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The bookshelf

Image of a book stack, the titles on this page.These are capsule reviews of books I’ve found especially useful and think you’ll benefit from.

Note: in addition to the books here, you may want to check out the bookshelf page on my other blog. Especially the first section there has some books like Brain Rules and Made to Stick that have a lot of relevance here, too.

Presentation design and delivery

presentation zen, “Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery”, Garr Reynolds, Peachpit, ©2008.
Superb, easily read and digested book of extraordinarily important ideas about doing presentations of all kinds and all purposes.  More than any other, this one has started a budding revolution in how presentations are done and just what is possible in a good one.  Warning: this book is subversive, radical and no-doubt to be banned from any use in US Government and major corporation circles! 😉
In other words, this one’s essential reading.

presentation zen: Design. Garr Reynolds, Peachpit ©2009.
This book takes off where Garr’s prior book stops. It extends and expands on his approach to the specifics of design for a presentation-starting with why presentations really do need to be designed and not just created. Where Nancy’s book focuses on the design of slides, Garr’s book is presentation design. That means there’s overlap with Nancy’s book (below, she’s a contributor here as well), but Garr’s book covers a wider topic. Garr includes a lot of examples-lots of “show me” and less “tell me.” His first is still the essential one, but this is very good and if you don’t have Nancy’s book then this one’s essential as well.

slide:ology, by Nancy Duarte, O’Reilly, ©2008.
Subtitled The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, this book takes off where Garr’s first book stops and concentrates on how you design slides and visuals that really are an aid and not an obstacle for the presenter. She incorporates a very thorough understanding of the principles of good design while doing so in a very pragmatic way. Lots of examples and illustrations.  Larger, more detailed and almost completely focused on making slides compared to Garr’s second book. Excellent.

Confessions of a Public Speaker,  Scott Berkun O’Reilly ©2010
(More complete review in a blog post)
Scott’s book is written from first-hand experience. He tells stories. And his book becomes one big example of just how powerful that is. This is pragmatic, concrete advice from a man who has given talks that sucked and talks that were great (a lot more of the latter I’d bet).  While it’s the most important thing, Berkun’s not only speaking from personal experience. His book references a bunch of the ones on my lists and “connects the dots” between them. Scott’s style is informal, entertaining and easy to read. His ideas are powerful and need to be spread—please! I’m tired of all the death-by-PowerPoint and boring speakers.  Highest recommendation.

The Non-Designer’s Design Book, Robin Williams, Peachpit, ©2004.
Simple, easily read and hugely important to anyone (yes, you) who prepares visual information for an audience, printed or video formatted. Want your documents to get read? your visuals to be understood? Read This Book!

The Craft of Scientific Presentations, Michael Alley, ©2003.
The focus of this book is on presentations done for a scientific or engineering group, as for example when you’re presenting a paper to a group. Groups of this type and in this kind of forum have very different expectations and a lot of the advice in other books needs adjustment to meet those expectations. A good supplement but not replacement for Reynolds and Duarte.

Advanced Presentations by Design, Andrew Abela, Pfeiffer, ©2008.
Abela is an academic and Pfeiffer is an academic publisher. Personally I don’t think there’s much that’s ‘advanced’ here at all but it still has value.  In the book I found Abela’s academic tone and style annoying, but once past that, he’s got something useful to say.  There’s a lot of pragmatic advice here for technical presenters, especially of the science and engineering variety.  Abela is a bit like Tufte-made-practical.  Maybe more useful than the book is his good website (blog) Extreme Presentation with a some downloadable templates and examples.

Creativity and other important ideas

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Chip and Dan Heath, Broadway Books, © 2010
Buy this book, read this book, use this book. If you are in any way or form leading people, then I have no hesitation in saying you need to read it and that you’ll benefit from it. If you are simply a member of a group that is undergoing change or needs to undergo change, then you are also in the target audience—reread the first sentence please. Simply put, this is a very good book with some powerful insights and pragmatic counsel on how to not just survive change but create it and put it to work for you and everyone around you.

Out of Our Minds, Learning to be creative, Sir Ken Robinson, Capstone, © 2001
Yes, the author is the Ken Robinson of the TED conference talk fame—if you’ve not seen it, I urge you to do so. Robinson is a British educator (now relocated to Los Angeles) whose passion and mission is to revamp global education so that it stops killing creativity in children. This book is a follow-up to one which more directly tackled that issue. In this one he takes on the whole notion of what creativity is and is not. He defines creativity as: “imaginative processes with outcomes that are original and of value”. Using that, he goes on to build an argument that says that all humans are inherently creative, that creativity is something that can be learned, and that creativity is something that can both be encouraged and stifled. Bottom line on this one is a cautious recommendation: there is good stuff here, I glad I read it but it’s not on my ‘most recommended’ list.

Data visualization and presentation

Envisioning Information, Edward Tufte, Graphic Press, ©1990.
One of Tufte’s well-known series on data visualization and presentation. Valuable, but I’ve found his books hard to apply in very many contexts. I found this one to be the most relevant of his books.

The Back of the Napkin, Dan Roam, Penguin Press, ©2008
Good book; portions are outstanding. Full of pragmatic techniques for idea and data visualization, this book fits into my “should have” category. It’s not in the same “must have” group as Garr Reynolds’ books or Nancy Duarte’s book. But it’s well written and fills a gap they don’t attempt to cover. (Also see my full review post.)


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