Communication Book Reviews

Your Perfect Right: Assertiveness and equality in your life and relationships 10th edition revised

Robert Alberti PhD and Michael Emmons PhD

New Harbinger Publications, 2017

Assertiveness is a fundamental communication skill. Like all skills it is something that can be learned. In Your Perfect Right the authors provide a clear explanation of what assertive behaviour is and practical advice on how to develop the skills.

Assertiveness enables us to act in our own best interests, to stand up for ourselves without undue anxiety, to exercise personal rights without denying the rights of others and to express our feelings honestly and comfortably. Assertion is based on the belief that every individual has the same fundamental human rights as every other individual regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, role, title etc. Assertive behaviour is person and situation specific rather than immutable rules of interaction. These behaviours offer basic principles of equality. There is no one right way to be assertive.

It sounds like a great way to live, so why do we often choose not to communicate in an assertive manner?  The most common reasons are that we don’t believe we have the right to be; we are anxious or fearful about responding this way; concerned about the outcome or we may lack the skills necessary to communicate in this way.

If you want to explore assertive behaviour this book is a great place to start. It is divided into 6 parts comprised of short detailed chapters in each section.

Part One You and your perfect right

Part Two Discovering assertiveness

Part Three Becoming assertive

Part Four Building assertive relationships

Part Five Applying your assertiveness

Part Six Living an assertive life

I would recommend this book if you want to explore and develop your assertion skills. Even if assertive communication is a part of your repertoire of skills you will gain greater insight into its value and use. I have added it as recommended reading in my training seminars and workshops on communication, giving and receiving feedback and dealing with difficult people sessions.

Fern Richardson MBA PHEc


Send: Why people email so badly and how to do it better

David Shipley and Will Schwalbe

Vintage Books edition, 2010

I often get requests for training workshops on how to manage the emails we are inundated with at work. I’m always on the lookout for good resources to make my life easier and to recommend to others. Send is one of those resources.

This book was written a number of years ago and stands the test of time. The authors provide excellent real life examples as they share their thoughts on how to make email a more productive tool.

They start by looking at different forms of office communication and when email is the best choice. It’s not always an easy distinction to make and a little common sense goes a long way. We need to always remember email is a searchable, archivable and printable communication tool and therefore never confidential.

The authors take us step by step through the parts of an email from To: to the signature block. As they discuss each step it becomes clear that one style of email does not fit all situations. For example, style differences should be carefully considered for different recipients such as your boss, a colleague or client.

There is excellent information on how to write the perfect email as well as common types of email. These include request, respond, inform, thank, apologize and connect. The authors include a chapter on the emotional email. Spoiler alert- the recommendation is don’t send one.

The authors offer an simple acronym for editing:





I think Send is worth the read for anyone who is a sender or receiver of emails. Today that’s pretty much anyone. It’s now listed in the resource section of my Time Management workshops.

Fern Richardson MBA PHEc


Compelling People

John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut

Plume, 2013

Compelling People takes a long look at how we influence others and why people react to us the way they do. The authors are partners in KNP Communications, a firm specializing in presentation coaching and communications strategy. The book is rooted in current social science research as well as the authors’ experience in working with their clients.

The ability to influence is achieved through a balance strength and warmth.  Strength is a measure of how much a person can impose their will on the world and command attention and respect from others. Strength combines the ability to affect the world and the will to take action. Ability can include physical strength, learned technical skills, social skills, wisdom and competence. Will is about determination, persistence and commitment. Warmth, on the other hand, creates a sense of belonging and a feeling of being cared for between people. Warmth is composed of empathy, familiarity and love.

Some of us find strength as our default mode and others prefer to come from a place of warmth. Ideally we need a balance of these two factors. The good news is that even though we may have a preference for either strength or warmth, we can learn to use both effectively. Some people are able to master the challenging task of exhibiting both strength and warmth in the same interaction.

Compelling People has lots of useful information to digest. Warmth and strength are not simple and stable throughout life. Gender, physical aspects of self, age and many other factors impact the impression you have on others. I think this book is well worth the read for anyone wanting explore and develop their ability to influence.

