Review: “HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations” by Nancy Duarte

nancy

Precision coaching for all presenters

By Peter Watts

Nancy Duarte’s Guide to Persuasive Presentations is a concise primer to the skills of presenting, from planning your pitch through to polished delivery.

Of particular value are the sections on how to put together high quality visuals. Some of the book’s best sound-bites are found when Duarte discusses how to create slides that work for an audience, and since reading that section I’ve found myself looking out far more in my own work for the “visual cliches” that Duarte warns about.

This focus on visual layout gives the book a cross-over to the world of blogging because if you are a presenter who also blogs, you’ll find ideas about the use of layouts, diagrams, and imagery. All valuable for an appealing web-page.

This brings us neatly to the topic of social media, and another strength of the HBR Guide. The book brings presenting right into the present day with topics about how you can blend social media resources such as Twitter into presentations, and how to make the maximum use of web-based backchannel communications.

Nancy Duarte is incredibly generous with how she shares the stage. Every chapter contains references to subject matter experts from multiple fields, and advises different books you might like to try out. Backchannel communications for example, is a relatively new topic for me, and right there on the same page that Duarte introduces the topic, she accompanies it with a recommended author from whom you can find out more.

Now for the confession: This wasn’t the Nancy Duarte book that I initially wanted to review. My target was her recent and much-discussed book “Resonate”, but sitting at London’s Heathrow Airport and trying to buy a copy for my Nook e-reader, I discovered that Duarte’s electronic coverage is surprisingly patchy.

The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations is the only Duarte title Barnes & Noble have in e-book format, while Amazon do slightly better; they have the HBR guide and “Slideology” available for Kindle. No trace of Resonate at this stage however.

Still, having chosen to go with the HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations as my first trip into the writing of Nancy Duarte, I’m pleased that I did. The guide gets full marks as an all round primer, with specific focus on presentation visuals. It also deserves a place on a virtual bookshelf due to it’s generosity as a resource guide to additional subject matter experts. Finally, it gets fullest marks for it’s brevity. Brilliantly concise.

Now on the look-out for “Resonate” as an e-book!

UPDATE: March 26th

Resonate on the iPad

It turns out that Resonate is available on the iPad. Thank you Nancy for dropping by the blog to share. First look is deeply impressive, and a full review will be coming shortly.

Book review: Your Best Just Got Better

YBJGB

Why this is a must-read productivity guide

by Peter Watts

It’s a pleasure to review a book that has changed not only how I achieve results, but most importantly has affected the results that I choose to achieve.

This is a book that you can immediately gain from.

Training to give presentations that make a powerful impact on audiences is akin to training as an athlete. It takes dedication, practice, the ability to execute on that practice, and above all it requires the drive to push beyond your comfort levels. It’s an iterative process of strengthening skills and reaching for the next stage. If every presentation is just 1% better than the last, then you know you are improving as a speaker.

This is the approach that Jason Womack takes in his personal productivity guide “Your Best Just Got Better”. I’ve read many such books, and this is the first one that has made a permanent change to the way that I work.

The story starts with what Jason calls “MITs”. MITs are your Most Important Things. Across the course of “Your Best Just Got Better” he urges you to consider these areas in close-up. What are they? Why are they important? To what outcomes are they leading you?

He then sets out a number of ways to keep you on track (or in my case: get yourself back on track) towards hitting those goals.

Here are just a few of the things that I do differently, every day, as a result of reading “You’re Best Just Got Better”.

15 minutes: Set a timer

I now set a timer for work activities. I decide upfront how long I’m going to spend on a task, set the timer on my phone, and then concentrate completely for that allotted period. There’s a timer running right now for example. 30 minutes to complete the first draft of this blog.

Jason encourages you to work in 15 minutes blocks, so this is a two-block activity.

The running timer enables you to establish what your daily productive base-line looks like. From that point of awareness you can then find ways day-by-day to increase the number of 15-minute blocks that are truly productive for you. Each day you get to see how your best just became that little bit better.

