Book review – Brilliant presentation

Book: Brilliant Presentation: What the Best Presenters Know, Say and Do by Richard Hall

This article was first published in June/July 2007 in Student Accountant.

‘Presenting a story to an audience is a learned skill not an innate gift’ according to one of the early quotes in this book. So if you believe presentations are something you’ll never excel at, think again. If something can be taught, you can learn to do it better.

This book does an impressive job of providing the tuition to help you improve. One unusual and impressive touch can be found in Chapter 10 where the author, having taken the reader through all the relevant techniques, puts them into practice by turning his whole book into a PowerPoint presentation. So many writers on presentations dismiss the value of this tool, and it’s quite refreshing to read a positive take on it.

As Hall points out: ‘The apparent weaknesses of PowerPoint are about misuse of the tool rather than anything being intrinsically wrong with the tool itself. It’s like blaming the ballpoint pen for producing boring documents.’ Going through three drafts of a presentation that summarises the main points in the book provides a real ‘I see what he was getting at’ moment for the reader. Here is an author who is not just putting forward theories; he can actually create an excellent presentation and demonstrate the steps required to get there.

The book is very clearly laid out, easy to navigate and dip in and out of – although if you read it in its proper sequence you will gain more. The 14 chapters are divided into short sections, all clearly signposted. A section called ‘top ten tips’ summarises the main points for each chapter. These are, on the whole, immensely practical ideas with the odd quirky one thrown in to grab your attention. For example, one of the tips for coping with nerves is to rehearse in the nude in front of a mirror. It’s not something dreamt up by the author, but a practice followed by the ex-CEO of Mazda. The rationale is: ‘if you can do something as embarrassing as this with a straight face then a full auditorium will be nothing in comparison’. Interesting, amusing, and thought-provoking anecdotes make this an entertaining and informative read. It’s a book that’s as relevant to those who are completely new to making presentations as it is to seasoned presenters. Wherever you are, in terms of skill and experience, you can always get better.

Irene Krechowiecka is a careers coach and journalist