Book Review: Advanced Presentations by Design by Andrew Abela
I wish all my colleagues would read this business communications book.
Advanced Presentations by Design: Creating Communication that Drives Action offers a comprehensive approach to planning and designing presentations focused on selling ideas and persuading your audience.
This article is the latest in a series of public speaking book reviews here on Six Minutes.
This book is quite broad in scope. It covers all aspects of presentation design, from audience analysis all the way through the creation of visuals.
It is well-structured, and follows a 10-step method which you can follow to prepare your presentation. In each step, the author guides you to answer the following questions.
- Audience — Who is your (most important) audience?
- Objectives — What is your objective for this presentation?
- Problem / Solution — What business problem are you helping to provide a solution for?
- Evidence — What evidence are you offering to support your solution?
- Anecdotes — Which anecdotes illustrate your message?
- Sequencing — In what sequence will you present your evidence?
- Charts — Which charts will best convey your data?
- Layouts — What layout will you use for each slide?
- Stakeholders — Have you addressed the concerns of each stakeholder?
- Measurement — How will you measure the success of your presentation?
The first six topics offer compelling arguments for devoting adequate time to clearly structuring your ideas and arguments before diving into the mechanics of slide design.
At the time of writing this review, you can get this book for only $32.18 from amazon.com. This is 28% off the list price of $45.00.
The three things I liked most about Advanced Presentations by Design are:
1. The Support Material (Diagrams, References)
Abela achieves a rare feat with this book. He manages to maintain quite a broad scope, while at the same time providing significant depth in exploring key topics.
This is accomplished through a variety of techniques:
- Detailed descriptions with numerous examples and anecdotes;
- Numerous diagrams to illustrate key concepts; and
- Dozens of supplementary notes in the margins, backed by a full 9 pages of references in the appendix. Nearly every claim that Abela makes is supported by a corresponding reference to an authoritative text or academic paper in communications, marketing, or visual design.
2. Practical and Action-Oriented Style
This is not a boring, theoretical textbook.
This book owes its origins to presentation design workshops given by Abela for many years. The concepts and material evolved through each iteration, and are captured here in book form.
These origins are evident throughout the text. At times, it hardly seems like you are reading this book; instead, it seems you are following along in an interactive workshop. Practical examples are numerous. Worksheets are even provided for you to apply the concepts directly to your own presentation materials.
I’m sure it is no accident that the reader is driven to actively apply the techniques learned. Indeed, this reflects the subtitle of the book: Creating Communication That Drives Action.
3. Innovative Concepts that I Look Forward to Applying
As I read through this book, several meaty concepts really jumped out at me. Three of the most memorable are the S.Co.R.E. method, the Squint Test, and the Ballroom vs Conference Room presentation style distinction.
- S.Co.R.E. Method (Situation, Complication, Resolution, Example)
Abela offers this as a universally applicable storytelling structure upon which you can base your entire presentation. It is an iterative method — S.Co.R.E, Co.R.E, Co.R.E., Co.R.E., etc. — with the example from one iteration leading naturally into the next most important complication from your audience viewpoint.
- Squint Test
Abela suggests that the best test for effective slide design is whether or not the slide conveys meaning when you squint at it (to blur it). Thus, if the shapes and layout of the slide convey meaning, you have a winning slide. This is an application of the Principal of Compatibility, as described in Kosslyn’s Clear and To the Point.
- Ballroom Style vs. Conference Room Style
Abela asserts that presentations fall into one of two contexts, and this context should influence your choice of slide design considerably.
- The last two steps of the framework (Stakeholders and Measurement) receive minimal treatment. I would like to see more attention (and thus more pages) devoted to exploring these concepts, particularly because most speaking books do not address them adequately.
- The Rhetoric section (the Anecdotes and Sequencing steps) addresses only macro-content: individual stories, as well as overall speech structure. I think this section could be enhanced by exploring some micro-content techniques such as repetition of key words or phrases, crafting of signature phrases, or the importance of precise words to promote action from the audience.
- While the concept is thought-provoking, I don’t completely buy into his clear distinction between Ballroom and Conference Room presentations. Thinking of my own presentations, seminars, and courses, nearly all call for a combination of both methods. (Perhaps that is the key lesson to learn?)
- This is nitpicking, but the cover needs a makeover. The simple design doesn’t grab me visually. More significantly, it fails the Squint Test, and the graphic elements seem gratuitous.
About the Author — Andrew Abela
Dr. Andrew Abela is an authority on marketing, persuasion, and presentation methods.
Dr. Abela is an associate professor of marketing at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He was previously a brand manager with Proctor & Gamble and a management consultant with McKinsey and Company.
He authors the Extreme Presentation Method blog, an excellent blog which is often cited in the Six Minutes reviews.
If you make presentations for a living or just as a hobby, I can wholeheartedly recommend this book. Abela does an impressive job of teaching his process and keeping it interesting.
Advanced presentation has to my opinion the most appeal to scientist[s] also because the author has based his method on research studies, an evidence based approach to presentations.
But the book is more than a recap of scientific findings: He writes from the perspective of a marketer and business manager, offering practical, evidence-based advice about how to focus on a problem your audience has, and how to show them you can help solve it.
I have attended his seminars, and definitely recommend his method. For anyone interested in improving their presentation skills, and generating action out of their presentations, it is must-read.
[...] well worth the investment of time and money [...] well worth reading [...]
“Advanced Presentations by Design” is a great book you might consider [...] His one-day workshop was one of the best I have attended [...]
Advanced Presentations by Design offers a straightforward and powerful framework for improving your business and scientific presentations. Highly recommended.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review.
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