Sorry for not having posted recently, but I have been travelling for work. This meant that I did not have time for some kind of super awesome project, but rest assured, I have lots of stuff in the pipeline for you.
What I do have for you is a couple of reviews of books that I have read recently. They were both (spoiler alert) amazing.
I am not entirely sure how useful book reviews for this site will be, as they so far seem to be pretty much “get these books” type of articles.
Maybe I should re-label these as “book recommendations”. Let me know what you think in the comments, or via your favourite social media platform (pretty much let me know one way or another).
So onto the first one, Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery.
This book is quite simply put, amazing. I heard about it through a pretty roundabout route. I follow someone on Twitter called Mikko Hypponen.
Mikko is the Chief Research Officer at a Finnish IT Security company called F-Secure. He is also a repeat TED speaker. His TED talks are excellent. You can find them on Youtube, and I would highly recommend “The internet is on fire”.
Mikko mentioned in his Twitter feed that he was going to appear on a podcast called “Time to shine”, which is also great. In the interview they always ask if there are any books they could refer to the audience, and this was one of his.
The book had been in my “to read later” bookshelf for some time, but it was fast approaching the time where I would have to create a presentation myself. The travelling for work that I mentioned earlier? For that.
I really wanted to make a great impression too, as it was essentially the first task of the new role I have at work, in security. I thought I would give the book a quick look, to see if there were any sort of best practices list I could use when creating the presentation.
I devoured the book in under 24 hours. It is not a long book, coming in at under 300 pages. The book also is formatted in the manner it describes presentations should be.
There is a lot of empty space, there are pages that are just images, and display the message through high resolution imagery, rather than by reams of text.
There is text too, and it is very specific and to the point.
Simply put, the more you read the book, the more you will see the hallmarks of great presentations.
Normally when I read something like this, I will put a little marker in the book if I find something especially good I want to remember and come back to later. I have around 14 of those in this book. Normally I would have just one or two.
It made me realise exactly how little I actually knew or understood about creating presentations. I have been to a few InfoSec conferences, and this book is something that I personally believe all the speakers should read, then act upon before presenting. It really blew me out of the water how many presentations I have seen where there is just text on the slides that the presenter is parroting back to the audience.
I want to try and sum up some of the key points I understood from the book, and I hope the list is not too muddled, and still makes some sense. The more I read the book, the more I realsied that presentations that I had seen in the past that really stuck with me, were presentations that stuck to the rules laid out in the book. I want to go back and ask those people if they actually read the book, or if the rules were just some secret thing that I was not clued in on.
So let’s dig into the main findings:
Slides filled with 10 bullet pointed lists and some clip are are *really* bad. They distract the audience from what you are saying.
Do you want the audience to read the slides, or to listen to you talking?
The slides are *not* the presentation, YOU are. If there is data heavy work that you have to present, consider giving out a fact sheet or similar afterwards. No-one should have to take notes during the presentation. It should be a fluid communication of ideas rather than a lecture.
Two questions that need to be taken care of pretty early on are “What is my core point, and why does it matter?” you can get onto the how’s and why’s later on. Don’t leave the answers to these questions until a big reveal at the end of the presentation. Give people a reason to invest their attention for the length of the presentation first. Then deliver on that promise.
It should be that you are the presentation, not that you are merely there to read out the slides to the audience.
Don’t use bullet points if there is another way of presenting information. There is almost always another way of presenting information. In fact I can’t think of a slide that actually needs to be bullet points.
Use high quality stock photography to show imagery related to your point.
Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, Stories.
Story telling is important, perhaps much more important than you can imagine. The best presentations are stories. Did you check out Mikko Hypponen’s “The internet is on fire” talk yet? This is a great example.
People will always look at eyes.
Phew! So some of these may not make too much sense, but trust me, once you read the book, they will be like a mantra.
I still don’t understand what actually captivated me about this book so much that I ignored many of my responsibilities and just sat on the sofa and read it. I actually like that a little. There is still more knowledge this book can give me, even though I have read it.
I am also not hugely into presentations either, certainly not giving them, and ~90% of the ones I watch or attend are all “death by PowerPoint”, falling into the same traps as the book warns against.
In fact I have now become pretty good at seeing all the cardinal sins of presentations as I watch more and more. I even have an example. Below is what my presentations used to look like.
Perhaps you can see the problem, perhaps it reminds you of really boring presentations you have seen in the past? Loads of bullet points on each slide, that I would be essentially reading out to the audience, even though they are perfectly capable of reading. Terrible.
Also I have the company logo on each slide. This is a presentation that would be given to people working AT THE SAME COMPANY. They know where we work. Why was I doing this? Ridiculous in hindsight…
Now this is what my presentations look like.
Much better, right? Just a high quality image on each slide, and something to spur the presentation onward, or a very short text. No bullet points, and in some of the images, no text either.
So to sum up, this book is amazing, and if you have the prospect of presenting in front of people, you HAVE to read this book. You owe it to your audience to present something awesome to them, and this book will help you consolidate your message. I would even recommend this book if you don’t have to present anything. It was a seriously awesome read, and will help you identify presentations that are draining, at least letting you know what you are in for.
The next book I wanted to offer up for you is called “Thanks for the Feedback“.
I heard about this book during a presentation that did not suck. It was by Mark Hillick, the Product Owner of Player Security for a company called Riot Games.
If Riot Games sounds familiar, it is probably because they make a game called League of Legends, which is hugely popular. You probably know someone who is playing League of Legends.
Mark’s presentation was awesome, and it felt like he had also read the Presentation Zen book.
Mark’s talk from the excellent Security Fest 2016, is available here.
He was talking about the security organisation that has been built though feedback. Building a decent and trusted and actually welcomed security organisation is no mean feat. As soon as you start telling people “No”, then they will start finding ways around you.
Anyway, this book was in one of Mark’s slides, and I noted it down at the time for later reading (I know I said no note-taking is needed, but this was worth it).
This book is a real eye-opener, as the whole time I was reading it I constantly thought back to experiences I have had where I did not realise that I was on the receiving end of feedback. It turns out feedback truly is everywhere, even when someone shouts at you for parking your car in the wrong place, that is feedback.
Understanding this feedback becomes a tremendously important task when you realise how important it is to other people, how important it is to you. Almost all the interactions we have are feedback in one form or another.
Several times reading this I thought back to feedback that I had taken less than skillfully. Times when I have given others feedback in a less than skillful manner.
The authors really know their science, and draw from several studies, that really back their points up.
Whilst I don’t have as much to say about this book as I do with Presentation Zen, I would say this book is far more important to your work, your home life and your social life than anything I have read this year. It really re-frames a lot of things for you into a very easy to grasp framework.
I don’t know if it will change your life. It hasn’t changed mine significantly, but that is how change happens, not in a big lump all at once, but incrementally. You don’t lose 15 lbs all at once, you lose it by going to the gym every day and choosing to eat right. One day at a time.
This book is one of those increments, for sure. Read it and you will see a huge number of conversations in a different light. A light that can really help you and the other person engaging with you.
So that’s it for this week.
I hope you have an amazing week!