63.1, February 2016

Review of Two Books on Presentation Style

By Caroline Bruno

Introduction

HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations is not the average, run-of-the-mill text on PowerPoint. Atypical with sophisticated approaches, this book appeals to any high-powered executive leader looking to deliver an impactful message and to transform thinking. The book is filled with intelligent material that transcends media presentations. Audience members are exalted as key benefactors while the presenter is effectively tutored on how to surpass audience expectations on content and delivery. Document designers, professional writers, and other communications professionals will also benefit from Duarte’s strategies on persuasion. The potential outcome of lessons learned and applied will likely influence audience responsiveness and decision-making. This book offers leading-edge acumen for the savvy corporate executive looking to establish credibility and reverence as a presenter.

Clapp and Southard are a formidable team, providing an anchor for those looking to accelerate their skills at presenting in professional settings. The content is all-encompassing, letting novices gain confidence, while simultaneously offering ample lessons for advanced speakers who can benefit by expanding their communications repertoire. Unique concepts that benchmark best practices are stylishly introduced. Exercises and activities highlight the workbook feature with hands-on and practical learning. In today’s business environment, being able to offer new and relevant skills that impact business outcomes is a plus. Presenting at Work departs from speaking expectations in formal situations to social and networking events, which is an added bonus for those wishing to come full circle with public speaking expertise. This book is an easy referral and makes a useful desktop manual.

HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations: Inspire Action. Engage the Audience. Sell Your Ideas.

Bruno_Duarte_CoverDuarte’s book is for people who are looking to develop exceptional, persuasive presentation skills in a business setting. Concepts are broadly applicable to several industries and professions, and across various levels of expertise—line manager to C-suite executive. Duarte opines on how a presenter can develop the ability to inspire action, engage the audience, and sell ideas—fundamental to professional development and career progression. Placing a “What You’ll Learn” section up front informs readers on how they might be transformed into a better presenter.

From the onset, the writing is credible. Real-world scenarios, examples, and explanations create a convincing, impactful connection with the reader. The use of analogies, including cultural iconography, allows the reader to immediately resonate with ideas. Duarte goes beyond lecturing on a seemingly overly discussed topic by developing the presenter into an expert on presentation ideas, needs, and content. She offers a number of substantive roles the presenter has apart from merely presenting—one role being “curator of content.” The book gives authority to the presenter while extolling audience power. It develops the presenter into creator and facilitator of success and results. Duarte exceeds proven presentation approaches that exalt audience power—WIIFM (what’s in it for me)—for audience buy-in by considering the audience as key benefactor. The description of the audience as the “hero” who propels the presenter’s idea is a welcomed and novel idea.

In discussing audience segmentation, Duarte stretches the audience profile by asking what keeps them up at night. She presents audience segmentation as a key approach to building a persuasive presentation that makes respectable business sense. Duarte discusses how the presenter as a change agent can move the audience through a transformation map that addresses the “what” and “how” of change. Key to finding common ground with the audience is resonance—a physics phenomenon—which Duarte instructs should be tapped into for believability.

Whenever writers make an ode to architects of well-established schools of thought, they promote credibility. Duarte does so by addressing emotional and analytical appeals—Aristotle’s rhetorical appeals. She reminds us of the basics of professional writing, including word choice, avoiding jargon, and promoting clarity.

Duarte introduces storytelling principles with presentation structure—done in a tasteful manner and appropriately positioned after the analysis on thought organization. She discusses crafting the beginning, developing the middle, and making the ending powerful with use of the persuasive story pattern—what is, what could be; what is, what could be; new bliss and call to action. Her advice to presenters to leverage an inventory of personal experiences for developing a repository for use in presentations is brilliant and superb; outside the box.

Other revolutionary concepts shared in HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations include persuading beyond the stage. Here, Duarte discusses how the presentation starts the moment the speaker commits to speak and continues after the talk and through follow-up with the audience. She recommends sharing the stage by inviting a co-presenter to increase audience engagement and add diversity of data formats on stage. Duarte also instructs on the three-second glance test where presenters need to avoid taxing the audience’s cognitive resources. Another well-received concept is having more than one version of the presentation.

