The 3 greatest presentation books of all time. (That have nothing to do with presentations)

As we reach the final countdown before the launch of my new book (pre-order Show and Tell now and join me for a secret webinar on April 10), I am reflecting on the many incredible presentation books I have relied on for inspiration, guidance, and reference.

Scanning across the bookshelves in my office (I buy them all on paper because I like to draw in them), it dawns on me that my collection falls into three must-read categories. I’m going to say a few words about the books in the first two categories, then a lot about the last.

1) Must-read books about presentations

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2) Must-read books sort-of about presentations

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3) Must-read books not at all about presentations
This is the group I really want to talk about, because all these books changed how I think about my life and my presentations. I know that anyone who makes presentations will get value out of these three books, but will never see them in a list of “presentation books.”

So here they are: the three greatest presentation books of all time – that aren’t about presentations.

1) The best book ever written on understanding the machine in our head:
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman


As a presenter, we’ve got a lot of heads we need to think about. First, there is our own: what’s on our mind, what we’d like to share, how nervous we are, etc. Then there all the heads of all those people we’re presenting to: what’s on their minds, what are they willing to listen to, what’s making them wake up or fall asleep.

In reality, being a presenter is more about being an engaging psychologist than it is about being a sage or a teacher or an entertainer. And no one on earth is a more engaging psychologist than Daniel Kahneman. Without even opening his book again, my mind immediately alights on some of these presentation gems:

  • Positive vs negative priming. Want people to enjoy your talk? Say upbeat things. Avoid the negative. Don’t say, “This sucks because…” instead say, “This is lovely because…” Yes, this flies in the face of everything we read in the news, BuzzFeed, Gawker, etc, but that’s precisely the reason we’re so cranky when we read the news: it negatively primes us to expect bad things, and our body physiologically prepares for badness. End of happy presentation, right there.
  • Framing. The way we initially “frame” a comment defines how it will be received and recalled. If we say our team lost the game, we think our team was bad. If we say the other team won the game, we’re still left open to the possibility that our team was great as well. I can think of ten thousand ways to use this when presenting ideas I want people to want to remember.
  • The Two Thinking Modes. As the title of Daniel’s book tells us, our brain breaks thinking down into two modes: one ‘fast’ for getting things done and one ‘slow’ for thinking them through. We shift back and forth between the two modes all the time. Knowing why – and being aware of it – is like someone finally handing us the instruction manual for our mind.

2) The best book ever written on using the machine in our head:
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer


Throughout my life, I’ve worried that my memory wasn’t as reliable as I needed. (Especially a problem when you’ve got a four-hour presentation to give.) In fact, one core element of the stage fright we all feel at times is the fear that we’re going to forget what we wanted to say. Thank you Joshua for letting me know I’m not a flake and even more for showing me how to remember. (And even more, the solution is PICTURES!)

A few highlights:

  • Introducing the Memory Palace. Now all the rage thanks to BBC’s Sherlock, it was Joshua’s book that re-introduced the memory palace to our toolbox of cognitive tricks. The memory palace is the tool that the ancients used to prepare long presentations before the days of PowerPoint. It is the simple process of listing all the things you want to say, then mentally walking through a favorite place (Tuscan palace, vacation spa on the Aegean Sea, olive grove on the hills above Athens) and placing all the “things” in obvious sight. Once it’s time to remember, all you need to do is “walk” through the palace in the mind’s eye, and presto – there are the things you wanted to say.
  • What this means for me: I almost never write more than five words on any presentation slide. Instead, I turn my entire presentation into a visible memory palace. When I see a particular picture, chart, map, sketch, or graphic, I immediately remember (most of) what I wanted to say about it. And if I forget something, nobody notices. Why? Because we’ve all got a nice picture to look at.
  • Seriously, reading this book will give you a whole new sense of hope for what your mind can do, and a whole new sense of wonder for how far can we push visual thinking.

3) The best book ever written on using the rest of our mind and body:

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Back in Junior High and High School, I ran all the time. It was the late seventies and early eighties and everybody ran. Track, cross country, family weekend fun-runs. Since I was a kid and indestructible, it never occurred to me that the running might 1) help my body stay strong so that it could better withstand the rigors of daily life 2) physically enlarge and oxygenate my brain and 3) encourage my body’s naturally calming and thinking chemicals to flow.

