Sunday, October 30, 2011

Book Review: Resonate

A few years back, I read (and reviewed) Nancy Duarte's slide:ology , a book about making presentations. I gave it a mixed review, saying that it was very pretty and perhaps useful in conveying some basics about how to use or not use Powerpoint, but that it focused too much on the slides, and not enough on the story, where clearly the latter is more important.

I guess I wasn't the only one to give her the same criticism, because Resonate is largely an answer to this concern. Duarte touts it as a prequel, and I'd argue it's the more important of the two for most people to read.

Duarte centers the book largely around the Hero's Journey (a sound concept for presentation structure), and then backs it up by analyzing a number of case examples from wide variety of speeches, breaking them down into components and showing how they align to this model. She then goes on to give a number of rules to follow when building presentation narratives. I like her "sparkline" model for visually breaking down presentations.

Overall I liked this book much more than Slideology, though I found it to have two downsides. The first is the same I complained about with the previous book: It's a very pretty, but very lightweight book. Almost as though someone built it out of a PowerPoint presentation to begin with, and filled in pieces of the text. As a result, it's very quick to get through (this may be a plus for some) but lightweight in numerous areas.

The second complaint I have about it is that Duarte doesn't delve into the differences in presenting to different kinds of audiences. She does say to tailor the talk to your audience, but doesn't talk about the dynamics of, say, presenting to superiors rather than subordinates; to a large group vs one-on-one, etc. (For example, when presenting to superiors at a large company, one has to be prepared for being sidelined with questions that you don't have the option of ignoring. If one of of these ends in a 10-minute time sink, then I find it useful to have "ripcord" slides that I can jettison to make time, and will have rehearsed ahead of time how to do a transition from slide 8 to slide 11 gracefully)

Still, even with these complaints, I think anybody but the most accomplished speakers will find something of use in this book.