Fern Richardson MBA PHEc


The Sense of Style: The thinking person’s guide to writing in the 21st century

Steven Pinker

Viking Penguin, 2014

The Sense of Style is a book on writing by Steven Pinker, a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard and a cognitive psychologist and author. Pinker notes in the prologue that this is a book for those who know how to write and want to write better and those who want to know more about language and literature. The book’s main focus is on nonfiction writing and is not meant to be a how-to manual for the novice writer.

The author believes good writing gets the author’s message across, earns the reader’s trust and adds beauty to the world in the effective use of metaphor; turn of phrase and to the point prose. To judge by these standards I think there is a lot of substandard writing in the world.

To be a good writer Pinker believes we need to be good readers; to read quality writers who do add beauty to the world through their writing. Throughout the book he uses examples to illustrate his points on how to create good writing. He explains that there is no governing body on language usage. The way we write is based on conventions that over time became entrenched rules. For example, standard written English is based on how the upper class British spoke because they codified how to write and speak based on how they wrote and spoke. Imagine if speakers of Cockney rhyming slang wrote down the “correct” rules for language. Check out this Cockney rhyming slang dictionary and consider how writing might be different today.

Pinker goes on to discuss various rules of grammar, word use and punctuation. Language continually grows and evolves despite the fact that some people insist language should remain static. Today there is more acceptance of flexibility in usage.

I found the first half of The Sense of Style the most useful for my writing. Pinker describes a variety of practical ways to think about both the reader and the written message. The latter half of the book went into greater depth on writing than I was looking for. (Never end a sentence with a preposition is an example of a convention that is becoming more acceptable.)

If you write a lot you may find this book offers insights into where our written language comes from, how it is evolving and why.

Fern Richardson MBA PHEc


No One Understands You: And what to do about it

Heidi Grant Halvorson

Harvard Business Review Press, 2015

No One Understands You is a practical communication book grounded in solid research. The book discusses how to improve your communication skills to come across the way you intend as well as how to recognize and respond effectively to others. Author Heidi Grant Halvorson is a social psychologist at Columbia Business School.

No One Understands You is split into four sections.  Part one explores why it’s hard to understand each other. The second section explores the three different lenses each of us uses to look at the world- trust, power and ego.  In the third part the author discusses four personality-based lenses we use. The last section offers ideas on how to see others more accurately and how to correct bad impressions and overcome misunderstandings.

In her conclusion Halvorson shares some tips to help you become a more effective judge of others.

The author has a relaxed, conversational style with great examples drawn from both life and research. She provides information on the wrinkles (biases) that make us human and how to overcome them to be a more effective communicator. Readers are sure to find ideas they can use that will make a difference in how they present themselves and connect to other.  It’s given me several ideas to add to my training seminars and workshops on communication, emotional intelligence and dealing with difficult people.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (revised edition)

Robert B. Cialdini

Harper Collins, 2007

Sometimes I find a book referenced in so many other works that I decide it is a must read. Influence is one of those books. Cialdini is a professor and psychologist and this book is based on his in-the-trenches research. He worked in a variety of sales positions to observe, understand and apply the tools of influence. He found six different influencers used to cement a deal.

These six influencers include:

Recently Cialdini has identified a seventh influencer which he terms the unity principle. This refers to the role of shared identity. The more we identify ourselves with another person or group, the more we are influenced by those individuals or groups.

In the book Cialdini offers resistance strategies for each tactic. Once aware of the strategies you are less likely to succumb to their influence. He points out that we generally fall back on these influencers when we don’t have the time, energy, inclination, or mental resources to do a complete analysis.

