Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Books on teaching and presentations

During a decluttering of my place, I had to make decisions about which books to keep; these are some that I found useful for teaching and presentations, and I'm therefore keeping:

Some books I find heplful for teaching and presenting (Blog version)

They are stacked by book size (for stability), but I'll group them in four major topics: general presentation planning and design; teaching; speechwriting; and visuals design.

1. Presentation planning and design

Edward Tufte's Beautiful Evidence is not just about making presentations, rather it's about analyzing, presenting, and consuming evidence.

Lani Arredondo's How to Present Like a Pro is the only "general presentation" book I'm keeping (and I'm still pondering that, as most of what it says is captured in my 3500-word post on preparing presentations). It's not especially good (or bad), it's just the best of the "general presentation" books I have, and there's no need for more than one. Whether I need one given Beautiful Evidence is an open question.

Donald Norman's Living With Complexity and Things That Make Us Smart are not about presentations, rather about designing cognitive artifacts (of which presentations and teaching exercises are examples) for handling complex and new units of knowledge.

Chip and Dan Heath's Made to Stick is a good book on memorability; inasmuch as we expect our students and audiences to take something away from a speech, class, or exec-ed, making memorable cognitive artifacts is an important skill to have.

Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think is about making the process of interactions with cognitive artifacts as simple as possible (the book is mostly about the web, but the principles therein apply to presentation design as well).

Alan Cooper's The Inmates Are Running The Asylum is similar to Living With Complexity, with the added benefit of explicitly addressing the use of personas for designing complex products (a very useful product design tool for classes, I think).

I had other books on the general topic of presentations that I am donating/recycling. Most of them spend a lot of space discussing the management of stage fright, a problem with which I am not afflicted.

If I had to pick just one to keep, I'd choose Beautiful Evidence. (The others, except How To Present Like a Pro, are research-related, so I'd keep them anyway.)

2. Teaching

As I've mentioned previously, preparing instruction is different from preparing presentations. The two books I recommended then are the two books I'm keeping:

Tools for teaching, by Barbara Gross Davis covers every element of course design, class design, class management, and evaluation. It is rather focussed on institutional learning (like university courses), but many of the issues, techniques, and checklists are applicable in other instruction environments.

Designing effective instruction, by Gary Morrison, Steven Ross, and Jerrold Kemp, complements Tools for teaching. While Tools for Teaching has the underlying model of a course, this book tackles the issues of training and instruction from a professional service point of view. (In short: TfT is geared towards university classes, DEI is geared towards firm-specific Exec-Ed.)

I had other books on the general topic of teaching (and a number of books on academic life) that I am donating/recycling.

3. Speechwriting and public speaking

Speak like Churchill, stand like Lincoln, by James Humes, should be mandatory reading for anyone who ever has to make a public speech. Of any kind. Humes is a speechwriter and public speaker by profession and his book gives out practical advice on both the writing and the delivery. I have read many books on public speaking and this one is in a class of its own.

I have a few books from the Toastmasters series; I'm keeping (for now at least) Writing Great Speeches and Choosing Powerful Words, though their content overlaps a lot with Virginia Tufte's Beautiful Sentences, a book I'm definitely keeping as part of my writing set.

I'm probably keeping Richard Dowis's The Lost Art of The Great Speech as a good reference for styles and as motivation reading. (Every so often one needs to be reminded of why one does these things.)

I have other books on writing, in general, but the ones in the pile above are specific to speechwriting. I'm throwing out a few books on the business of speechwriting; they are so bad that I thought of keeping them as satire. Donating them would be an act of cruelty towards the recipients.

If I had to pick just one book on speechwriting, I'd go with Speak like Churchill, Stand like Lincoln. Hands down the best in the category, and I've read many.

4. Visuals design

Yes, the design of visuals for presentations or teaching, not Visual Design the discipline.

Edward Tufte's books are the alpha and the omega in this category. Anyone with any interest in information design should read these books carefully and reread them often.

The Non-Designer Design Book, by Robin Williams lets us in on the secrets behind what works visually and what doesn't. It really makes one appreciate the importance of what appears at first to be over-fussy unimportant details. I complement this with The Non-Designer Type Book and Robin Williams Design Workshop, the first specifically for type, the second as an elaboration of the Non-Designer Design Book.

Universal principles of design, by William Lidwell, Kristina Holden, and Jill Butler is a quick reference for design issues. I also like to peruse it regularly to get some reminders of design principles. It's organized alphabetically and each principle has a page or two, with examples.

Perhaps I'm a bit focussed on typography (a common symptom of reading design books, I'm told), but Robert Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographic Style is a really good and deeply interesting book on the subject. Much more technical than The Non-Designer Type Book, obviously, and the reason why I hesitate to switch from Adobe CS to iWork for my handouts.

Zakia and Page's Photographic Composition: A visual guide is very useful as a guide to laying out materials for impact. Designing the visual flow of a slide (or a handout) -- when there are options, of course, this is not about "reshaping" statistical charts -- helps tell a story even without narration or animation.

I had some other books on the general topic of slide design, which I am donating. I also have a collection of books on art, photography, and design in general, which affords me a reference library. (That collection I'm keeping.)

If I had to pare down the set further, the last ones I'd give up are the four Tufte books. If forced to pick just one (in addition to Beautiful Evidence, which fills the presentation category above), I'd choose The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, because that's the most germane to the material I cover.

CODA: A smaller set

Not that I'm getting rid of the books in the larger set above (that's the set that I'm keeping), but I think there's a core set of books I should reread at least once a year. Unsurprisingly, those are the same books I'd pick if I really could have only one per category (or one set for the last category):

Final Set Of Books (for blog post)

Note that the Norman, Heath Bros, Krug, Cooper books and my collection of art, photography, and design books are exempted from this choice, as they fall into separate categories: research-related or art. I also have several books on writing (some of them here).

And the books that didn't make the pile at the beginning of the post? Those, which I'm donating or recycling, make up a much larger pile (about 50% larger: 31 books on their way out).

Somewhat related posts:

Posts on presentations in my personal blog.

Posts on teaching in my personal blog.

Posts on presentations in this blog.

My 3500-word post on preparing presentations.