Presentations books

A few days ago I was asked by a friend what books I would recommend on putting together presentations. There are lots out there and I don’t claim to have looked at all of them. But here are five that I think are especially good.

The first book isn’t actually about presentations specifically but is one aspect of a few slides in some presentations. It is Edward Tufte’s book “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.” He has two more books which are also worth reading but they go over much of the material in this first book in more detail. Anyone who has ever put a graph or a table in a presentation (or in an article or white-paper for that matter) should read this book. It is full of wonderful examples of appalling presentation of data as well as some exemplary ones. Too many books on presentations show you some good ones without being brave enough to call out presentations that don’t work.

The next book is very analytical and contains a lot of data about what works and what does not in presentations. It is Andrew Abela’s “Advanced Presentations by Design.” One key finding is that if you put the points you want to make in bullets in your presentation, then when you present it (so you are speaking as well as showing the slides) it is actually less effective than simply showing the presentation and shutting up, or giving the speech and not showing the slides.

Next, two books that really are about putting together presentations. Garr Reynolds’s has a book called “PresentationZen” and Nancy Duarte has one called “slide:ology.” These two books somewhat cover the same material with slightly different perspectives. In fact the blurb on the back of each book is written by the other author. You probably don’t need both of them but you’ll need to look at them both to decide which one you feel most comfortable with. Both books carry on from the analysis I mentioned above, emphasizing that a presentation should be designed to reinforce visually what you are saying, not repeat it textually. A presentation is not a crux for the presenter, not a sort of teleprompter for not having rehearsed enough.

Finally there is Jerry Weissman’s “Presenting to Win.” This is complementary to the other books in that it focuses much less on the visual aspect of a presentation and much more on how to make a presentation tell a story. His track record and focus is putting together presentations for IPO roadshows, which are probably a type of presentation that has more money riding on it than anything else. But most of what he says is appropriate for other types of presentations.

Between these books you get instruction on how to create a compelling narrative in a presentation, how to maximize the visual impact of your presentation, how to display quantitative information compellingly, and more analysis that you probably care to read about what works and what doesn’t in presentations.

Two other resources that I think are good for presentations: any Steve Jobs keynote speech (look at the iPhone announcement if you only look at one) and many of the speakers at TED, which has a 20 minute time-limit and so forces speakers to maximize their impact and focus on the most important messages.

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