I had a number of aha moments reading Influence and recognized times when I was influenced by some of these principles. I believe awareness of these influencers will support better critical thinking and decision making. Influence is now on my suggested reading reference for my training sessions and workshops.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Against Empathy: The case for rational compassion

Paul Bloom

Harper Collins, 2016

In his book Against Empathy, Bloom, a Professor of Psychology at Yale, explores the concept of empathy. He makes a case that as a moral guide we are better off with conscious deliberative reasoning rather than empathy. Each chapter explores a different aspect of empathy. I found Bloom’s points compelling. I appreciate his balanced perspective as he shares his viewpoints as well as those of his critics.

Bloom starts by defining empathy. Emotional empathy is the act of coming to experience the world as you think someone else does. This is different than what may be called social intelligence, social cognition or cognitive empathy. The latter understands another person is in pain without feeling it oneself. He sees cognitive empathy can be a force for good, to help us care more about others and want to improve their lives.

He notes that emotional empathy does not drive all moral actions in life and doing good has unknown and unexpected consequences. It turns out it is easier to have empathy for those like us; therefore it can distort our moral judgement in the big picture.

Bloom describes emotional empathy as a spotlight. We can only feel it for one or two people at a time. This is significant when larger numbers are involved. The story of one victim will elicit more response in others than that of 100 victims. Our empathy bias asks, “Are they friend or foe?” We care more about those like us and children.

All good acts are not motivated by empathy. Bloom discusses compassion, which allows us to feel for not with. Compassion lets us hold others in warm concern and care. He suggests it may lead us to do actual good instead of what feels good. In neuroscience studies empathy and compassion were found to light up different areas of the brain. People being empathic described feeling the pain of others as unpleasant. Those practicing compassion felt better and kinder feelings toward others.

Bloom devotes a chapter to empathy and violence. Anger and empathy are universal responses that emerge in childhood. Both are moral- about right and wrong and both motivate behaviour. Empathy moves us to kindness and anger moves us to actions like punishment. Empathy with the plight of another can lead us to feel anger. This anger can make us irrational and want to punish the perceived wrongdoers. Increased anger can lead to violent punishment based on moral rightness and emotional empathy.

In the last chapter of Against Empathy Bloom argues that empathy itself is not a bad thing but it is not a helpful guide for us to make successful decisions in the moral domain.

Against Empathy provided me with insights into the benefits and challenges of emotional empathy. I appreciate Bloom’s clear examples and his sense of humour. I will share some of his points in future training seminars and workshops to provide a balanced view of empathy.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Opening Up: The healing powers of expressing emotion

James W. Pennebaker PhD, The Guildford Press, Revised 1997

In Opening Up, author James Pennebaker shares his research on the value of writing to express emotion. Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas, is a frequently referenced author in many of the books I review. Although Opening Up is an older work it provides insight into how writing in emotional times can help people successfully move past a variety of difficult issues.

The book sets the stage with a discussion on how we inhibit emotion. This practice has a negative impact on our well-being.  It’s natural for us to talk about a trauma with others rather than suppress it. Talking or writing forces us to rethink an event. Pennebaker found, once the trauma is in language form rather than thoughts in our head, we understand the situation better and can put it behind us.

Writing helps structure and organize our thoughts. It slows down our thought processes so we can follow an idea to its logical conclusion. Pennebaker found that when we write repeatedly about the same traumatic event different perspectives emerge. We become more detached and less emotional about the event. Repeated writing or telling of the story helps summarize it and it becomes less overwhelming.

There are some caveats to writing as therapy. Many people cope well with trauma. Writing is not a panacea with immediate results. It may shorten the time of emotional distress. How you write matters. It requires true self-reflection to explore your deepest thoughts and feelings.

Writing can also help in non-traumatic situations. Writing thoughts and feelings before starting on complex tasks clears the mind. It helps us absorb new information and gives us a framework to understand new ideas. Writing supports good problem solving as it focuses our attention and slows down our thoughts.

