4 books that made me less bad at presenting

Public speaking is a skill: it can be learned, practised, and improved. While I'm not going to win any awards, these are the books that have helped me be less bad at presenting.

4 books that made me less bad at presenting

I'm not a natural public speaker, but I'm a strong believer that time, effort, and luck can improve most skills. I've come to understand that public speaking is a skill: it can be learned, practised, and improved.

In this post I'm going to share four books that challenged the way I approached public speaking. These aren't a recipe for becoming an amazingly persuasive motivational speaker (which I hasten to add that I'm not) but they are books that have given me the awareness and tools to improve how I communicate with an audience.

1: The Presentation Coach

Bare knuckle brilliance for every presenter

Available from: Amazon UK


Who is it for: Anyone with a public speaking appointment (wedding speech, work presentation, lecture) looking for a structured way to collate and present their thoughts.

What you will learn: The key building blocks of a good presentation, and the order in which you need to prepare them.

Why you should read it: Hammering your content into a coherent message is really difficult, and it's tempting to pack out your presentation with all the things you find interesting about your subject. The guidance in this book brings a discipline to your thoughts which is conceptually simple but practically challenging.

Key quotes:

Every presentation must be created to achieve something specific

If it's not worth writing out, it's not worth listening to

Favourite insight: If you ever have your audience's attention it's for the opening few seconds. Don't waste time introducing yourself, making apologies, or welcoming them. Give them a reason to keep listening.

2: Pitch Anything

An innovative method for presenting, persuading, and winning the deal

Available from: Amazon UK


Who is it for: Sales-type scenarios where your presentations are designed to convince audiences to make some investment.

What you will learn: How "frames" define your interactions with your audience, and how you can use them to keep, build, and control interest in your pitch.

Why you should read it: It's easy to get overly focussed on the presentation itself, and then be caught off-guard by individuals, interactions, or circumstances that torpedo your goal. This book equips you to deal with more dynamic presentation environments.

Key quotes:

The difference isn't luck. It is not a special gift. And I have no background in sales. What I do have is a good method.

To solidify a prize frame, you make the buyer qualify himself to you. "Can you tell me more about yourself? I'm picky about who I work with" At a primal, croc-brain level, you have just issued a challenge: why do I want to do business with you?

Favourite insight: You need to pitch through a person's "croc brain": your idea has to be a simple, clear, non-threatening, pleasant novelty.

3: The Art of Explanation

Making your ideas, products, and services easier to understand

Available from: Amazon UK


Who is it for: Specialists who need to communicate with non-specialists.

What you will learn: How to package ideas to make them accessible from other contexts.

Why you should read it: As specialists we often forget how high-context our communications are, and that our audiences need us to start from a lower, common baseline and build from there. This book gives practical examples of where we go wrong, and how we can explain better.

Key quotes:

One of the most profound products of the curse [of knowledge] is the inability to simplify.

Looking at a problem through the lens of explanation can reveal challenges that may not have been visible before.

Favourite insight: An explanation needs to address both why, and how, in that order.

4: Talk like TED

The 9 public speaking secrets of the world's top minds

Available from: Amazon UK


Who is it for: Presenters who want to inspire.

What you will learn: How some of the best TED talks were created, broken into key components and analysed alongside insights from the presenters themselves.

Why you should read it: TED content has some incredible content and messages. Rather than trying to deconstruct presentation techniques from the videos, this book collates them for you with lots of behind-the-scenes advice from the presenters themselves with sound analysis on top. A lot of it is quite surprising.

Key quotes:

Remember, if you can't inspire anyone with your ideas, it won't matter how great those ideas are.

You need to practise communicating your content every day at every opportunity so that the mechanics of giving your presentation don't monopolise your attention and focus.

Favourite insight: Many of the best presenters wrote their presentations out word-for-word, practised like crazy, and refined their content.

Got a book recommendation on presenting or public speaking? Ping me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Header image credit: Kane Reinholdtsen