Book review: Resonate by Nancy Duarte

This is a great book for people who have to persuade an audience with their presentations. I think it really scores for those who are experienced presenters and want to raise their game, because as the author points out, “Creating an interesting presentation requires a more thoughtful process than throwing together the blather we’ve come to call a presentation today”.

No easy fix is promised: throughout the book, Nancy Duarte repeats the message that it takes time and planning to create and deliver a high-quality presentation. Early on, she cites a survey suggesting that as many as 86% of executives say that communication clearly impacts their careers; yet only a quarter of them put more than 2 hours into preparing for high-stakes presentations. Which may go some way to explaining why so many presentations are rubbish.

Facts aren’t enough on their own: we need to appeal to hearts as well as minds, emotions as well as reason. To do this we need to weave compelling stories through our presentation. When was the last time you visualised a set of numbers showed on a slide? Now when was the last time you visualised what was going on in a story a presenter told? And which stayed in the memory – the number or the story? If you were lucky the number and story were in the same presentation, and you most likely remembered them both.

Duarte walks her talk, as Resonate takes presenters through the journey of creating a compelling presentation. She provides memorable stories from her own experience and more than a dozen different high-profile case studies, some of whose presentations are analysed in great detail to see just how people from Abraham Lincoln to Steve Jobs, companies such as General Electric and Cisco Systems, deliver presentations that move people to act.

There are heaps of practical tips and wise words – I particularly like Duarte’s advice for presenters to take the role of ‘mentor’ not ‘hero’ to the audience, as it “will clothe you in humility”. Guide, give advice and words of wisdom, lessons learned – and help the audience join you on a journey. Duarte’s tips to getting to know your audience are illustrated with her own rigorous research and preparation for a client, showing just how much work is needed here. This rigour is followed by ruthlessness at the editing stage when we’re told to “edit on behalf of your audience”, and when creating the presentation to “wean yourself from the slides”.

Even experienced presenters will discover new tools. I liked the ‘sparkline’, which visualises the narrative ebb and flow (wonderfully illustrated by Benjamin Zander). There are story templates, tools for analysing the audience and then mapping their (not your) journey from where there are now to where they can be, frameworks for presentation structure, and another favourite of mine, the S.T.A.R. Moment (‘Something They’ll Always Remember’).

This is a hefty work, yet all wonderfully brought to life with metaphor, visuals, stories, and characters from history, art, TV and movies. We get Yoda and Luke Skywalker and even the Karate Kid, along with Martin Luther King, Hitchcock, Mozart and many more.

I was particularly pleased with my Kindle for iPad app edition with live links to resources and tools. It looked superb and worked beautifully – like a great presentation.

Highly recommended.

You can find Resonate here on Amazon

Nancy Duarte’s TED talk is also well worth a watch.

Nancy has also written ‘Slide:ology, which is now on my wish-list.


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