Stronger body, bigger brain, less stress? They didn’t mean anything to me at age fifteen, but I can’t think of a better cocktail now at age 50. We don’t often talk about how physically demanding giving a presentation is, but we should. I now see that aside from having my content prepared and practiced, the single greatest contributor to my confidence as a presenter is feeling physically well.

Okay, there are lots of books about health and fitness. Why am I so ga-ga about Christopher’s? Two reasons: One, this is the first book I have read in one sitting in twenty years. It is that fun, captivating, illuminating, and full of fantastic stories. More importantly, reading this book – especially the description of how to run well – got my adrenaline pumping so fast that the moment I finished I went out for my first long run in almost twenty years.

Did I hurt myself? I did not. Did I find myself effortlessly visualizing my entire next presentation as I floated along? I did. Have I stopped running since? I have not. And neither have I stopped giving ever better presentations.

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Join me for a free, super-secret SHOW & TELL webinar on April 10.

April 10 live webinar

Pre-order “SHOW and TELL” before April 10, 2014 and I will invite you to a special free, private, super-secret, 45-minute live webinar on making extraordinary presentations.

We’ll talk in detail about the three rules of great presentations:

  1. Tell the truth and the heart will follow.
  2. Tell a story and understanding will follow.
  3. Tell it with pictures and the mind will follow.

Then, I’ll share with you a set of advanced presentation tricks guaranteed to make your audience want you to talk longer! (How awesome would that be!)

The details:

Pre-order SHOW and TELL at any online retailer:

Send an electronic copy of your receipt to: preorder.showandtell@gmail.com

  • You’ll receive your webinar invitation link
  • Register and attend!

See you on April 10. Until then, all the best!
- Dan

“A simple, beautiful, and important book. An absolute must-read.”
- GARR REYNOLDS, author of Presentation Zen
“This deceptively simple little book is a must-read for seasoned presenters and novices alike.”
- DAVID ALLEN, author of Getting Things Done

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This explains a lot… and it isn’t good.

The incomparable Maria Popova (whom you must follow on twitter @brainpicker) recently posted a review of the incredible book “This Explains Everything” from John Brockman. The book presents 150+ brilliant thinkers’ answers to the question:

“What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?”

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A brilliant book with a fatal flaw.

With magnificent insights from Jared Diamond, Brian Eno, Steven Pinker, and Susan Blackmore, the book covers pretty much everything we know — or really should know — about the underlying order of the universe. (In other words, there is a lot to think about in this book.)

But there’s a big problem. A huge problem. A problem that makes me want to either cry or start shouting REALLY LOUD.

Out of 150 brilliant minds introducing their favorite theories, only one* used pictures.

WHAT?!This is crazy — especially since EVERY ONE of the entries I’ve read so far (just passed 50) would benefit enormously from the addition of a simple clarifying sketch.

And these pictures aren’t hard to draw. I got so mad while reading this book on the short flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I managed to draw the first three while sitting on the plane. Here they are:

1) Susan Blackmore on Evolution

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2) Matt Ridley on DNA

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3) Richard Dawkins on how we process patterns

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The big takeaway: If we’re explaining a theory, why wouldn’t we use every means available to make that theory clear, memorable, and alive? If we’re going to use words to describe an image, why don’t we just draw the image we’re trying to describe?

It’s not that hard. I did these three in less that 30 minutes, using nothing but a pen and paper. Imagine what a true genius could do in a day.

When the smartest people we have reject the use of simple images to support their own theories, is it really any wonder that more people reject science?

This really upsets me. Come on, smart people: SHOW me what you’re talking about.

(*That one BTW, is Stewart Brand. My new hero.)

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Join me this summer in London & Berlin

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May 29 event update: I still have 5 seats available in London and 4 seats available in Berlin. I really want you to have one of those seats, so I’m offering a last-minute special savings of £/€ 150.

Enter the coupon code BLACKPEN when you register and pay only £/€ 645. (Regular £/€ 795.)

London June 13: http://www.regonline.com/napkinacademy_london_2013

Berlin June 18: http://www.regonline.com/napkinacademy_berlin_2013

See you there!

- Dan

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London Dan Roam vidoe

Video intro to my London event.

