Full disclosure: The book I am about to review below arrived in my mailbox, unbidden, from Harvard Business Review Press. I have no idea why or how my name got on their mailing list, but I thank them.
It’s no secret that I’m a massive fanboy of Nancy Duarte. But I was not frothing at the mouth in anticipation of her new book after she revealed that much of it was contained material from her previous two books.
Much of HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations is an executive summary of Duarte’s previous two books. As I went through, I often thought, “There’s the presentation structure from Resonate.... ooh, and there are diagram types from Slide:ology.” That said, even in sections that cover old ideas, there are new examples. The book is right up to date, using examples from earlier this year.
The last two sections of the book – “Delivery” and “Impact” – are the ones of most interest, because they have the most new material. There’s a good section on giving webinars and other remote presentations online. How can you give a presentation that people will listen to... when people are much more likely to check email during that time? There’s a discussion on working with an interpreter to deliver a presentation to people who don’t speak your language.
Much of the online science crowds might be interested in her sections on following-up presentations with social media tools. For example, she encourages speakers to create a hashtag for their presentations – but not “canned” tweets. She cites research that people want to determine what’s important, so suggesting tweets to the audience makes it less likely people will use it. There’s also good discussion about the pros and cons of monitoring the backchannel during a conference, for example.
HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations is a very different beast from Slide:ology and Resonate. The size of the book is something you can readily throw in a backpack or purse, rather than the oversized trade paperback of the predecessors. The production is spare. The pages and pictures are all black and white. The contrast to the visually lush reading experience of Slide:ology or Resonate is dramatic. For me, Persuasive Presentations was less, well, persuasive because it didn’t have that depth and intensity.
As an academic, I’m disappointed that when Duarte talks about research and gives examples, you’re on your own to try your luck with Google to find them. There are no references or URLs anywhere in this book. I’m hoping that this might be remedied in the ebook, but the product description makes it appear that the ebook’s advantage is a video rather than links.
Each section is short. Each one is about the length of a blog post. It’s similar to my own Presentation Tips, which started life as a series of blog posts. Some sections have been put up as blog posts on the Harvard Business Review website, and because they can use colour, they look much better than they do in the book itself.
Despite the brevity, Duarte makes this a more personal book than her previous ones in many cases. She sprinkles personal anecdotes throughout. I get the impression that she’s gained a lot more experiences to share as she’s transitioned from a “behind the scenes” presentation designer to an “on the stage” keynote presenter.
If you have not bought either of Nancy Duarte’s previous books, Persuasive Presentations is excellent value: you can get this one for less than half the price of the other two combined. But this is not a “must own” like Slide:ology and Resonate are. HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations informed me, but it didn’t delight me.
The Zen of Presentations, Part 20: The presentation book you must own
The Zen of Presentations, Part 35: Another presentation book you must own
Ted blog: How to give more persuasive presentations: A Q&A with Nancy Duarte