6 books for public speakers

These books will help you overcome public speaking anxiety, sharpen your communication skills and even affirm your life is on the right path.

My pile of books has grown dangerously high. Here are a half-dozen quick takes to reduce the pile and share some interesting reads:

1. The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social Change by Jannifer Aaker, Andy Smith and Carlye Adler

I hate acronyms. They’re supposed to help you remember key insights, but the only people who remember them are the geniuses who thought them up.

EXCITE. Now, what was that one? Oh, yes. E is for excellence. But what’s the X for?

That’s usually as far as I get.

Acronyms are corny, forced and never work. They either spell something dumb, or you have to distort one or two words in the acronym to spell the right word.

Now, I may have to revise my dislike. “The Dragonfly Effect” includes acronyms, but the book is a straightforward, useful analysis of how to spread the word in a social-media-saturated age.

Here’s the acronym: Focus + GET. The first step is to focus. The subsequent steps are Grab attention, Engage and Take action.

“Focus” is about identifying specific, concrete goals for your social media efforts. Too often, people attack social media with vague ideas about what success looks like and what they want.

“Grab attention” comes through personal, visceral and emotional appeals. The “engage” wing is about storytelling, and “take action” is about getting people to join your team.

2. “Speaking Up Without Freaking Out: 50 Techniques for Confident, Calm, Competent Presenting by Matt Abrahams

This little book is an excellent resource for people with speaking anxiety. The author gives various explanations for why people fear public speaking, as well as techniques to lessen anxiety. My favorite one is to hug a nice friend. Hugging releases happiness chemicals (oxytocins), so you feel less nervous.

This book is a great companion if you suffer from speaking anxiety. It’s pocket-sized, and easy to thumb through to find your favorite remedies. It emphasizes quick fixes and instant insight.

3. “Fearless Speaking: Beat Your Anxiety, Build Your Confidence, Change Your Life by Gary Genard

Genard’s book is a longer version of how to deal with performance anxiety, and is based on acting insights. His techniques are subtler and more thorough than Abrahams’. Check it out if you have serious fears and are willing to solve them the right, long-term way.

4. Rich on Paper, Poor on Life by Philip McKernan

I met McKernan at a conference. I sat next to him, and he immediately drew me in with his listening skills and Irish accent. His book reflects his warmth and compassion. The book is a manual for the soul. Use it to:

  • Discover how you’re ducking your life.
  • Face issues you’re struggling with.
  • Find your course through life before it’s too late.

Everyone should read this book, but especially public speakers. Speakers must be clear about their personhood and relationship to their speaking, passions and life goals.

5. “Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for SUCCESS by G. Richard Shell

This book is the prose to McKernan’s poetry. Shell takes you through nine steps to discover how you define and achieve personal success.

Defining success involves understanding what matters to you: fame, money, a happy family, intrinsic rewards (job satisfaction) or extrinsic rewards (winning an Academy Award).

Achieving success comes through a series of steps, including:

  • Defining your capabilities.
  • Learning to fail and build your self-confidence.
  • Focusing on goals that inspire you.
  • Kindling your motivations.
  • Influencing others by establishing credibility, and engaging people in worthwhile dialogue.

This book is useful for speakers building their careers, as well as anyone who wants to make sure he’s on the right path, but read McKernan’s book first.

6. “The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size by Tor Norretranders

How does consciousness work? And for public speakers, how do people communicate from one consciousness to another?

This inquiry into consciousness and communication considers neuroscience and philosophy to focus on what we eliminate, rather than what we embrace, to make sense of the world.

It’s a fascinating perspective. Norretranders discusses how much of communication is unconscious, enabling us to cope with the carefully restricted flow of information our brains allow us to know.

The lesson for public speakers is that the obvious parts of communication—the speaker, speech and audience—constitute a tiny portion of what’s really going on. Becoming aware of the nonverbal information our unconscious minds can handle makes for a much fuller and more successful communication experience, as I discuss in my book, “Power Cues.”

A version of this article originally appeared on Public Words.


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