I believe in the value of writing to explore personal issues and problem solve. I found many ideas in Opening Up that will help me use writing as a more effective tool.  It’s a book that will be added to my seminar and workshop resource list.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc

The Most Human Human: What talking with computers teaches us about what it means to be alive

Brian Christian

Doubleday, 2011

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Most Human Human. The book is based on Christian’s experience as a contestant in the annual Loebner Prize Competition. The competition is a Turing test (developed by Alan Turing in the 1950’s) designed to determine an artificial intelligence’s ability to show intelligent behaviour. A human judge has a text only, blind, five minute conversation with both a human being and an artificial intelligence programme. At the end of the allotted time the judge has to decide who is the person and which is the artificial intelligence.

Christian prepared for his contestant’s role by researching what makes humans different from artificial intelligence and what it means to be human. The book is full of interesting tidbits along with insights on our unique place in the world. I thought I’d share some tasty tidbits and whet your appetite for Christian’s experience.

The Most Human Human gave me a greater understanding of human communication and a few juicy examples to share in my training seminars and workshops. If you deal with people (and who doesn’t?), I believe you will have an AHA moment or two. By the way, another point the author makes is that human beings are endowed with the great gift of curiosity. So…if you want to find out how Christian fared in the competition be sure to read The Most Human Human.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


What the F: What swearing reveals about our language, our brains and ourselves

Benjamin K Bergen

Basic Books, 2016

What the F provides insight into how words become profane, what makes cursing unique in language usage and the impact of profanity.  The author is a professor of Cognitive Science and Director of the Language and Cognition Lab at the University of California, San Diego.

Cultural differences play a role in how we swear. For example, the Japanese language does not contain profane or bad words and they borrow curses from other languages. English profanity is based on four main areas: the sacred, sex and sexual acts, bodily functions and slurs.

Bergen also gives a nod to the importance of gestures in cursing. Although most cultures use gestures to curse, the gestures are often different in form and meaning around the globe. An obscene gesture in one culture may mean something totally different in another culture.

Profanity holds a special place in our minds…literally. Neuroimaging shows that profanity rests in different areas of the brain from other language functions. When it comes to errors in normal speech we make one to two errors in speech every 1000 words or one error per every ten minutes of speech. We make profane and innocuous errors at different rates. This shows the brain has self-monitoring and editing systems to avoid profanity by accident- mother’s soap notwithstanding. Profanity even has unique rules of grammar.

In a chapter I found particularly fascinating, Bergen lays out the seven steps a word goes through as it moves from innocent beginnings through profanity and back to innocent again.

Among other points of interest, Bergen says children exposed to cursing will not suffer emotional numbing or increased aggression. However it will likely increase a child’s use of that profanity, similar to other words they hear.

The form of profanity considered most offensive is slurs. Bergen describes these as dehumanizing and built to offend. Typical sources of slurs include stereotypes of physical characteristics, body features, how others sound, and occupations they hold.

Bergen says profanity will always be with us. Beliefs about profanity are a social construct and profane words are variable, context sensitive and relative. Censorship does not work because new words evolve even as old ones weaken with exposure and use.

Swearing does offer upsides including: an increase in our tolerance to pain, a potential way to release anger instead of a physical response and can demonstrate social power, especially among men.

It took me some time to adjust to reading the amount of profanity in the book which illustrates Bergen’s points but it was well worth the effort. I found What the F to be a #&!@ good read.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?

Alan Alda, Random House, 2017

Recently I caught a CBC Radio interview between Alan Alda and Q host, Tom Power.  Alda was discussing his new book on relating and communication, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? Alda is an actor, writer, director and active member of the science community. He founded the Alan Alda Centre for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. After listening to the interview I picked up a copy of the book as ideas about communication grab my attention and often become part of my workshops and seminars.

The first part of the book is about the importance of relating to others when we communicate. The second part describes how we can become more effective at reading others. Alda draws on his training as an actor, especially his improvisational work, as well as his love of science. His writing has a conversational tone and is filled with stories, research findings and examples. He is passionate about helping scientists and other professionals learn how to communicate more effectively.