Graphics are placed throughout the text and complement the narrative in tasteful ways. This accentuates Duarte’s attempt at having the presenter think like a designer by using design principles like CRAP (Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity) in creating visuals and building the presentation. Additional takeaways center on being in tune with self (personality), paying homage to Susan Cain, American writer and lecturer; physicality beliefs; passion; leveraging support from teams to maximize presentation outcomes; and inviting feedback from multimedia for further professional development.

HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations offers a listing of other literature in the HBR Guides Series and HBR’s 10 Must Reads Series and is a must-read for anyone looking to transform his or her presentation skills.

Presenting at Work: A Guide to Public Speaking in Professional Contexts

Clapp_Presenting_2014This book focuses the reader on public speaking in professional contexts. It is useful for those seeking to improve how they express themselves effectively in business meetings, conferences, job interviews, evaluations, performance appraisals, and networking and social events. It distances itself from other books on public speaking by including guidance for speaking at events such as toasts.

Three distinct sections of Presenting at Work address the how, what, and where of public speaking. Activities and exercises follow every chapter, which classifies the book as a handbook. In it, Clapp and Southard effectively prepare the reader and speaker by opening with a discussion on the psychological preparations and intelligence of speaking. They address how to manage nervousness in a common-sense way—sharing statistics that show nervousness is a universal experience many have. The topic’s discourse feels like a workout in itself as it touches on physical and mental exercises that can channel nervous energy into enthusiasm and success. They mention that including effective public speaking in a communications repertoire is a winning formula for those engaged in communications.

The speaking proficiencies that Clapp and Southard offer are detailed accounts of how to speak, focusing on posture, tone, and connecting with the audience. The language is successful in cautioning the reader about do’s and don’ts. The authors share accounts of well-known leaders’ experiences to demonstrate how poor speaking proficiencies can bring career opportunities, including political office, to a screeching halt.

Discussing the ethics of what is said is a winning approach to engaging the reader beyond speaking basics. Vigilantly respecting the message, audience and self/presenter are offered as ways to boost integrity and credibility.

Clapp and Southard’s conversational tone makes understanding the concepts easy. Use of the unique Sandwich Structure in outlining speeches, analysis of the situation and audience, and even research in preparing for the speaking engagement are dealt with in an instructional manner. They provide clear direction on how to build content, where to go, and what to look for in supporting material and sources of information. It mimics academic applications.

The authors’ knack in addressing the obvious does not over-simplify the text. Each area or sub-topic is given due attention, providing supporting detail in an efficient, logical way. For example, topic selection invites the speaker to choose from personal and professional experiences where possible, to add credibility to the delivery—something no other speaker can do on his or her topic. In addressing how to appease the audience, Clapp and Southard share a unique strategy for storytelling: how to deliver the speech based on a ratio between the primary and secondary purpose of the message. They opine on audience engagement, on incorporating live participation during the delivery, and on how Monroe’s Motivated Sequence can be leveraged for maximum effect.

Presenting at Work also covers the intricacies and nuances around presenting in various forums—teleconferences, videoconferences, Webinars, panel discussions and group presentations—educating the reader on expectations in each forum. The authors push the envelope and include Q&As as opportunities to make effective representation as a speaker.

One of the best features in Presenting at Work is the placement in each chapter of exercises and activities that enhance the speaker’s capabilities. Appendices list useful resources the speaker can leverage for professional development.

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References

Duarte, Nancy. 2012. HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations: Inspire Action. Engage the Audience. Sell Your Ideas. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review. [ISBN 978-1-4221-8710-4. 230 pages, including index. US$19.95 (softcover).

Clapp, Christine, and Bjorn F. Stillion Southard. 2014. Present at Work: A Guide to Public Speaking in Professional Contexts. San Bernardino, CA: Spoken with Authority. [ISBN 978-0-578-14435-1. 264 pages. US$19.95 (softcover).

About the Author

Caroline Bruno is an STC student member. She handles corporate communications for C-suite executives at a Fortune 50 company in New York. Caroline has a careful eye for editorial detail in text and visual content with a honed eye for audience, context, and purpose issues.