Team You

Another idea from the book is to be highly aware of the people in your network that you rely on in order to do your job effectively, and to help you move to the next stages in your career. Those networks are wider and richer than we might initially realize. I now consciously schedule “Team Peter” time to make sure I’m identifying and building those relationships. This one exercise alone has already made my life as a travelling presenter into an easier and more emotionally rewarding experience

ABR – Always Be Ready

A great deal can be achieved with those little 15 minute Lego-blocks of time, so long as you can utilize them when unexpected delays such as late flights or late meetings disrupt your schedule. One simple idea in the book is to carry in your bag a small number of ready to mail Thank You cards. Having those cards at the ready, means that when delays hit, you can use the time to send a hand-written thank you to somebody in your network. Foot-tapping time becomes team-building time.

Know Your Tools

This was another one that has really helped me. I’m notorious for buying software and learning just enough functionality to get me out on the road. At that point my learning stops, and I limp along with the product as best I can.

I now use another of those 15-minute blocks, just once per week, to learn something new about my software tools. Gradually. Iteratively. Week-by-week. Take Scrivener for example, the professional writing software that I treated myself to last year. Just one 15-minute block per week to learn new Scrivener skills has made a huge difference to my productivity.

Jason Womack Blog-Headshot-Jason-womack-96

Finally we have the author himself. Jason Womack gets very involved with his readers. He has a formidably active blog, twitter presence, and a weekly podcast. There is a lot of information out there to support you as you read the book, and if you fire Jason a question, he’ll send you back an answer.

My timer tells me that I’ve now been writing for 29 minutes and 15 seconds. Time to sign-off, other than to say:

Presenting is a rewarding and challenging skill, and it takes a focus that “Your Best Just Got Better” can prime you to achieve.

“Your Best Just Got Better” is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It is published by Wiley and available in a variety of formats including e-books and audio

Microstyle: The art of writing little

A style guide that’s not a Style Guide. Ideal for writers and presenters

by Peter Watts

“Human attention is now the scare resource we all compete for”

Christopher Johnson’s “Microstyle” delivers a blueprint for how we can win our share of the scare resource. It is a travel guide for writing within the information economy.

Having read Microstyle around a year ago, I’ve had the chance to play with it’s ideas, and found them to work. The key-verb in that last sentence was “to play”. This is exactly what Christopher Johnson wants us to do.

He wants us to play with language in all it’s textures. Trained as a linguist, Johnson objects to what he calls “Big Style”; the grammarians who foam about split infinitives every time Captain Kirk utters the words “To boldly go….”

Language breathes. It lives and changes. 2,000 years ago the Roman orator Quintilian found fault with Roman grammarians attempting to set Latin style in concrete. Quintilian’s comment at the time was that if they didn’t let linguistic structures evolve, then Latin as a living language was doomed. Christopher Johnson would urge us to heed that lesson from history.

For someone who appears intent on demolishing “big style”, Johnson’s weapons of choice are a surprise. 90% originate in antiquity. He re-examines the rhetorical techniques of the Greeks and Romans, and integrates them into the modern world.

The guide shows how we can redeploy metaphor, tropes, and repetition techniques. Any Roman orator would have recognised the ideas, even if they wouldn’t have recognised the application to Twitter messages!

Along the way, Johnson exposes us as to why certain movie titles work, while others fail. He draws examples from wits such as Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde. He dives into poetry for an exploration of rhythm patterns that can make a micromessage leap off the screen. He demonstrates how to create blog and subject headings that intrigue and pull readers in.

The author states his goal as being to help social media writers achieve an “interaction of message, mind, and context, that will make meaning happen.”

He succeeds.

Presentation books: The Pin Drop Principle

The Pin Drop Principle

David Lewis and G. Riley Mills

Published June 5th, 2012

by Peter Watts

“Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

It’s my favorite quotes from George Burns, and for “The Pin Drop Principle” it sums up both the book’s number one strength, and its number one weakness:

Strength:

The book is written from a strong acting and stage perspective, by two gentleman who clearly know their art, and how to apply it to business presentations.