Part One includes chapters on awareness of the other person, empathy, synchrony, listening, knowing your audience, team communication and presentations.  For example, he shares the three rules of three for presentations:

Tell them in three points or less

Explain a difficult idea three different ways

Subtly make an important point three times

In Part Two the author explains how he became better at reading others. He offers straightforward ways to improve anyone’s skills. One simple idea is to read good literary fiction. Stories about complex and well-developed characters improve both our emotional and cognitive empathy.  Alda also talks about using communication skills for good rather than to manipulate.  Further chapters in this section include ideas on teaching, storytelling, emotion and remembering and the importance of creating commonalities to connect to others.

I enjoyed Alda’s writing style. I chuckled at one of his closing comments, “Communication is not a wrestling match with an opponent. It is an interaction or an exchange where the other person may have a better idea for looking at things…” What a great metaphor.

If you want to find ways to enhance your communication and relating skills be sure to read If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Effective Presentation: Talk your way to success

Asha Kaul

Response Books- Sage Publications, 2005

I am always interested in information on presentations as that constitutes a large part of my work, plus I offer training and seminars in presentation skills.  I found The Effective Presentation thoroughly covers developing and delivering a good presentation. The book provides detailed information on planning, research, structure, visual aids, design and delivery.  Although written a number of years ago, I found it relevant. I sourced the book through my local library system.

In the planning section Kaul shares six helpers; who- your audience, what- your content, why- the purpose, where- the location, when- timing and how- the presentation itself. For example, exploring the purpose helps to determine whether the presentation should be to educate, inform, persuade or train. Although many presentations combine aspects of all four it is important to know the main purpose of the presentation. To educate, you may provide multiple perspectives for your audience to consider whereas to train a skill requires higher levels of participation and interaction from the audience.

When it comes to developing presentation visuals Kaul shares the following quote from Ivan Chermayeff:

“Good design, at least part of the time, includes the criterion of being direct in relation to the problem at hand – not obscure, trendy or stylish. A new language, visual or verbal, must be couched in a language that is already understood.”

No matter what form of visuals are used, they should reinforce your message or act as a memory jogger. Visuals should be used sparingly and only when they add value to the presentation’s content.  A simple test for clutter is to show the visual to someone else and if they can’t grasp it in 30 seconds it is probably information overload.

The Effective Presentation also offers sound advice on presentation delivery. For example a large part of delivery nerves is due to fear that the audience won`t respond to your message. Kaul points out that most audiences want you to succeed and your role is to help them help you. You may need to adapt your message to your listeners and be sure to speak their language. Delivery nerves are also eased by enough rehearsal time. Practice, practice, practice.

If you are looking for a solid, all around book on developing presentations The Effective Presentationwould be a great reference book to add to your list.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Presence: Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges

Amy Cuddy

Little Brown and Company, 2015

You know research has hit a chord with the general public when you see it referenced in television shows. Amy Cuddy, Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist’s work on presence has done just that. I think this means it’s relevant to our daily lives. When I share Cuddy’s work in my communication and emotional intelligence workshops people express lots of interest.

Presence occurs when we are tuned in to, and comfortable with, expressing our true thoughts, feelings, values and potential. It’s when you feel personally powerful. Presence is moment to moment rather than a continuous state. Moments of presence are self-induced and achieved through small changes.

Psychologists today believe “self” is multi-faceted rather than one permanent unchanging you. Self is dynamic and flexible as we respond to different situations. It is the part of us we choose to show others through thoughts, feelings, values and behaviours. Most of us recognize when we know and feel we are being our most sincere and authentic self.

Cuddy’s research explores powerful and powerless body language. Open and expansive postures make us feel better and more effective- more powerful, confident, assertive, happier and optimistic. Expansive postures include both body movement and vocal expression. Benefits of expansive postures include:  a clear head for creativity, cognitive persistence and abstract thinking. Presence prepares you to be present, helps you override the flight or fight instinct, allows you to be grounded, open, engaged and toughens you to physical pain. Even picturing yourself in a powerful body posture can get results. Presence allows us to look confident and relaxed. The goal is ‘power to’ and not ‘power over’. The goal is not to dominate others.

