Category Archives: Non Fiction November

Non Fiction November: On the Art of Communication

It’s now Week 3 of Nonfiction November and we have a new host. Julie @ JulzReads has set a topic about sharing knowledge and expertise.

I don’t claim to be “an expert” on anything. But I do happen to know a lot about the practice of communications having been in that field for more than 30 years (gulp). I’m going to offer you a selection of books on different aspects of communication.

Presentations

Think back to the last time you were in an audience where the speaker used Powerpoint slides.  Give yourself a point if you experienced any of the following:

  • Slide after slide crammed with so much information you couldn’t tell what was important
  • Text so small you can’t read it even when in the front row and wearing you latest prescription glasses
  • Graphics you’d seen used in a million other presentations. They weren’t even that funny the first time around
  • The Jackson Pollock treatment. Every colour and type face available in the software programme had been applied.
  • Capital letters everywhere so it felt like the slides were shouting at you
  • You’d had enough by slide 5. Then you saw there were 20 more to come.

Over the last 20 years or so we’ve become so dependent on Powerpoint slides, It’s rare to be at any kind of meeting where there isn’t at least one speaker using this programme or something similar.

Most of them are deadly dull.

Powerpoint has been around for decades yet i think we’re getting worse at using it, not better.

If you want to make sure your presentation stands out from the crowd and actually gets your message across, you need this book.

powerpoint presentations

Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck…and how you can make them better is  packed with practical ideas such as:

  • about how to cut down on the amount of text per slide.
  • how to use photos and images more creatively and
  • how to avoid a jumble of font sizes and colours.

There are also some very useful templates to download from Rick Altman’s website.

Even if you don’t think you need a copy yourself, do yourself a favour. Buy a few copies for your company/school/department. If they take the hint you need never sit through one of their excruciating deliveries ever again.

Speaking in Public 

You’ve been asked to deliver an update on a project/ or share your knowledge on a specific topic. You’ve done your homework. Your slides and notes are in good shape.  But now comes the moment that millions of people dread: the moment when you have to get up there and deliver those words of wisdom. The heart starts racing, your throat is suddenly so dry you don’t think you can croak out even a few words. And your memory has become completely blank.

Being a competent public speaker can put you on the pathway to success, whether you’re looking to teach, inform, persuade, or defend an idea.

But it’s just like any other skill. You have to learn how to do it and then you have to practice. Even the greatest orators started somewhere. Winston Churchill for example, whose speeches gave confidence to the people of Britain in the darkest days, wasn’t born a naturally gifted orator. He became one through dedicated effort. He learned how to use rhythm and cadence. He also practised delivery – rehearsing every one of his major speeches before he delivered them.

The Art of Public Speaking: Lessons from the Greatest Speeches In History is an excellent audio guide that uses some of the most famous speeches in history to show what makes a difference between a good speaker and a mediocre one.  This is available in print form but I think its best to actually hear the examples rather than just read about them. They were after all intended to be delivered aloud, not read in silence

Lessons from the masters

 

Communicating big ideas 

If you’ve ever been given the lead role on a project to implement a significant change, you’ll know how hard it can be to persuade people that this change is the right thing to do.  No matter how much you emphasise the benefits, they just don’t buy the idea.

You need to up your game in the art of persuasion.

Words at Work by Frank Luntz looks at the power of words to communicate big ideas and change opinion, affecting how people vote and what they buy.

frank-luntz-words-that-work

Luntz  talks through his 10 Rules of Effective Language (Simplicity, Brevity, Credibility, Consistency, Novelty, Sound, Aspiration, Visualization, Asking Questions and Context / Relevance) and shows them in use in the worlds of politics and business.   He also has a chapter for those of us who are unlikely to ever become Presidential candidates –  “Personal Language for Personal Scenarios,”  recommends the best language for apologizing, requesting a pay increase avoiding a traffic ticket, and other everyday situations.


If you know of any other books on communications that you’ve found particularly helpful, please let me know. I’m often asked for recommendations by former colleagues so its good to know what else is around.

 

Non-Fiction November: perfect couples

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For Nonfiction November this week we’re looking at pairing up a work of fiction with a work of non fiction.

