Presenting to Win
Khalid Aziz Oak Tree Press pounds 29.95
As a young man I clearly remember the adverts for the Charles Atlas chest expander, which guaranteed to turn you from a wimp to a hunk in just six weeks. This book claims to do the same - to turn you into a world-class speaker in just six weeks. The difference is that I wish I had read Presenting to Win all those years ago. Personal experience of Khalid Aziz's technique has proved to me that you can achieve a very acceptable standard in a lot less time.
I well remember the real fear that I felt when I had to make presentations early in my career. I knew what to say but not how to say it. The difference between theory and practice can easily be bridged by training and practice yet, as Aziz points out, few of us get the chance to learn the skills at the right time.
Two observations in the book struck me as accurate but sad. First, how generally low the standard of presentations and speeches is today, and second, how late we get to learn this skill, which can make such a difference to the individual or the business we represent.
Thinking about this review, I wondered why I accept so few invitations to presentations or speeches outside work, no matter how interesting the subject. I used to believe it was due to time pressure but it is really because in so many cases the billing is far ahead of both content and quality of delivery. I remember only one speech in the past few years that had me totally gripped throughout. Professor Gary Hamel on the subject 'Innovate or die' could well be Aziz's star pupil. Not only did he follow all the rules outlined in this book, he delivered it with that essential ingredient - passion. It was slightly over-long, but this did not detract from the overall message, proving that, if you follow the basic recipe, you can flavour it to your particular taste.
Aziz opens with some basic but startling analysis: 'There is a fundamental difference between the way in which our brains work and the way in which our mouths work. We can think about a number of different things all at once. In computer terms this is known as concurrent processing. However, our mouths are essentially linear devices; that is, we can only speak one word after another. Therefore, while we think concurrently, we have to speak in a way that ensures that what we say has a beginning, a middle and an end.
The challenge for us is to begin at the beginning to ensure that we get an understandable flow of information coming out of our mouth that is neither jumbled nor confusing.'
Simple-sounding stuff perhaps, but it's a vital insight. The book is full of such wisdom, including a comforting thought for anyone faced with faulty technology during a key presentation: 'If all else fails the best visual aid is you, but only if you abandon your supports and talk directly to the audience.'
I hardly ever read any management books - they are often over-long and turgid. Although appearing long, this book is highly readable. It is logical, well laid out, broken down into bite-size pieces, well illustrated with examples, and contains an excellent idiot's guide in summary form at the end.
I would never claim to be an expert speaker, but this book will do what Aziz did for me several years ago: firstly, take the fear out of public speaking, and, secondly, train you by defining the basic rules of preparation, starting with who the audience is and what they want to hear, working through the different media options and then tailoring the presentation or speech accordingly.
My two public speaking disasters could have been avoided if I had had access to this book. The first was caused by poor content and preparation, the second by a combination of good content and over-confidence. If we realised early on that, as Aziz points out, the ability to open one's mouth and talk does not automatically make one a brilliant speaker, we would read this book and learn from it.
Stuart Rose is chief executive of Booker.