Thursday, June 3, 2010

Two Books On Presentations

Recently, I had the enjoyment to read two good books on presentations. You know, these humiliating affairs feared more than death itself. One is “Confessions of a Public Speaker”, which I panhandled from a colleague after reading his praising tweet; the other is “Presentation Zen”, a longtime item on my Wish List. I wrote Amazon reviews for both books:

One thing is certain, Scott Berkun has the gift of the gab. The author's personal experiences as a speaker at conferences is greatly entertaining and full of humorous anecdotes. I promptly subscribed to his blog, to get more of Berkun's good writing.

But of course, that's not why you read this book, you want to learn about public speaking. And Berkun doesn't disappoint. His first-hand, pragmatic advice on all matters related to public speaking is useful and highly relevant for budding speakers. The book is not, neither does it try to be, a complete reference - but rather a view into the hard work behind presentations.

Let's make it clear that Scott Berkun is not a glamorous celebrity on the speaking circuit. But he is a professional with a name for himself. I think that makes him even better suited to write this book, more so than a superstar such as Jobs or Gladwell.

No matter if you have any upcoming speaking events, you'll get the itch to give it a go after reading this book. I highly recommend it.

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Conceptually, Presentation Zen is an excellent book. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy it as much as I would've wanted to.

Let's start with the good. I love Garr Reynolds's artistic approach to slide design, giving a death kneel to the ubiquitous bullet points. This is where the book really shines, and where you will learn the most. If this section would have been expanded to form the entire book, I would be in heaven.

Here's what I didn't like. Plenty of concepts are mentioned repeatedly, degrading the reading experience when the book is read cover-to-cover. There's also some typographical errors in the book, an issue that always gets me fuming.

But my largest gripe is about the font chapter. There is no such chapter. With plenty of sample slides showing how a changed font can improve upon a slide design, not a single word is written on font usage.

To summarize, the concepts and ideas put forward on slide design are great, and I know that my slides will look better next time I design a slide deck. However, I think that the book is not reaching its full potential, with a halting treatment on slide design - the book's claim to fame.

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