The acting insights throughout the book serve a purpose, are relevant, and offer pointers and ideas.

Weakness:

In places the book does indeed seem to tell you how to fake not just honesty, but any number of different emotions. If you place emotional integrity near the heart of your delivery, then there are bits you’ll find yourself disagreeing with.

It’s also worth noting that this is a book based around a successful commercial training concept. The introduction is so laden with marketing plugs for that concept that I almost didn’t get past page ten.

I’m glad I did though, because the authors, David Lewis and G. Riley Mills, have good ideas to put across.

One of the founding concepts of The Pin Drop Principle is being aware not just of your objective in a presentation, but also your intention; the emotional impression that you want to bring to your delivery. Are you seeking to challenge? To involve? To calm? To warn? Even to manipulate?

If you think of a cliche grand actor wandering the stage during rehearsal demanding “Yes, but WHAT’S my motivation???” then you won’t be far off the general concept.

The book suggests identifying those motivations, or your intentions, and then demonstrates how you can put them front and centre of your public speaking.

If you have had some experience of presenting, and are looking for the next stage, this book will help you put the 3D of emotional intention into your delivery.

The authors also combine a couple of topics that many books leave out. There is a section on the inner workings of storytelling, an excellent section on the importance of listening as a presenter, and some strong insights into getting the best out of your voice.

Certain fundamental subjects however are under-represented. Controlling nerves is one, and the structure section is another. Both are short. It’s as if the authors had in mind a reader who had already gone through a basic training course. That’s why I would say this is not a book for the novice presenter.

If you have already had some professional training and plenty of real-time practice, then this is an ideal book to give you ideas for how to get to the next level.

For the experienced presenter there is something to be gained as well. I found the sections on intention, story-telling, and voice to be particularly interesting.

I’ve presented a couple of times since reading the book, and on each occasion found sections of it’s content staying with me. The concept of “intention” has led me to consider my daily deliveries from a different angle. Basic tips, such as remembering to protect the voice by drinking plenty of water, have also come as useful reminders for this coffee-addicted presenter.

For the final words, I return to George Burns and to a quote that the authors use in the book:

The secret to a good speech is…. “ to have a good beginning and a good ending, then having the two as close together as possible.”

Getting the beginning and the ending close together is something that Lewis and Mills do well. “The Pin Drop Principle” is a lean book, that is a quick read, and importantly, is available as an e-book.

For an experienced business person, looking for an easy-to-action evolution in their delivery style, “The Pin Drop Principle” is ideal.

Imagine “How creativity works”

by Peter Watts

“Our most important mental talent: the ability to imagine what has never existed.”

“Imagine” explores the latest mechanics of creative brain science; all our little grey cells and the zaps and flashes of insight zinging between them.

Jonah Lehrer brings together all the facts and lays them out in this relaxed guide. If you are a fan of the New Yorker or similar magazines, you’ll recognize the long-form writing style that makes the book so easy to drop in and out of.

Hard science blends with anecdotes and interviews. Scientists, business people, educators, and innovators all come join the project. I came to particularly enjoy the little word-sketches that Jonah Lehrer uses to introduce and visualize his interviewees, ranging from urban campaigners through to an Israeli technologist who was so chilled that he was quite literally horizontal.

The care taken in writing these descriptions means that the stars-of-the-show, the enviable selection of interviewees, all feel as if they are in the room along with you.

The book touches on to a wide arena of subject areas from neuroscience through to urban planning, education, and even intellectual property law. All of which, it turns out, are having significant impacts on the creative intelligence of society.

A wide source of ideas and inspiration for a wide range of public-speaking topics.

You can find out more about the author by visiting www.jonahlehrer.com

and you can catch the video promo for “Imagine” by clicking here.

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