Please join me on June 13, 2013 in London and June 18, 2013 in Berlin as I offer my full-day Back of the Napkin visual-thinking seminar. Register now for London or Berlin!

Drawings and smiles

Become a master visual-thinker!

  • Think faster.
  • Communicate more clearly.
  • Solve complex problems.
  • See the invisible.

I’ve trained thousands of businesspeople around the world to become master visual-thinkers. Following the sold-out success of my 2012 Amsterdam event, let’s continue the visual magic in Europe. Join me at London’s Novotel Paddington Hotel or Berlin’s Hotel Concorde for a full day of drawing, thinking, sharing, and inspiration.

Novotel

concordeb

The cost for the full day in London is £795 and Berlin is €795 . (Early bird special: Register for London before April 15, 2013 and save £100 OR Register for Berlin before April 15, 2013 and save €100! Only £/€695 for this limited time.) Your fee includes:

  • 8 hours of intense, hands-on visual training.
  • The Back of the Napkin Expanded Edition book.
  • Personal whiteboard, pen, & erasure.
  • Excellent lunch.
  • True insight, useful tools, & real-world exercises.

Your fee includes: a full day of training, my book, your own whiteboard, lunch.

In this fun, engaging, and inspiring seminar, we’ll cover:

  1. The essentials of visual-thinking.
  2. How to leverage visual cognition in business.
  3. Use the visual-thinking toolkit for discovery & decision-making.
  4. How to clarify and persuade with pictures.

This is what my last seminar looked like: total visual action!

This is the full-day version of the seminar I have delivered at Microsoft, Boeing, Google, Gap, Kraft, Philips, Siemens, Intel, the United States Senate, and the White House.

Seminar clients

This will be my only trip to Europe this year, so I’d love to see you there! Register here for London or Register here for Berlin!

flying_flight

 

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Thank you Amsterdam!

I’m just back from delivering my first public Napkin Training in Amsterdam.

Thank you all who attended! It was fun, a great success, and I believe a wonderful learning experience for all — especially me.

For just over eight hours, seventy-five of us from thirteen countries shared visual-thinking lessons, stories, examples, and more pictures than we could count.

My top three lessons:

1) While local details are critical, business challenges are universal.

All participants, from small consultancies to medium-size businesses to major corporations, brought their own “problems” with them. While each problem was unique, we saw through our pictures that each is composed of the same essential visual elements: the who, what, how much, where, when, and how. By drawing these out, we found that we could clearly understand each others’ businesses quickly and clearly.

2) Europe needs — and is ready for — more visual thinking.

To an even greater degree than in the USA, visual thinking appears not to be actively encouraged in European education and business. I sensed a greater hesitation among participants to leap into drawing — with a correspondingly high sense of satisfaction and collective amazement when our pictures “worked.” Certainly there are countless historic and cultural issues at work, which will make for great thought exercises. Yet given the communication, innovation, competition, and growth challenges ahead for Europe, I strongly believe more visual thinking will become an asset.

3) Amsterdam is a great center for visual thinking.

Amsterdam is such a great city to begin with. Add in the intense visual and design culture, the openness of the city and its people, and the willingness among businesspeople to try new things, and you have a powerful mix. I can easily see Amsterdam becoming a true center of visual literacy for Europe. I can’t wait to come back and draw again.

Thanks again to all who joined me. If you weren’t able to make it, I promise to do it again.

Until then, keep drawing!

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Draw with me in Amsterdam Nov. 20, 2012!

Europe: Let's get visual!

Please join me on Nov. 20 in Amsterdam as I offer my only full-day European Back of the Napkin seminar of 2012. Register now!

Drawings and smiles

Become a master visual-thinker!

  • Think faster.
  • Communicate more clearly.
  • Solve complex problems.
  • See the invisible.

I’ve trained thousands of businesspeople in the USA and Asia to become master visual-thinkers. Now I’d like to share the visual magic with you in Europe. Join me at Amsterdam’s magnificent Mövenpick Hotel City Centre for a full day of drawing, thinking, sharing, and inspiration.

