It was a foreign policy book by a controversial former president.
Jim read it . . . oh he read it.
It animated him and addled him, and it inspired him like no one else I had seen before or have seen since.
He would slap the page and exclaim, “That’s it. That’s it!”
Jim did this often in the course of his read. I’d hear him in the bunk below mine.
And so it went.
I don’t recall that he ever returned the book, and that’s just fine, as I like to think of Jim slapping the page even now, somewhere in rural New England where I hear he ended up.
You don’t come across books like that often. I hear tales of poor, uninspired folks who never do.
Books that crack the carapace of cynicism.
I’m a self-appointed judge of such things, and it takes a heckuva book to crowbar me off the passive-aggressive rock of smug observation and get me hooting and hollering.
But I found a book like that. Yes, I found one.
You’re holding it.
Deceptively slight of build, innocuous in its appearance, William Steele’s Presentation Skills 201 is presentation fissile material of the first order, glowing with power on every page.
Presentation Skills 201 – High Concept
This isn’t the Great American Novel, no. You hold in your hands, instead, the Great American Presentations Book.
Whoa! Have I gone overboard? About to slap the page with a robust “That’s it!”
Let me explain.
I teach at a university business school in Philadelphia and have been coaching student presentations for years.
I own perhaps the largest vintage public speaking book collection in the United States, outside the library of congress – more than 3,000 volumes, going back to 1762.
I’m a student of Demosthenes and Cicero, Quintilian and Blair.
I study the great speakers of history to glean just one more nugget of wisdom from the wealth laid up over centuries. I buy presentation books even now to see if there is, indeed, anything new under the sun.
Most often, I am disappointed.
Until now . . .
Again, I say all of this by way of prelude, because I am not given to exaggeration at all.
When I read this book the first time, I entered the reading task methodically as I do for a welter of presentation books. And I skim many of them. Just to see if there truly is anything new under the sun.
Most of them huff-puff along, chugging in workmanlike mundanity.
They can stretch a nugget of technique across five anecdotes and across twice as many pages as needed. Not nearly enough for me to un-cock the skeptic’s eyebrow.
So . . .
High Praise, Indeed . . . and Deserved
What I say next, I utter with the sincerity born of many years laboring in the vineyards of bad presentations – Mr. Steele’s Presentation Skills 201 is, page for page, the finest book on advanced presenting I have ever read.
Surely it is the most succinct.
It froths with superb and utterly essential advice on every . . . single . . . page.
Distilled into powerful instructional nodes, Mr. Steele’s book is spot-on again and again. I thought that I had seen and heard the length and breadth of the presentation enterprise, given that I view and judge 300 individual and 75 group presentations each year – but not so.
Mr. Steele’s work is a reminder that there is always “one more thing” that each of us can learn to hone and improve our own presentation skills and develop our personal competitive advantage.
Here, however, there is much, much more than simply “one more thing.”
We all deliver presentations, every day of our lives. But we do not think of our many discussions as presentations. We deliver our points of view usually quite well in venues as disparate as church socials and local pub happy hours.
But when it comes time to deliver what we think of as a “real” presentation, well . . . many of us suddenly turn into zombies. Presentation zombies – stiff, mechanical, glazed-eye zombies.
We hear advice, sure.
And the proffered solution to much of the undead in the presentation enterprise comes as “communication theory” and a handful of vague apothegms passed down from an archaic and unquestioned oral tradition . . .
Don’t put your hand in your pocket!
Make eye contact!
Move around when you talk!
This, of course, is unsatisfying and completely inadequate, certainly for those steeped in the basics of powerful presenting and who want to, as they say in the vernacular of my bailiwick, “take it to the next level.”
So, this is one of those rare times that I recommend and endorse a book in the presentation genre; and in case you didn’t get it by now, I’m utterly delighted to craft a preface to this second edition of Presentations 201.
I have found wisdom on every page – every page – of Mr. Steele’s tome and it holds an honored place at my right hand. I reference it often, and you will as well.
You may even, as I have, slap the page on occasion . . .