10 non-PowerPoint books that can help you create better presentations
December 23, 2009
To learn how to design and deliver better presentations, we need to pull from many educational sources. Books are good, but which ones? I don't usually suggest PowerPoint or Keynote "how-to" books, but instead recommend reading books from various design and communication fields to stretch your knowledge and perspective. Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte is great, of course, and there are many others that I've suggested over the years. Below are ten additional books I can highly recommend; three of them I have recommended before.
PRESENTATIONS & SPEAKING
The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience by Carmine Gallo.
Since I began this website in 2005, I've talked about the presentation style of Steve Jobs ad nauseam (for example: here, here, here, here, here, and many more). Carmine Gallo does a great job of summarizing all the many good things that Jobs does in his famous Apple keynotes, and he provides concrete takeaways. The point is not to present like Steve Jobs — each case after all is very different — but there are many lessons to be learned by careful observation of the Steve Jobs keynote. A very nice read that just may change the way you present. (Amazon link.)
Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun.
I met Scott Berkun in Sweden this year and spent some time with him in Denmark discussing public speaking and what it takes to be an effective presenter. Scott, a former Microsoft manager, is a great guy and he's a very experienced presenter. If you do a lot of public speaking, you'll get a kick out of Scott's stories. And if you are thinking about starting a speaking career, Scott provides a lot of interesting tips and lessons. Teachers — who speak in front of people every day — may also find the book useful. (Amazon link.)
Scott Kelby's Digital Photography Boxed Set (Volumes 1, 2, and 3) by Scott Kelby.
I have almost all of Scott Kelby's photography books. He writes in a very informal, engaging style and there's a reason he's the #1 computer book author for five straight years: his books help people learn. I love Scott's work so much, I asked him to contribute tips for the Presentation Zen Design book (he offers 10 tips for taking better photos). These Digital Photography books are colorful, instructive, and aimed at the novice photographer who wants to get a lot better. I found them very useful (especially for the price). You can buy the books individually or as a set. (Amazon link.)
VISUALIZATION OF DATA
Now You See It: Simple Visualization Techniques for Quantitative Analysis by Stephen Few.
I have all of Stephen Few's books — he's the Zen Master of presenting data as far as I am concerned. I saw Stephen present in Seattle this summer at the Tableau Conference and we had a chance to spend some time together before the event. He's a fantastic presenter on stage and he's a very down-to-earth guy who knows how to visualize data and how to help others get better at displaying quantitative information more clearly. This is a big hardcover book with some really good lessons. (Amazon link.)
Visual Language for Designers: Principles for Creating Graphics that People Understand by Connie Malamed.
This is a really large book that begins with a section on how we process visual information and then goes on to introduce principles and techniques that help you understand how to organize for perception, how to direct the eye, clarify complexity, and simplify visuals. This hardcover book has many excellent examples. Beginners will benefit tremendously from the book, but I think many designers will also find the book a good addition to their library. Connie Malamed's website. (Amazon link.)
Before & After: How to Design Cool Stuff by John McWade.
John McWade — known to many as "the world’s first desktop publisher" — is the founder and creative director of Before & After and the author of numerous books on graphic design (this is his latest). John was kind enough to contribute his tips for making better slides for the PZD book. I've been a big fan of John's for a long time and this latest book is his best one yet. Loads of simple, practical, visual lessons. Check out the Before & After website. (Amazon link.)
Design Elements: A Graphic Style Manual by Timothy Samara.
This is a really good book that I have mentioned before which both beginners and experienced designers may enjoy. The book does an excellent job at covering the fundamentals but also goes into some depth with many good examples. I like how Samara starts out the book by discussing just what graphic design is and what designers do. I especially like his "20 Basic Rules of Good Design." (Amazon link.)
A Field Guide to Digital Color by Maureen Stone.
There are many books on color, but this one focuses on digital color and provides a great deal of depth. This is not really a book for novices, but it's an excellent book for designers of all types. I met Maureen Stone in Seattle this summer and saw one of her presentations. She's an excellent presenter and teacher. Maureen spent twenty years working at Xerox PARC on color printing, digital color, interactive computer graphics, illustration and design systems. She knows her stuff. (She was also kind enough to contribute a nice callout section for the color chapter in the PZD book.) This is an excellent book. (Amazon link.)
Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (2nd 3rd Edition) by Steve Krug.
You might think a book on web usability design has little to do with presentations, but the lessons in this simple book have applications beyond the web. If you have even just a small interest in how to design websites that minimizes cognitive strain and make information clearer, you may find this book helpful. This classic is only about 200 pages and is a quick read with many good lessons that will make you a better judge of what works and what doesn't in a website. Steve Krug's website. (Amazon link.)
If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Breda Ueland.
I have mentioned this book before, but it's a must-read. This is not only a book about writing. In fact, it's much more a book about the imagination, spirit, and creativity. We need more art and creativity in our personal and professional lives; this book gets you thinking. A lot of people, including myself, have found this simple book to be quite inspirational. It was first published in 1938 and it's still a very relevant book today. (Amazon link.)
Just in time for Christmas!
I can't recommend Stephen Few's book highly enough, although I'd avise people not familiar with his work to start with his first book, "show me the numbers."
I use colour palettes designed by Maureen Stone all the time. The right palette can really improve your display tremendously, whether it's a presentation, a web site, a report or anything visual.
If I may I'd add to your list "the elements of typographic style" by Robert Bringhurst, who is to typography what Maureen Stone is to color. The book is both simple and informative.
Posted by: Jérôme Cukier | December 23, 2009 at 12:52 AM
Hi Garr! Happy Holidays to you and all your family and friends. About the list, 3 of the books in the list are in my must buy list for 2010! I'm not that off track..
Posted by: Joe Oviedo | December 23, 2009 at 02:31 AM
Thanks for the list - I think it's a great idea to think outside of the box in terms of design and communication. There are so many different factors to consider when preparing a presentation, and the quality of PowerPoint design is only one of them!
Posted by: Jessica Pyne | December 23, 2009 at 11:42 PM
I like the Jerry Weisman books as well. Thanks for these. I will have to look them up!
Posted by: Presentations Training | December 24, 2009 at 03:25 AM
Thanks Garr, invaluable references and insight as always. Whenever I am talking to clients I recommend three books, yours, Slide:ology and Andrew Abela’s Advanced Presentation by Design. This text is a bible for presenters whether they are doing ballroom or conference room type presentations. The Extreme Presentation Method outlined in this text appeals to me as it is empirically research and used with clients like Microsoft, Dell and ebay. I first heard of it when listening to Nancy Duarte’s review and later came across Olivia Mitchell’s reference to it. Garr, I strongly recommend it as a must read for you in 2010. Thanks again Regards Justin
Posted by: Justin O'Brien | December 24, 2009 at 08:09 AM
Thanks for sharing. Your book has completely changed my presentation style, making it much more effective and inspiring (based on audience evaluations)!
Posted by: Tom Hood | December 24, 2009 at 11:40 PM
I see we share many books and you have given me some new ones to explore. ありがとうございますね！
ps: looking forward to reading Presentation Zen Design soon!
Posted by: Gianfranco Chicco | December 27, 2009 at 09:51 PM
Garr, Amazon advised your new book has shipped! Looking forward to receiving it.
Happy New Year!
Posted by: Alessandra | December 30, 2009 at 02:04 AM
Great list Garr.
I know you've listed it in the column on the right, but William Lidwell's "Universal Principles of Design" truly helped improve my approach to presentation design. We know a number of the principles of design but he goes in depth to truly explain them in a way that everyone can understand.
Posted by: Jon | January 02, 2010 at 01:48 PM
Loved this book list! Going to Amazon now!
Posted by: Presentations Training | January 07, 2010 at 06:30 AM
As of today, Few's book is not available anywhere I've looked online. Here's hoping the publisher meets the demand.
Posted by: Mark | January 10, 2010 at 11:53 PM
Just finished reading three in your recommended book list. Totally inspired by "If you want to write." Can't believe it was written in the 30s. Easy to read filled with inspiring stories. This is certainly the best book I've read in the past year.
Now, I'm ready to read "presentationzen DESIGN," which is right in front of me.
Posted by: Masafumi Otsuka | January 21, 2010 at 03:12 PM