Make no mistake about it: Your ability to give an engaging and memorable presentation is crucial to the success every business enterprise. There are thousands of "how-to" books about presentations, but these, IMHO, are the best and most useful:
1. Speak to Win
Subtitle: How to Present With Power in Any Situation
Author: Brian Tracy
Why It's Worth Reading: While Tracy's other books are more famous, this one takes the author's deep understanding of people and salesmanship into the realm of general business speaking and personal self-development. There's nothing here that will amaze or surprise you, but it's the kind of solid, good, useful advice about public speaking, business, and life that you'd expect from a living legend.
Best Quote: "Becoming an excellent public speaker will help you in every part of your career. But there is an even more important reason to learn to speak well to an audience. Psychologists tell us that your level of self-esteem, or 'how much you like yourself,' largely determines the quality of your inner and outer life. The better and more persuasively you speak, the more you like yourself. The more you like yourself, the more optimistic and confident you are. The more you like yourself, the most positive and personable you are in your relationships with others. The more you like yourself, the healthier, happier, and more positive you become in everything you do."
Subtitle: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences
Author: Nancy Duarte
Why It's Worth Reading: Recently, there has been a spate of books about storytelling in business situations. Frankly, some of them come off as book-sized permission slips for baby-boomers to justify telling tired, irrelevant war stories. This book is not like that at all. Instead, it explains how to create a moving and memorable presentation by placing it into the context of storytelling. If you read only one book about storytelling in business, this is the one to buy.
Best Quote: "Moving an idea from its inception to adoption is hard, but it's a battle that can be won simply by wielding a great presentation. Presentations are a powerfully persuasive tool, and when packaged in a story framework, your ideas become downright unstoppable. Story structures have been employed for hundred of generations to persuade and delight every known culture."
Subtitle: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People
Authors: Gary Chapman and Paul White
Why It's Worth Reading: This spinoff from the huge bestseller The Five Languages of Love may seem a bit, well, crunchy to some readers. Nevertheless, it provides a usable system by which you can increase your ability to connect with everyone else in your organization. The system also helps you build presentations that hold appeal for multiple individuals with different emotional habits.
Best Quote: "Each person has a primary and secondary language of appreciation. Our primary language communicates more deeply to us than the others. Although we will accept appreciation in all five languages, we will not feel truly encouraged unless the message is communicated through our primary language. When messages are sent repeatedly in ways outside of that language, the intent of the message 'misses the mark' and loses the impact the sender had hoped for."
Author: Edward R. Tufte
Why It's Worth Reading: Make no mistake about it: this book is no page-turner. It's a more of a textbook, but OMG what an incredibly useful one. Presentation gurus frequently insist that we should use more graphics and make those graphics easier to understand. Great advice, certainly, but how? This book explains how and belongs in every business library.
Best Quote: "Words and pictures belong together. Viewers need the help that words can provide. Words on graphics are data-ink, making effective use of the space freed up by erasing redundant and non-data-ink. It is nearly always helpful to write little messages on the plotting field to explain the data, to label outliers and interesting data points, to write equations and sometimes tables on the graphic itself, and to integrate the caption and legend into the design so that the eye is not required to dart back and forth between textual material and the graphic."
Subtitle: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery
Why It's Worth Reading: I'm not 100 percent sure how "Zen" this book is, but it's probably the best prescription for creating memorable presentations that appeal to the audience on multiple levels. His working model (with which I completely agree) is that a presentation should appeal to six senses: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. Think of this book as the antidote to PowerPoint addiction.
Best Quote: "It is more difficult to process information if it is coming at us both verbally and in written form at the same time. Since people cannot read and listen well at the same time, displays filled with lots of text must be avoided. On the other hand, multimedia that displays visual information, including visualizations of quantitative information, can be processed while listening to somebody speak about the visual content."
Subtitle: A Leadership Fable...About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business
Author: Patrick Lencioni
Why It's Worth Reading: This book isn't about presentations, per se, but about the context in which presentations take place. By describing a fictional situation that rings true on every level, the author helps the reader understand why some meetings change the world and others simply bore people to death. Warning: As far as fiction goes, it's not The Da Vinci Code. It is, however, more readable than you'd expect, considering it's a discussion of business meetings.
Best Quote: "If we hate meetings, can we be making good decisions and successfully leading our organizations? I don't think so. There is simply no substitute for a good meeting--a dynamic, passionate, and focused engagement--when it comes to extracting the collective wisdom of a team. The hard truth is, bad meetings almost always lead to bad decisions, which is the best recipe for mediocrity."
Author: Scott Berkun
Why It's Worth Reading: In addition to providing the author's valuable personal insights into audiences, presentations, and business in general, this book is worth reading just because it's so damn funny.
Best Quote: "If you tell people you're a public speaker, they'll assume one of three bad things: 1) You're a motivational speaker who wears bad suits, sweats too much, and dreams about Tony Robbins; 2) You're a high priest in a cult and will soon try to convert them to your religion; 3) You're single, unemployed, and live in a van down by the river."