Book Review: The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations

By September 1, 2015April 26th, 2020Book Reviews, SpeakerNotes, Summer Reading Series

HBR Persuasive PresentationsWhy worry about being an excellent communicator when you have so many other pressing things to do?

“Because it will help you get those things done”, explains author Nancy Duarte, in the introduction of her book The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations.

Duarte is an icon in the public speaking arena and The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations is my favorite of her award-winning books. I found it to be an easy read, chock full of useful tips to boost confidence, and tools to engage your audience, sell your ideas, and inspire action. Duarte’s “can do” strategies will help speakers at all levels of expertise master the techniques to:


  • Craft a memorable message
  • Create powerful visuals to support your message
  • Hold the attention of your audience

Below are some of the tips that I found most useful for crafting and delivering persuasive presentations.

Know your audience as well as your material

All too often business communications are task-oriented, focusing on the what, when and how, without addressing what Duarte calls “the people side of the equation.” For greater impact, find out what is important to your audience, and their interest or need in the topic you are addressing. Once you know that, you have what it takes to engage listeners and inspire action.

To learn more, read this related article: Finding Common Ground With Your Audience.

Facts alone are not enough to persuade

Have you noticed how everything starts to sound the same when your presentation is merely a litany of facts and figures? No matter how cerebral the topic, all presentations need an emotional hook, such as a compelling image, personal story or even a metaphor that’s relevant to your listeners. The reality is that we make decisions with emotion, then back track looking for facts to support our decisions. Pairing facts with emotional context helps listeners relate and gives meaning to your presentation.

Build your presentation like a story

We all know that people remember stories. To make your presentation memorable and shareable, borrow a trick from the best storytellers: incorporate conflict. Duarte explains “All good presentations like good stories– convey and resolve some kind of conflict or imbalance.”

The trick is to weave the conflict and resolution throughout your presentation. Begin by describing life as your listeners know it, which establishes common ground and creates a bond between you and the audience. After setting a baseline of what currently is, introduce your ideas of what could be. The gap between the two builds tension and sets up what needs to be resolved. Now you’re ready to bridge the gap and address the conflict.

Develop a double ending

Sometimes your well-crafted ending can be compromised when you run short on time. Duarte’s advice? Create two natural ending points in your presentation.

Duarte shares an example of creating a “false ending” that summarizes the ideas in a presentation, followed by a “real ending” such as a rousing inspirational story that drives the message home. If you run long, or have less time than you planned, you can drop the second ending and still convey your main point.

I was excited to see Duarte share this idea, since I’ve been doing this instinctively for years! Every presenter needs a Plan B.

“Don’t worry about slide count, just make your slides count”

This is perhaps my favorite quote from the book! Focus on your message and your audience rather than the number of slides. Include slides only if they help your audience understand or remember what you are saying. You might even choose to forgo slides altogether and use a video or a prop instead.

Enlist an ally to engage webinar audiences

With online presentations growing in popularity, you may be wondering how to keep a remote audience engaged. Duarte offers a number of strategies for building trust and engagement, and simply keeping webinars running smoothly. Here’s one excellent example: enlist the help of a co-host. Having more than one speaker keeps things interesting by varying the voices and adding the type of banter that is captivating on television talk shows.

For more webinar tips, read this related article: 3 Best Practices for Webinar Presentations.

There are so many valuable tips that make The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations worth reading! Additionally, Duarte’s book is a helpful reference to have at your fingertips when your goal is to achieve results.

(See also this review of Duarte’s previous book: Resonate)

Discussion questions:

  • What prompted you to read The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations?
  • Which chapter resonated with you the most? Why?
  • What are you going to start, stop or continue doing as a result of reading this book?
  • Do you have questions or observations to share about presentation skills that occurred to you as a result of reading The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations?

Please share your thoughts, ideas, and questions in the Comments section below. I look forward to reading your insights about this useful book!

If you missed the other installments in our Summer Reading Series, see:

Book Review: Enhancing Your Executive Edge

Book Review: The Confidence Gap