Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Re-Learning for the Very First Time: A Review of 'resonate', by Nancy Duarte

I hate PowerPoint, I don't use it in my presentations as a general rule, and, as a result, have never read slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations (amazon affiliate link) by Nancy Duarte. That said, I was pleasantly surprised, and feeling just a little bit guilty, to be offered the opportunity to receive a review copy of her latest book, resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences.

At first glance, its a bit intimidating. Beautifully designed in an over-sized, glossy, full-color format, it doesn't fit in my bookshelf, much less my preconceived notions of a guide to public speaking. While it runs a thick 248 pages, the content itself, if surgically removed and re-purposed into a traditional book format, might run only 100. I say that not as a criticism, but as an encouragement to the reader - open this book, read the first two pages of chapter one, and you'll be hooked for the next few hours as you get sucked into Nancy Duarte's energetic, creatively clinical, and graphically stimulating compilation of public speaking wisdom.

resonate is as practical as it is artful. In a sense, it's the Gray's Anatomy* of speaking. Each aspect of speech writing and speech giving is given fair time, illustrated by examples ranging from creative diagrams of storytelling, to careful analysis of online speeches we're able to see for ourselves, to the most intensive graphic dissection of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech I've ever seen. Duarte's 'Sparkline' method of speech analysis provides a unique visual approach to speech structure, as in the illustration below:

Click to Enlarge
Case studies are plentiful, and include such diverse presentations as President Reagan's address to the nation after the Challenger explosion, Interpretive Dancer Martha Graham, and Michael Pollan's dramatization from 2009's Pop!Tech. Each is carefully chosen to highlight specific points in Duarte's methods, proving their flexibility across a wide variety of speaking opportunities.

Techniques such as Making the Audience the Hero, explanations of Syd Field's Paradigm, illustrations of The Hero's Journey, are but three early examples of Duarte's analytical approach to speaking. Yet, far from being an advocate of cold and clinical speech creation, concepts later in the book include Create Emotional Contrast, More Than Just Facts, and Don't Be So Cerebral. Fusing fact with emotion and reality with possibility, are dominant themes throughout.

What stands out most to me in Duarte's latest book is that while there is very little, if any, new information in the book, it presents it's wisdom in such a way as to make even the most jaded student of speaking feel like they are discovering their speaking secrets for the very first time. This is the secret secret of the book, in my eyes. As speakers, we are rarely, if ever, covering ground our audience has not traversed in the past - but it is our job to bring them through familiar territory with a fresh perspective, a new outlook. By making us look at our speechcraft through innovative lenses, we can't help but consider renovating our current speeches, tearing them to shreds as a necessary sacrifice to rebuilding a higher form of presentation, transforming ourselves as we work to transform our audiences.

Whether you're a new or seasoned speaker, resonate offers a challenging look at the way we present today, and offers a myriad of systems, strategies, and solutions, whether your next speech is in front of your Toastmasters group, your stockholders, or 2000 presentation-weary conventioneers.

After reading it through, I'll be focusing on it chapter by chapter, looking for ways to directly apply Nancy Duarte's expertise to my own - I recommend you do the same. It can only help you as you endeavor to Speak....and Deliver.

Find out more about Nancy Duarte at or at her blog.

*Yes, just in case, an Amazon affiliate link...

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