As a business leader, your career depends on bringing crucial information to the table. Your ability to maintain and access information sets you apart from your competition. It is the difference between closing the deal and floundering during important meetings. And it’s absolutely essential to successfully field questions from media, investors, or audience members. You simply can’t afford to recall something 5 minutes too late.
But you also rarely have time to read an entire industry article, let alone a whole book cover-to-cover. So how can you stay current and keep the right information available, so you can pull it out at exactly the right time? Here’s my secret: Reading (and writing) book reviews is one of my favorite tools for keeping my mental file cabinet well stocked and organized.
Recently, as I moved deeper into writing my own book, I’ve been revisiting some of the best books with tips, tricks, and tools for business leaders who need to speak and deliver results. It has been fun finding new connections. In what follows, I stroll through past book reviews to highlight important takeaways to save in your mental file cabinet.
- The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations by Nancy Duarte
Duarte is an icon in the public speaking world and this is my favorite of her award-winning books. As one would expect, it’s full of great advice for professional speakers or anyone looking to standout on stage. She offers useful tools to boost confidence, engage your audience, sell your ideas, and inspire action.
What I love most about this book is how she emphasizes the non-speaking benefits of becoming an excellent communicator. Why should you spend time improving communications skills when you have so many other pressing things to do? Duarte’s answer: because it will help you do those other things.
Top tips for delivering persuasive presentations:
- Know your audience as well as your material
- Remember that facts alone are not enough to persuade
- Develop your presentation like a story (with a double-ending, in case you run short on time)
Favorite quote: “Don’t worry about slide count, just make your slides count.”
- Speaking Up Without Freaking Out by Matt Abrahams
This book delivers a game-changing message: anxiety around public speaking is not an inevitable part of life. Fear of public speaking is most often associated with giving presentations in front of large audiences, but anxiety also bubbles up in smaller meetings or even one-on-one conversations. Abrahams’ book is all about using the right techniques in any situation to manage your fear and anxiety to achieve the results you want when you step up to speak out.
I especially appreciate Abrahams’ writing style. The book made me feel like I was talking with a trusted colleague sharing inside secrets.
Top tips for managing speech anxiety:
- Adjust your center of balance to prevent swaying during a presentation
- Hold an ice-cold water bottle while you speak to stay cool
- Shake hands before a meeting or talk to release oxytocin in your brain and reduce stress before stepping up to speak
Favorite quote: “As a student of mine once joked: ‘People would rather stand naked while on fire, overlooking a 30-story fall, covered with spiders and snakes, than give a speech.”
- Made to Stick by Dan Heath and Chip Heath
Reading Made to Stick is like listening to a fun, upbeat friend—it’s entertaining, educational, and exhilarating. Dan and Chip Heath, accomplished educators and long-time idea collectors, offer up practical, tangible strategies for making your ideas stick with others. This book will resonate with any leader facing a high-pressure, high-stakes situation.
Takeaways that you will want to remember:
- 6 principles for overcoming the dreaded “Curse of Knowledge”
- The “Velcro Theory of Memory:” the more hooks an idea has, the better it sticks in our memories
- The “Human Scale Principle:” make statistics more memorable by highlighting the human element
Favorite quote: “The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern.”
- Presentationzen by Garr Reynolds
When I first picked up my copy of Presentationzen, I couldn’t put it down. I carried it with me wherever I went, so I could read a few pages in spare moments. It’s that good and that fast to read. If you’ve ever felt bored to tears listening to a speaker read from a screen plastered in text, you’ll love this book, too. According to Reynolds, live talks that make an impact tell a story enhanced by imagery and multimedia.
Actionable ideas that resonate:
- Find your core message: the ONE thing you want your audience to remember
- Take the opportunity to differentiate yourself, your organization, your cause
- For slides, less is more! Remove anything that fails to add to your core message
- Images are more powerful than words
Favorite quote: “It is more difficult to process information if it is coming at us both verbally and in written form at the same time.”
- Steal the Show by Michael Port
To be honest, I was skeptical of Port’s main claim that we should think of presentations as performances. I have often pushed back when others make this comparison. I saw it as encouraging speakers to project a false façade and to pretend to be someone other than who they truly are.
But as I read this book, I realized Port is not advocating for being false. Quite the contrary! Grounded in authenticity, this book teaches how to put your best self forward to remain confident and adaptable in the moment.
What presenters can learn from performers:
- The value of rehearsal
- The skill of improv
- How to be a team player
And if you really want to “steal the show” with your next presentation, Port’s cheat sheet summarizes 50 public speaking tips you can’t afford to ignore.
Favorite quote: “Remember to think big about who you are and what you have to offer the world.”
Professional communication is one of the keys to success in every industry. Part and parcel of strong communication skills is making crucial connections to solve problems. But in order to make these connections we need to consistently flex our mental muscles, and reading book reviews is one great way to do this.
If you’re ready to go further, summer is a great time to read a few books and write your own book review. Not only will you bring beneficial information to a wider audience, you’ll draw new connections that benefit you and your work, too. Plus, it makes those mental files even more accessible.
It’s my hope that having the above key takeaways from these pivotal books in your back pocket will help you speak and deliver results. Practice these powerful tips so the next time you’re in a conversation, meeting, or on stage, you’ll be able to pull up the right information at the right time, not 5 minutes too late.