5 Books on Presenting (and why you should read them)

You’re right – reading about presenting is not enough.

But – books are an amazing source of ideas. Here are 5 that I found super-inspiring. Pre-selected by various public speaking geeks I meet in Toastmaster clubs. If you really want to get beyond the “tell them what you’ll tell them, tell them and tell them what you told them” – these five will do the trick.

My suggestion – take them at a pace of 1 book per week. Make the ideas clash. Create a goulash in your head. Schedule some speaking opportunities for yourself, so that you can start putting those ideas to work right away. And most importantly – have fun reading them.

Definitely start with this one:

Resonate (Nancy Duarte)


“Resonate cracks the code on how to orchestrate the invisible attributes that shape transformative audience experiences.” A bold claim. Yet Resonate delivers on its promise. It puts together concepts from dozens of books and articles on presentation building and storytelling – and wraps it into a beautiful package and an easy to digest format.

“You are not the hero – the audience is the hero!” So obvious, but for me this was an eye opener. Using storytelling templates (Situation – Complication – Resolution, or Relatable and likable hero – encouters roadblocks – emerges transformed), Nancy Duarte changed the way I was thinking about building presentations. And by comparing the presenter to a movie mentor (like master Yoda), while audience to a story protagonist (like Luke Skywalker), Nancy made it clear how you should approach the folks you’ll be presenting to.

By explaining the principles taught in the book using some of the most famous TED talks and public speeches, Nancy created a perfect springboard for launching the book in a multimedia format. The best part about it – you can find it free right here. Yes, I’m serious. The first book from this list. Legally free online. Life is beautiful!

What surprised me: Not me (the presenter), the audience is the hero.

Useful concepts: S.T.A.R. moment (Something They will Always Remember – like Steve Jobs slipping the 2008’s new MacBook Air into an office envelope), Kill Your Darlings (ruthlessly edit out everything that does not support your main message), Create a contrast between What Is and What Could Be.

After reading this book: You will tell stories with your presentations, instead of presenting dull facts.

A pretty colorful book with pictures. A good start, wasn’t it? Now let’s get into something a bit more academic. The next one will become your presentation dictionary.

Presentation Patterns (Neal Ford, Matthew McCullough and Nathaniel Schutta)

Presentation Patterns2

Coming from technology background (and being famous presenters at various tech conferences), Neal, Matt and Nathaniel display in their book less images and present more technical tips & tricks how to put the right information on the right slide the right way.

The book is structured in 3 main parts (Prepare, Build, Deliver) and within each part there is a list of related Patterns (what to do) and Antipatterns (what to avoid). The way the book is organized makes it a perfect reference material – once you go through the whole book, you can jump right to the topics you need to deal with. Curious about how to promote your next webinar? Jump to the “Social Media Advertising” pattern. Would you like to try “One word per slide” presentation? Go for “Takahashi” pattern. Not sure how to make an effective demonstration of your new app? Dive into “Live Demo” pattern.

Presentation Patterns will give you even some really practical examples how to play around with settings in PowerPoint and Keynote to achieve just the right result.

What surprised me: Make every presentation worth the time you invest in it – by making it really good and making sure that you’ll present it more than once.

Useful concepts: Talklet (divide your presentation into chunks that can potentially act as stand-alone mini-presentations and be re-shuffled on as-needed basis), Coda (at the end of your presentation, provide list of “dig deeper” materials), Unifying Visual Theme (common repeating visual element displayed throughout the presentation) and many, many more.

After reading this book: You’ll have a perfect reference at hand on how to create, prepare and deliver (not only) technical presentations. You’ll also learn about dozens of presentation tricks & techniques you had never heard before (Lightning Talk? Celery? Light Saber? That’s what I’m talking about).

63 presentation patterns – and slightly less antipatterns. I told you – dictionary, right? As the next step, let’s relax a little once again with one more piece from Ms Nancy that is full of pictures and nice colors.

Slide:ology (Nancy Duarte)


The first book from Nancy Duarte that grabbed my attention by its fresh and easy-to-read design and the message that we need to create ideas, not slides. The first three chapters on sketching and brainstorming were just amazing. The following chapters were rather touching topics that really needed to be handled in more detail (displaying data with charts, use of images in presentations, typesetting etc.). However – they provide a perfect starting point for you if you want to dig deeper in any of those. That’s why Slide:ology is worth the place in your library.

