Review of “100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People”

February 4, 2013

In November and December of 2012, I finally got around to reading the book “100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People“, by Susan M. Weinschenk, Ph.D. This is an extremely helpful book, and one that anyone that does public speaking should read. 

The author of the book has a Ph.D in Psychology, with a focus on how people think and learn. She’s also wrote “100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People” and is an accomplished speaker in her own right.

The book has a strong psychology bent to it (obviously, considering the writer), with every point made backed up by cited research. It’s not a psychology book, however: each discussion about how people think and learn leads to concrete suggestions as to how that should impact the presentation you give. The end goal is a presentation that’s more meaningful and valuable to the audience, which in turn makes it look like you really know what you’re doing.

Some of the best recommendations that I took away from the book include…

  • Have a strong opening and a strong closing. Ms. Weinschenk puts forth that you should memorize the first minute of the speech so that it’s flawless, thereby giving a great first impression, but she also talks about the importance of having a good closing. That hadn’t crossed my mind before, but I’ll never conclude a presentation with “And that’s all I have to say.” again.
  • Stand on the left side of the presentation (from the audience’s point of view), assuming you’re giving a presentation to people that read left to right.
  • Move toward the audience when you want to grab the audience’s attention before making an important point, but stop moving when you’re making your point.
  • Moving away from the audience signifies a break or a change of topic.
  • People need to see your body in order to trust you.
  • Don’t look at the screen unless you want the audience to focus on the screen (and not you).
  • People are less receptive to an idea if they’re unsure of where they stand on the issue. Surprisingly, this means that people are more receptive to an idea that they initially disagree with. One way of making people more receptive is to ask for a show of hands as to where people stand on a subject, which forces them to momentarily consider the issue and choose a side.
  • People are motivated by a fear of loss; point out the dangers of doing or not doing something.
  • People often care about time more than money. Emphasizing ways to save time can be an excellent motivator.

Perhaps the most important recommendation Ms. Weinschenk has in the book is to do as much research as you can about the audience you’re presenting to. Understanding the audience’s perspective is the best way to create a presentation they’ll benefit from. It seems obvious, yes, but it’s probably something many public speakers don’t do.

And the book also re-iterates (and justifies) suggestions you’ll find in other resources, such as the important of:

  • Sticking to only 3 or 4 items (bullets) per slide, with only a few words per item
  • Presenting an outline of the presentation early and showing progress as you go
  • Repeating important information
  • Using lots of images

The book is only 250 pages long, but does cover 100 concrete points in that space. I found myself highlighting something really useful on every third to fourth page, which is pretty good. The book ends with 15 pages on crafting your presentations, and a 90-day plan for improving your abilities as a public speaker. That may be a bit overzealous unless you’re planning on making a career of public speaking, though.

But for anyone doing some public speaking, “100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People” is a must-read. Your audience will thank you later.