles problems that may arise during a presentation in an inappropriate or otherwise bad manner. It does not matter how bad a presentation is going; it does not matter whose fault that may be, surrendering to the provocation and becoming angry is counterproductive. Getting angry—whether at yourself, at someone in the audience, or at some other factor that affects you speech—is the worse possible thing that you can do during a presentation. Anger displayed by you makes your audience uncomfortable. Your anger destroys your credibility in the eyes of your audience.

So why do speakers succumb so easily to these first six Deadly Sins? The answer to that question lies within the deadliest Deadly Sin of them all, the Seventh. The Seventh Deadly Sin is the progenitor of all the other unpardonable, Deadly Sins.

The Seventh Deadly Sin: Pride.

Speakers fall prey to this unpardonable sin when then succumb to the thinking that being a public speaker is all about them. They are too full of self. They think that they really are “all that.” As Solomon wrote in Proverbs 16:18 Pride goeth before destruction, And an haughty spirit before a fall (KJV).

Now Hear This: Public Speaking is Never

  • all about you

  • about the lavish praised the MC may bestow upon you during your introduction

  • about your razor sharp delivery

  • about your lavish, elaborate Power Point slides

public speaking is always all about your audience and the message that you have for them.


5 Keys to Writing a Great Speech

One of the greatest challenges that I faced in public speaking was mastering the art of speech writing. Speech writing has a style all its own that I had to learn by trial and error. There were a plethora of style books to guide me in writing for magazines, but nary a one on speech writing. Sure there were and are books on speech writing, but I wouldn’t call them “style books”. Perhaps, one of these days, I will write and publish a speech writing style book as an e-Book. For now, here are the 5 keys to writing a great speech. These are the corner stones on which every award winning presentation is built.

Sentence length.

One of the greatest challenges for me was to overcome my love affair with long, convoluted sentences. According to Philip Yaffee, a mathematician, speech writer, and journalist, when writing a speech the length of an average sentence should be between 15 and 18 words. Some sentence can be longer, such as my last sentence. The majority should average 15 to 18 words in length. I haven’t counted the words in each sentence in this post, but I think they average 15 to 18 words. Shorter sentences makes it easier for the audience to understand and retain information presented to them orally.

Practice the K.I.S.S. Principle.

This was another of my foibles in speech writing. It was even a problem for me in my technical writing at first. I had the tendency to assume too much knowledge on the part of my audience. I had a tendency to write and talk over their heads. Then, one day, a very wise editor wrote K.I.S.S. in huge letters diagonally across the first page of a manuscript that I had sent him. At the bottom of the page, he Keep It Simple Stupid. He very quickly explained that he wasn’t calling me stupid but to write my articles in such a way that assumed no knowledge on the part of my readers. Today, one of the most popular book series are written on that very principle, The For Dummies series. The bottom line is, that as writers or speakers, we must present our material in such a way that our audience can understand and use it.

Use Simple Words.

Use the vocabulary of the masses. As public speakers, as writers, we pride ourselves on our vast vocabularies. We love to speak and write in a declamatory style. OK, let’s take a break here. Most of you probably knew what the word “declamatory” meant, but, admit it, didn’t it make me sound really pretentious? Never, ever use a 5 dollar word when a 25 cent word will do the same job. As writers, as speakers, we are not, or we at least should not be, out to impress our audience with how many impressive words we know. As writers, as public speakers, our objective should be to convey useful information in a way that our audience can understand and use. Keep those big words in reserve for the next time you play Scrabble. Use them on the Scrabble Board and rack up those extra 50 bonus points for putting down those seven letter words.

Just the Facts.

If you were a fan of the old TV “Dragnet” series, you probably recall Sergeant Joe Friday saying at least once on every program, “Just the facts, Ma’am. Just the facts.” That’s a good mantra for the speech writer to utter over and over as he or she writes his or speeches. Keep your speeches terse, free of fluff. People come to presentations to get answers to to a problem they are facing or to get information on ways they can earn more money, improve their production, find more clients, or some other such reason. They don’t come to most presentations to hear you tell stories that serve no meaningful purpose for them.

Speak to keep your audience actively involved.

No matter what your speech objectives are, you need to keep your audiences actively engaged with you and your speech if you are to meet those objectives. To keep an audience actively engaged, you need to use a lot of verbs in your presentation. Speak in the active voice. Begin as many of your sentences with an action word whenever possible. This principle was driven home again for me when I started writing how-to articles for Demand Studios. Their guidelines required that every step started with an action. Using action words not only keeps your audiences actively engaged, they make it easy to cut out the fluff because the active voice is a terse voice.

In Conclusion.

There you have it folks, the 5 pillars of a great speech. The next time you have a speech to write for a Toastmasters Club project, or for an outside presentation, put these 5 principles to the test. You will be amazed at the results you get.