How do we tap into this authentic self?  Cuddy suggests we start first thing in the morning with a good stretch. Make use of personal private space such as your office or private, public space like bathrooms or stair wells.  Avoid hunching over your phone or tablet before an important meeting. If you have limited opportunity to prepare for a challenging session, wrap your arms around the back of chair and clasp your hands together. It expands your shoulders and chest. Adopt high power posture before the interaction and keep an upright open posture during the meeting. Avoid high power poses in an interaction as it is read as intimidation.

It is important to maintain your posture during the day. Cuddy has a number of interesting, practical and easy suggestions. Note what is going on when you start to collapse your body. Be curious about what makes you feel powerless. Set posture reminders to check your posture hourly. Organize your space to allow for good posture. Combine power poses with your daily routine such as brushing your teeth with one hand on your hip. Take breaks, walk around and hold walking meetings.

For more information on Cuddy’s work check out her website and her TED Talk which has over 35 million views

There’s no time like the present to enhance your presence!

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


To Sell is Human: The surprising truth about moving others

Daniel H. Pink

Riverhead Books, 2012

In To Sell is Human, the author Daniel Pink makes the case that we are all involved in the act of selling something to someone. Maybe it’s getting the perfect job, leading your team through change or influencing someone to invest in your new product. The book is in three parts: making the case for sales; how to sell; and what to do. Along the way he includes practical strategies to explore and develop your sales potential.

At the heart of the sales proposition is agitation- a challenge for the other person to do something they want to do. We need to understand their goals and to be flexible enough to frame what we do in their context. This is different from the idea of irritation which challenges people to do something we want them to do. In the long run agitation is the true key to success.

In part two Pink discusses the importance of attunement, buoyancy and clarity. Attunement is defined as being at one with another human being. It is the ability to take on another person’s perspective. One quick idea is to “pull up a chair”. The empty chair is a reminder to you to consider the perspective of an essential but invisible or missing person. Buoyancy is about how to stay afloat before, during and after the selling experience. No one likes rejection and this chapter offers a number of strategies to deal effectively with a “No” response. The chapter on clarity helps us help others to see their situation in fresh and revealing ways and to help them identify problems they didn’t realize they had

The third section of the book focuses on pitch development, improvisation and service. Here are his three questions to clarify your pitch: What do you want them to know? What do you want them to feel? What do you want them to do? Improvising taps into effective communication skills including: asking great questions, listening carefully, responding to what you hear and the power of “Yes, and…” The last chapter is on service. Pink reminds us that ultimately we serve people and need to stand behind what we are selling. We want to improve another person’s life and improve the world. Service is both personal and purposeful.

I found a lot of practical advice in To Sell is Human. It expanded my perception of what selling entails. Every day we are involved in influencing others whether it’s getting them to sign on the dotted line, practice a skill from training and seminars or take out the garbage. We can all become more adept at the skills for moving others.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What machines teach us about human relationships

Clifford Nass with Corina Yen
Penguin Group, 2010

I first became aware of Clifford Nass through his work on media multi-tasking. Nass is a Stanford University professor who merges the diverse disciplines of computers and software design with social science to provide a better understanding of how people react in social relationships. The Man Who Lied to His Laptop explores these ideas. Each chapter delves into a different aspect of human behaviour including praise and criticism, personality, teams and team building, emotion and persuasion. Each chapter offers insight into our current understanding. Nass outlines his fascinating research experiments which study human computer interactions. He then links the sometimes surprising findings to interpersonal interactions and offers ways to use this information in our own lives.

In the chapter on praise and criticism his experiments show how the much touted “sandwich method” of delivering feedback (a specific positive comment, followed by a specific corrective comment, followed by an over-arching positive remark) tends to make things worse!

I found The Man Who Lied to His Laptop an insightful read. I was fascinated to see how such cross-disciplinary studies enhance our knowledge. I know I will include many of Nass’ research findings in my seminars and training in emotional intelligence, communication skills, and team building.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Public Speaking and Presentations Demystified

Melody Templeton

McGraw Hill, 2010

I recently read Public Speaking and Presentations Demystified while doing research for my Effective Presentations seminars and workshops. I found Templeton’s book to be a well-rounded resource on presenting skills especially for novice presenters. The book is broken into three sections entitled: Getting Started; Putting the Pieces Together; and Stand and Deliver. To give you a small taste of what the book offers here’s a tidbit of information from each section.