Movenpick Amsterdam Hotel

The cost for the full day is €795. (Early bird special: Register before Sept 21 and save €100! Only €695 for this limited time.) Your fee includes:

  • 8 hours of intense, hands-on visual training.
  • The Back of the Napkin Expanded Edition book.
  • Personal whiteboard, pen, & erasure.
  • Excellent lunch.
  • True insight, useful tools, & real-world exercises.

(Please note that 21% Dutch VAT must be collected on all registrations.)

Your fee includes: a full day of training, my book, your own whiteboard, lunch.

In this fun, engaging, and inspiring seminar, we’ll cover:

  1. The essentials of visual-thinking.
  2. How to leverage visual cognition in business.
  3. Use the visual-thinking toolkit for discovery & decision-making.
  4. How to clarify and persuade with pictures.

This is what my last seminar looked like: total visual action!

This is the full-day version of the seminar I have delivered at Microsoft, Boeing, Google, Gap, Kraft, Philips, Siemens, Intel, the United States Senate, and the White House.

Seminar clients

This will be my only trip to Europe this year, so I’d love to see you there! Register now.

Coming to Amsterdam!

 

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Honoring Neil and the Moon; From Russia with Love.

I’m not surprised how moved I am by the passing last week of Neil Armstrong. I was 5 years old when he and Buzz landed on the moon. My father was in the Strategic Air Command of the United States Air Force. We lived across the street from SAC HQ. We lived airplanes. To us, going to the moon was a really long airplane flight we could watch. And we watched every minute.

My parents bought me the special edition of Life magazine dedicated entirely to the Apollo 11 flight. I must have read every word and gazed at every picture one hundred times.

Many years later, I lived in Moscow, Russia, where I worked as a designer at an advertising agency. One day in 1993 I walked across the street to one of my favorite stores, the huge “Moscow Book Store” on Kalinin Prospekt. (I am happy that Google Street view shows me the store is still there — thank you, Sacha Arnoud and team Google.)

This is the Moscow Book Store where my adventure took place.

I went to the front desk behind which were kept the big color books and posters. A friend had told me he’d seen a copy of an original El Lissitzky “Red Wedge” poster there, and I was beside myself with the excitement of finding such a historic treasure.

The poster I was looking for: an original copy of El Lissitzky’s “Red Wedge” from 1919.

But as I gazed past the shopkeeper towards the shelf, I saw something even more surprising. There was a huge book with huge title MOON written in English. I was taken aback; what was that doing here?

In my third-grade Russian, I asked the shopkeeper if I might take a look. She put on gloves, gently pulled the book out of its place, and rested it on the glass counter. It was massive.

This is the book I saw on the shelf. When the shopkeeper handed it to me, I couldn’t believe the size — and the heft. (And what the hell was it doing in a Moscow bookstore?)

As I reverently opened the book, I was captivated: there were the same images I’d seen so long before in Life. “How much do you want for this?” I asked.

There were the same photos that had been seared into my visual memory as a kid 25 years before.

The shopkeeper took a look at the book then a look at me. Then another look at the book. “That’s one hundred thousand Rubles.” She said. At the official exchange rate that was just over $100 US. An enormous amount of money in those days, but then it was an enormous book. (And I was doing everything I could to keep the shopkeeper from seeing that my head was about to explode from the adrenaline rush of having found such a thing in such a place.)

“Can you hold it for me? I can get the money and be back in 10 minutes.”

“Can you pay one hundred twenty thousand?

“Yes.”

“I can hold it for you.”

I ran to my apartment two blocks way, grabbed a stack of Rubles and Dollars, and ran back.

She was still there. The book was gone.

“Where is the book?”

“Where is the money?”

I counted out seventy thousand Rubles and fifty Dollars. She took the Rubles but held up a hand against the dollars. She thought twice. She took the dollars.

She pulled an enormous brown paper package out from under the counter. “I hope you enjoy this. It came from one of our own cosmonauts. It was a gift from one of yours.”

I thanked her. I ran back home. I tore open the paper to examine my prize. Imagine my surprise when I opened to the title page. It was signed.

It was signed by all three Apollo 11 astronauts. Oh, my.

Neil, Buzz, and Michael: I have no idea to whom you gave this incredible gift, and I am heartbroken that whoever it was felt compelled to hock it. That I could bring this gift back home and share it with my friends and family is a wonder.

That it still moves me to tears is the real gift.

Godspeed, Neil.

 

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