Book reviews

Book reviews

My Favorite Books About Presentations and Speaking

My Favorite Books on Presentations and Speaking

I’m often asked to recommend books on various topics, and as a result I’ve compiled an extensive list, which I will share in stages in upcoming posts. It’s tough to winnow down the list to a half-dozen for each topic, and I expect each list will change over time as new books are written or I get suggestions for others I haven’t read.

Advanced Presentations by Design, Andrew Abela

I put this at the top of my list of presentation books because it’s practical and it’s the best-supported by research. I especially like his method for differentiating between “boardroom” slides and “ballroom” slides.

Perfect Pitch, Jon Steele

This is an excellent book about making compelling sales presentations. Steele comes from the advertising world and has extensive real-world experience. The chapter on how London won the 2012 Olympics is worth the price of the book.

Thank You for Arguing, Jay Heinrichs

Heinrichs does a great job of making classical rhetoric relevant to our world today. You don’t have to memorize the technical names of the rhetorical devices to appreciate their effectiveness. This book is erudite, funny, and practical.

Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln, James Humes

Humes gives 21 excellent suggestions for improving your speeches, drawing from some of the great communicators in history. An excellent book if you want to be a speaker and not just a presenter.

Jacked Up, Bill Lane

You have to put up with a bit of hero worship to get through this book, but it’s worthwhile. It gives great insight into what impresses top executives when you present to them, and should convince you to put the long hours into preparation.

Made to Stick, Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Why do urban legends persist even when they’re shown to be false? This book dissects what makes messages memorable. I will read anything the Heath brothers write, because of their very entertaining style. Plus, for a knowledge-hound like me, the Notes pages are a gold mine of additional reading suggestions.

I welcome any suggestions for titles to add to this list.

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Book reviews

Power: Why Some People Have It–and Others Don’t

Jeffrey Pfeffer is one of my favorite business writers, and unlike others who have been writing for a long time, his newest book ranks among his best work. Power is Machiavelli in modern terms, reinforced with current management thought and social psychology. It’s also a useful and refreshing balance to so much writing today that shies away from straight talk about what actually happens in organizations and what it really takes to get ahead.

As Pfeffer says, one reason that there is not a lot written about power is that people who have risen to the top and written about how they got there rarely are open about the tactics they used. Most business and political autobiographies are self-serving and gloss over the realities.

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Book reviews - Persuasive communication

Book Recommendation: Just Listen

Just Listen by Mark Goulston is one of the few books I’ve read more than once (three times so far, actually) because it has given me many useful insights that have helped me both personally and professionally. Here are three:

I wrote recently about using labeling as a mental strategy to deal with pre-speech jitters. I first learned about it from reading this book, as a way to take control of your “reptile brain” when it is about to hijack your behavior. We all know how to move from the fight/flight mode to the logical mode; we just don’t always know how to do it fast. Goulston calls it “getting through to yourself first.” About a week after reading it, I actually got to put it into practice during a nasty encounter with a very rude person at the mall during Christmas shopping. After the person left, the sales clerk thanked me for the way I handled it.

The concept of the persuasion cycle is also useful as a model for knowing how to get through to people. Speed and directness aren’t always the best way to get someone to agree with you. If you’re trying to convince someone to have Indian instead of Italian for lunch, that’s a pretty easy sell. But if you’re trying to drive fundamental change, you have to be more patient. People go through various stages in the persuasion cycle: from resisting to listening to willing to doing to glad they did. This book shares nine principles and twelve techniques that are useful at various stages of the persuasion cycle.

Another principle that resonates with me is “be more interested than interesting”, because it ties in so neatly with my own advocacy of the “outside-in” approach to persuasion. People will be persuaded for their own reasons, not yours, so the best persuaders are not those who are glib and articulate—the best persuaders earn the right to be persuasive by taking time to listen, show interest and empathize.

I enthusiastically recommend this book. Maybe that rude person will have read it by the next holiday season. The world would be a better place!

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Book reviews - Presentations

Book Recommendation: Confessions of A Public Speaker by Scott Berkun


I resisted buying Confessions of A Public Speaker because I know how unglamorous the life of a speaker can be, and I didn’t think I could learn much from it.

I was wrong. Berkun grabbed my interest right away with Chapter 1: “I can’t see you naked” in which he demolishes that old bit of speaking advice and reassures the reader that you don’t need to be perfect to be successful.

In Chapters 5 and 6 he grabbed my respect when he stressed what I consider to be the two most important principles of successful speaking: clear thinking and practice. While these may be obvious, and as Berkun says: “…old ideas said well have surprising power in a world where everyone obsesses about what’s new.” Here are some of the old ideas said well:

“All good public speaking is based on good private thinking.” (p. 57)

“The more effort you put into the clarity of your points, pharmacy the easier everything else about public speaking becomes.” (p. 68)

“If you’re too lazy to practice, expect your audience to be too lazy to follow.” (p. 86)

“No matter how much you hate or love this book, you’re unlikely to be a good public speaker.” (He wisely saved this one for p. 140—his point is that it takes a ton of practice.)

As you can see from that last point, this book pulls no punches, and that’s what makes it a good read. In addition to these big ideas, there are also many useful tips for speaking in tough rooms, what to do when things go wrong, dealing with nerves, etc.

One caveat: keep in mind that CAPS focuses on public speaking, as opposed to internal presentations. There is a lot of good sense that will help you in any speaking situation, but you won’t find much about organizing your points for persuasive intent or about preparing for Q&A. What you will find is an entertaining and useful book.

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