In Getting Started Templeton discusses presentation research. She shares the following questions to get you started:

When collecting research consider primary, or first-hand sources, as well as secondary sources. A secondary source involves interpretation, editing or summarization of a first-hand source. Organize the research from most recent sources to older sources and from general information to specific information. Always keep track of your sources and reference them in your presentation.

Putting the Pieces Together shows how to take your research and develop the presentation. For example there are a number of ways to organize your presentation, a few of which are:

In Stand and Deliver Templeton offers advice on dealing with the presentation delivery. She provides insights into dealing with glossophobia or stage fright:

Public Speaking and Presentations Demystified is full of excellent information. It is comprehensive, thoughtfully laid out, easy to follow and makes a great reference book. I have added it to my workshop resource list.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


The Naked Presenter

Garr Reynolds

New Riders, 2011

I offer seminars and training in presentation skills so I’m always on the lookout for what’s new in the field. There is an added benefit as I incorporate these new ideas into my own presentations to provide a more engaging learning experience for participants. I hit pay dirt with Garr Reynolds latest book The Naked Presenter.

First things first, you don’t need to head to the gym. The author is not proposing nudity in your next presentation! Naked refers to his approach to presentations based on restraint, simplicity and naturalness. Reynolds has an eclectic background grounded in aspects of Zen philosophy. The book follows his approach with great visuals, clear messages and further resources which infuse his book with a unique flow.

As Reynolds says, “We want clear instructions, meaningful data, illustrative stories and frank conversations. Yet we too often get vague language, obfuscation, and dense decks of PowerPoint slides instead of understanding meaningful connections.”

Presenters can be overly cautious and may hide behind bullet points on the screen but does the presenter connect with the audience and make an impact? Presenting naked puts the audience first and creates a conversation as opposed to a performance. The presenter delivers the essence of the message with simplicity, integrity and passion.

Chapters in the book include all aspects of presentation from development through delivery. To whet your appetite here are the author’s thoughts from chapter two on eight steps to developing a presentation:

  1. Create an oasis of solitude to think
  2. Remove distractions from your environment
  3. Go analog with pen and paper or whiteboard
  4. Identify your core point- what do you want people to remember and how you do you want them to be different
  5. Brainstorm around the core point
  6. Consolidate, edit and group ideas
  7. Sketch your visuals
  8. Build simple, clear, engaging visuals

Whether you are a novice presenter or a pro; do short presentations or in depth training and seminarslike me, I believe you will find ideas in this book to take your presentations to the next level while staying fully clothed!

Other reviews on Presentation Skills resources: Own The Room , Virtual Presentations That Work

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation

Deborah Tannen
Random House New York, 2006

If you are a mother of daughters, or a daughter of any age, Deborah Tannen’s latest book should be required reading. Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University, explores the dynamic of mother and daughter communication through focused conversation, in-depth interviews, autobiographies, student transcripts of conversation and personal reflection based on her own relationship with her mother. As Tannen comments, “Mothers and daughters find in each other the source of great comfort but also of great pain.”

In the book Tannen discusses key issues in the mother/daughter dynamic. These include: the challenge of connection and control; literal meaning and metamessages with implications of connection or criticism: power shifts as daughters reach adulthood; family dynamics and being left out; and the desire for closeness or distance. Tannen also explores the many-faceted role of mothers which can include: communication central; interrogator; advisor; role model; emotional lightening rod and head of the family PR department and the affect these roles have on the mother/daughter relationship. Chapters on the dark side of the mother/daughter relationship and how mothers and daughters use new technologies to connect are also included.