What surprised me: Treat your presentation as a project. For an hour-long presentation with 30 slides, you should prepare 36-90 hours in total. That includes:

  • 6-20 hours to do the research
  • 20-60 hours for building the presentation in a presentation software

Useful concepts: Audience Needs Map (I think even Aragorn used it), sketching stickmen on sticky notes (explained in more detail in The Doodle Revolution), use of the color wheel and typesetting.

After reading this book: You’ll have some basic knowledge on what makes slides look great (and what doesn’t).

After mastering what you’ve learned in the previous three books – you’ll have your basics right. What you need to do next is to add some magic into your stage performance.

Presenting Magically (Ted James)

Presenting Magically

Very different from all the other books on presenting I have read so far, Presenting Magically shows you how to use NLP (Neuro-Lingustic Programming) to get directly into your audience’s brains. You’ll see how – Mr. James will get into your brain too. No kidding.

“Take a moment to review your reasons for reading this book. And whatever your reasons are, that’s fine. They are your reasons. And you can change them, or add to them whenever you wish.”

Dealing with topics like state of mind, creation of rapport and connecting with the energy of the group, this book is targeted at more experienced presenters and people who lead longer workshops, rather than the standard project status presentations. But if you master the techniques described in this book, you’ll be a magician on the stage.

What surprised me: Presentation has to be entertaining. “If you are going to stand up in front of an audience, you had better be entertaining. Because if you aren’t, why would people choose to be there? Why bother attending a live training when they could get the information from reading a book or listening to a tape?”

Useful concepts: Collect stories from your life to build a portfolio that you’ll be able to use in your presentations. Open a loop in the beginning of your training that will create a question in the minds of your audience – and close it only at the very end.

After reading this book: You’ll boost your confidence on the stage and will get way more people from the audience coming to tell you how amazing your presentation was.

If all your presentations you will ever give will be the in-person type, you can stop reading now. But I seriously doubt that. If you agree – let’s get to the cherry on top of this cake and learn a bit on presenting virtually.

Exceptional Presenter Goes Virtual (Timothy J. Koegel)

Exceptional Presenter

Last year I volunteered to give a virtual presentation on the topic of “How to Give Effective Virtual Presentations”. The challenge: I never gave a virtual presentation before. Stupid idea to teach it, wouldn’t you say?

Luckily – I found this book. And this book saved me. It opens with the statement that “Your virtual presentation must be relevant, or it will be ignored.” With that in mind, it helps you prepare your webinar in a way that builds your audience’s expectations a long time before the presentation starts – and you’ll have their full attention from minute one.

That’s not an easy task, as the author knows (and so do we) – “In some organizations, online meetings are viewed as an opportunity to get other stuff done.” The book will show you how to deal with this – by learning from the pros.

Similar to virtual presenters, the news anchors too assume that their audience is multitasking during the broadcast, so they fight to keep them glued to the screen (if you want to get the feeling of it – watch this NBC News Video and notice the cadence at which the anchor and the reporter keep throwing information at you).

More topics specific for virtual presentations are discussed (choice and use of technology, how to build your virtual presentation team), and are incorporated into the overall flow of the presentation preparation. Written in an entertaining way and with conversational language, I was able to read the book in one go (and went back to particular parts as needed).

What surprised me: “What’s the best way to talk to an invisible audience? (…) The same way you talk to your friends on the telephone.”

Useful concepts: Virtual Prep Sheet (questionnaire about your presentation). Make it clear whey you tell a joke (“It’s easier to get others to laugh when they know the information was meant to be funny”). When you ask the audience a question, make it easy for them to give the right answer. Always send a follow-up material.

After reading this book: You will feel an urge to organize your own webinar.

Books are not enough, all right. But presenting the same way all the time is not enough either. If you absorb some of the material from the pieces above – and if you manage to put it into practice – you’ll be good. Damn good. Unstoppable, perhaps.

By the way…

Kindle, hardcover or paperback?

Featured image by Rachel, taken from Flickr, under Creative Commons licence. Brightness of the image adjusted.

Quotation marks in this post mark quotes from the respective books discussed.

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