To improve my speaking and preaching, I've recently read four books on Public Speaking or use of Powerpoint.

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Garr Reynold's book Presentation Zen

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is wonderful to look at, and makes a persuasive case to ditch most of the words in our slidesets. Cliff Atkinson's book Beyond Bullet Points

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makes much the same point, and particularly when trying to 'sell' something shows how to use the techniques of Hollywood storytelling married to image-heavy-word-light slide decks.But with both I've been left partially unsatisfied, because sometimes there is detail that needs to be presented, particularly for scientists or engineers. I'm glad to find that Nancy Duarte makes the same point in her recent blog post, and predicts that 2009 will be the year when

The rise of new visual benchmarks for solving complex communication problems ... Large photos and sparse text are quickly being adopted, which is great. But they only work for keynotes and marketing. So what about the physicians, scientists, and engineers? Best practices for these folks should arrive on the scene in 2009.

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(Incidentally, I'm still hoping to get and read a copy of her new book, slide:ology

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.)

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So I found a copy of A Handbook of Public Speaking for Scientists and Engineers

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in the library at work, hoping that it might help. Written over 25 years ago I wasn't hopeful. And it does show its age, for example with

The overhead projector has become very popular in recent years

[Meaning OHPs with acetates, not our ubiquitous video or data projectors]But he does have a few good tips:

  • start with something like 'Ladies and Gentlemen' - this gives you and the audience and a chance to adjust to the level of the microphone, and hear the acoustic. Then take a breath or two before your first sentence.
  • memorise the first few sentences, and make them punchy. Don't thank the introducer (yet) or give excuses for anything. Instead, set up a question, or propose something bold, or use an appropriate but dramatic quote (eg, "In the beginning, God said, 'Let there be light.' And there was light. The development of the electric light bulb wasn't so simple.")
  • avoid weak phrases like "this reminds me of ..." or "I'll cover this in more detail later ..."
  • make sure the text on any screen is readable from the back (and because he's an engineer he gives some formulae for how to work them out!)

He spends a little time on importance of getting pauses right in and between phrases, and shows how good punctuation of the text can help. He asks how the extreme example could be punctuated to make sense:

John whereas Jim had had had had had had had had had had had the teacher's approval.

Even when you see the answer, it's still a good challenge to speak the sentence in a way that makes sense to listeners. Go on, try it ...

John, whereas Jim had had "had had", had had "had". "Had had" had had the teacher's approval.

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I also got 101 Secrets of Highly Effective Speakers: Controlling Fear, Commanding Attention

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out of the library, despite the title. Anything with 101, 99, 60, 9, or 7 in the title is going to be padded out, and it'll only be more disappointing when the 'secrets' don't materialise. But anyway I thought I'd try it. It's probably a useful book if you've not done any speaking before, and it should be encouraging to those particularly who are nervous about trying. But I think I've got beyond that point, and it couldn't help me improve construction or style.So, I suppose I'm still in the market for good books on advanced public speaking - particularly when dealing with technical material. Can anyone help?

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AuthorJonathan Clark
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