I have been a fan of Deborah Tannen’s work for many years. Her writing is grounded in research and written with the general population in mind. The book is full of actual conversations which include insights for the reader as well as positive suggestions for change and different skills to enhance the mother daughter relationship. No matter which side of the relationship you represent, I think you will find ‘aha’ moments which can be used to develop and support any mother daughter relationship.

Fern Richardson PHEc MBA CED


Virtual Presentations That Work

Joel Gendelman

McGraw Hill, 2010

Virtual presentations are becoming more common in many companies and educational institutions. Gendelman defines virtual presentations as any presentation done remotely. The virtual presenter experiences the same challenges as a face-to-face presenter with a few added wrinkles as the audience is spread across many remote locations.

This book is broken into two segments. Part one provides background on the ins and outs of presenting virtually. Part two walks through the development of a virtual presentation from square one. Gendelman includes information on transforming an existing presentation into a virtual format. Each chapter is designed to help the reader develop a virtual presentation in an orderly way. The author includes a planning form, a presentation snapshot chart, several virtual icebreaker activities and a list of common emoticons. The word emoticon (a blend of the words emotion and icon) refers to the symbols used in e-mail to indicate the writer’s feeling such as  to express happiness.

Most of the training and seminars I offer are in done in a face-to-face setting. Reading this book reassured me that virtual presentations are not a whole new beast. Some of my take home messages from the book were:

Other reviews of presentation skills books:  The Naked Presenter , Own The Room

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


Own the Room: Business presentations that persuade, engage & get results

David Booth, Deborah Shames, Peter Desberg

McGraw Hill, 2010

If you’re comfortable with basic presentation skills and are looking for information to take you to the next level Own the Room is worth a look. The background of the three authors (an actor, a director and a psychologist) offers a unique perspective. I was intrigued as I am a fan of theatre arts and have “tread the boards’ more than once myself. I feel my performance background has helped me offer more effective training and seminars so I was eager to read their ideas.

The book does cover presentation basics however I found greatest value in the unique information seldom found in other presentation skills books. Detailed chapters were included on choosing an appropriate presentation role; information on delivery or what the authors call physical grammar; handling stage fright; how to create a memorable presentation based on the function of human memory and effective team presentations.

The authors stress the importance of intention in presentation development. Intention of the presentation shapes the content. One clear, specific, active intention becomes the presentation’s touchstone. Intention is used throughout the development of the presentation: to determine the presenter’s choice of role, language and behaviour; to ensure information, anecdotes and examples are relevant; to edit out non-essentials; and to create an ending that reinforces the intention.

Check out other presentations skills books I have reviewed including The Naked Presenter and Virtual Presentations That Work.

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc


How to give a pretty good presentation…A speaking survival guide for the rest of us

T J Walker

John Wiley & Sons Inc, 2010

If you are looking for practical presentation skills information this is the book for you. T J Walker makes no bones about the fact that this book is, as the title states, about delivering a pretty good presentation. Full of pointers on presentation basics, Walker covers topics such as preparing notes, presentation tone, speaker’s appearance, stage presence, use of microphones and audio visuals.

I like his suggestion on developing your biographical introduction.

  1. Write down a number of facts about yourself
  2. Note your unique qualifications to present the topic
  3. Consider what will motivate your audience.

Create your biographical introduction on the natural overlap of these three areas. The introduction should be between 30 seconds and one minute. If you use this formula you will need to adjust your bio for presentations on different topics or to different audiences.

In the section on presentation timing Walker shares a number of helpful pointers including: plan and practice; finish at the scheduled time; if time runs short stay calm, finish your key points and supply your contact information for follow-up. Another excellent point the author makes is use an easy-to-read timer or watch to help you stay on time.

How to Give a Pretty Good Presentation delivers on its title. It is a good book for novice presenters. As an experienced trainer offering a wide variety of training seminars and workshops I also found new ideas to incorporate into my presentations. I’m adding this book to the resource list for my Effective Presentations training and seminars.

Check out other reviews of presentation skills books including: The Naked Presenter, Own the Room, Virtual Presentations That Work

Fern Richardson MBA CED PHEc