Monday, December 22, 2008

The Zen of Presentation

More than words: Books tell you how to motivate
Learn how to say what you mean, conceal what you say and stimulate your audience with these three new books.


Communicating to persuade or motivate is a challenge for many businesspeople. Being literate and intelligent is not enough. Creativity is involved, but it requires the suggestion of images, emotions and other connections in order to achieve the desired effect. Even when the message is solely composed of text, images and other sensual cues are evoked to stimulate and create interest. Here are three recent books that look at ways to arouse emotion and connect the feeling to the action.

Powerlines: Words that Sell Brands, Grip Fans, and Sometimes Change History. Steve Cone. Bloomberg. 272 pages.

Cone presents an overview of how words are used in speeches, for political purposes, in advertising and the like. It's a nice, freewheeling discussion, sort of a ''Words 102'' course, with lots of examples, anecdotes and back stories. As an advertising executive, he's perfectly positioned to relate ways that combinations of words form catchphrases, tag lines and
slogans. And there's lots of backstage stuff, too, with anecdotes about the unsung executives and ''creatives'' responsible for some of the more memorable campaigns.

Though more a survey of the field than a how-to, Powerlines would be a worthy addition to a vocational library or as a reference book for would-be copywriters.

Subliminal Persuasion: Influence & Marketing Secrets They Don't Want You To Know. Dave Lakhani. Wiley. 202 pages.

Lakhani presents basic copywriting principles in the context of ''subliminal persuasion,'' which makes it sound arcane and exotic. Well, maybe, but many of the ideas he offers are substantially less mysterious and forbidden than advertised. And that's fine, since he's applying some of his principles to the packaging and presentation of his text.

He invokes a number of sources to illustrate his thoughts, including a presentation by advertising guru Roy Williams that I've witnessed, where he played Bruce Springsteen's
upbeat, anthemic Born In The U.S.A., then went over the lyrics, which are depressing and downbeat. This illustrated the fact that a feeling can be created that may be contradictory to the actual message contained in the text when packaged in a distracting way -- a nice lesson for the current political season.

Presentation Zen. Garr Reynolds. New Riders. 227 pages.

PowerPoint presentations are usually pretty lame. It's strange, because one would think that using a tool like that would enable and unleash creativity. But, no. Presenters usually jam in as many words as possible and accompany them with boring images like logos and charts. What a snooze!

Garr Reynolds feels our pain. An authority on presentations, he's also a corporate veteran, so he's probably suffered through more than his fair share of ponderous show-and-tells. His book is beautifully designed and a pleasure to behold, and he's not afraid to use white space, all text, photos, colors and any combination of the above. As with the best writers, he understands that there must be an emotional connection between the idea and the audience so he shows how it's done. Of course, there's no one right way to achieve this, so he includes ideas and contributions from great minds (and presenters) like Guy Kawasaki, Daniel Pink, Seth Godin and others.

The Zen from the title is apparent throughout the book. Reynolds is a wise and whimsical character who advocates creativity and thought in everything we do, which will improve our presentations, too. His closing words on life, living and learning is the perfect coda to this terrific book, which encompasses much more than its goal and stimulates additional thought and reflection — just like a great presentation should do.

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