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.


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.


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.



What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

15 thoughts on “Non Fiction November: On the Art of Communication

  • I’m always trying to improve my communication skills, so thanks for the recommendations. My mother recommended a book by Alan Alda that I’ve been wanting to read: If I Understood You Would I Have This Look On My Face? Also I read a book last year that was more anecdotal called Tell Me More. A little more life-lessons than communications but I found it helpful.

    • Alan Alda the actor? interesting topic for him to write about.

  • There is a website that has the 100 best speeches in history. If your followers Google it, they will find it. I’ve used the site while teaching rhetoric in composition classes. I’m glad the awfulness of Power Point slides is being addressed in books. I like to use them only to share an image that either captures the theme of a lesson plan or is something I want to talk about. If I need to add bulleted notes, I’d do that on the marker board. Besides, studies show that when students try to write down information verbatim, their learning decreases drastically. They’re replicating information instead of internalizing it, which is what a verbal lecture requires them to do if they want to take notes.

    • Good insight on the learning experience – it makes sense. If you are busy scribbling down notes then you are not really listening to what is being said. Kudos for you on using Powerpoint effectively – I have seen some horrors. One guy came to me with a 54 slide presentation about this big engineering project. It was written in about 10 point. He didn’t see what was wrong with it ….

  • Three years of Toastmasters helped me hone my speech making skills – although not a powerpoint presentation in sight!

    • I used to belong to something similar here in the UK. Dragged my mum along when I was 17 and had ideas of becoming a lawyer. She is still a member 40+ years later and does a lot of competitions. Being able to speak without the crutch of slides is a tremendous skill

  • buriedinprint

    One thing which I’ve noticed in recent years (on the fringes of the marketing world) is how much more prevalent good infographic generation has become, so you can find easily modifiable templates to quickly and easily revamp a visual presentation (either for a small expense or free, with more work on your part). But so much of the solid old-fashioned good advice still needs to be said again, even so!

    • Any sources you would suggest for those infographic templates? I used to have a list of them but when I finished work and handed in my computer I forgot to make a note of them

  • Such a great topic – and timely, I’ve just been helping my 13yo son with a PP presentation and I was suggesting cutting swathes of text 😀

    • Brilliant! You often see advice to limit the text to six lines of no more than 6 words each. I would prefer to half that….

  • My first reaction to your post was to think thank goodness I don’t have to give Powerpoint presentations any more! I would have loved to use the books you’ve shown here – and to have given them to others too.

    • I thought my days of Powerpoint presentations was over too – and then in the summer when I did a course on how to be an adult education tutor, we had to deliver a presentation. Some skills you never forget though

  • What an excellent topic to choose!
    My days of PPT slideshows (making them myself and yawning through those of others) are over – but I would have been taking your advice slavishly if I were still at work:)

    • I bet your days of listening to them are not over. They have a habit of creeping up everywhere. My dad goes to a club like the Rotary and their speakers often turn up with slides (for an audience that is in their 80s)

      • Ah yes, I have come across a couple in that way, the difference is that I have no responsibility to deliver the take-message back to the troops back at the workplace.


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