I’m feeling generous this week (it’s probably all those endorphins floating around after my session in the gym this morning) so am going to offer you not one, but two pairings. In a week that we will mark the end of one of the worst conflicts in history, I thought it was fitting that both are on the theme of war.

Couple #1: World War 1

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks follows two characters who live at different times. One is Stephen Wraysford, a British soldier on the front line in Amiens during the First World War.  The other is his granddaughter, Elizabeth Benson, who more than fifty years later discovers his journals from World War I and seeks to learns about his experiences at Marne, Verdun and the Somme.

Faulks said that he wrote the novel partly because he felt that the First World War had not been discussed enough in both literary and historical contexts.

I’m not sure whether he thinks that has now changed. We’ve certainly seen “The Great War” feature more prominently in the UK school curriculum in the last few years and the 100th anniversary of the Armistice this weekend is appropriately being marked around the country.

Unfortunately so many of the people who returned from that conflict are no longer with us to share their memories and experiences. We do however have the archives of the Imperial War Museum who recorded thousands of soldiers, the families they left behind and people who survived the war. The results are available in The Forgotten Voices series of books. The one I read, the Forgotten Voices of the Great War contained some tremendously moving testimonies that helped me appreciate what my great grandfather experienced ( he was one of the lucky ones who returned home to his family). Highly recommended reading if you have anyone in your family who served in the war or even if you didn’t but want to understand more about the war that was meant to end all wars.

 Couple #2: World War 2 

 

Oskar Schindler saved the lives of more than 1,000 Jewish people during World War 2. His actions were brought to public attention through the book Schindler’s List (sold as Schindler’s Ark outside the United States) by Keneally. The book, which Keneally labelled a novel, won him the Booker Prize in 1982. The film version directed by Steven Spielberg, won seven Academy Awards.

But none of this would have happened it it had not been for chance encounter in Beverley Hills, Los Angeles between Keneally and Poldek Pfefferberg, a Holocaust survivor. Pfefferberg had tried for years to interest writers and film makers about the story of Schindler but it was only when Thomas Keneally walked into his shop that he got the response he wanted.

The story of that meeting and the visits the two men made to Poland, to talk to people whose lives Schindler saved, are recorded in Searching for Schindler.  It’s worth reading this to understand some of the challenges Keneally encountered when he came to write his novel and the even bigger challenge of creating the film script. Here’s my review.

 

 

Non-Fiction November: favourite reads

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I’ve taken the plunge and joined Nonfiction November which is an annual challenge to read, critique and discuss non-fiction books for a month. There are five hosts who will take turns to post a topic for discussion each week.

This week’s topic comes from Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness is all about reflecting on the year so far via four questions.

What was your favourite nonfiction read of the year?

Do No Harm

This is a toss up between two books with vastly different styles and topics.  Do No Harm by Henry Marsh is the no-holds-barred memoir of a neurological surgeon in which he discusses some of the challenges of working with one of the most complex systems in the body. The Wicked Boyby Kate Summerscale is a hybrid of biography/real life crime that focuses on the case in 1895 of a young boy who killed his mother and was sentenced to spend an indefinite period in Broadmoor high security psychiatric hospital.  On balance I’m going to settle for Do No Harm, largely because it was so different from anything I have read previously.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

poppy

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, the end of World War 1. The Royal British Legion in the UK has been marking that event by asking people to remember people who were killed while serving in the conflict. I’m trying to do my bit by researching the 22 men from the Commonwealth who share my maiden name and posting information about them on line. It’s meant I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading the war diaries; a day by day account; completed by commanding officers of battalions in the field. They can be uncomfortable reading at times – today for example I discovered one battalion lost more than 400 men in one attack in the final year of the war. I’ve also been dipping into a number of books which deal with different aspects of the war..

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Do No Harm is the book I’ve talked most about this year. But my recommendation always comes with a caveat that this book does go into a lot of detail about surgical procedures. So if you are at all squeamish then this book is not for you.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

The number of books of fiction I read each year far outweighs the number for non fiction. So I’m hoping that Nonfiction November will give me a bit of a nudge to get reading with the many books I have on the shelves. A lot of them are history related but I also have some about literature and culture.

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