A client asked me the other day for a “reading list” — the books she could read to become a better message-maker and communicator. I did a quick video on my “top three” a while back, but it felt like time to update and expand the list. So, here are the books that not only shape the way I think about the work I do, but I continue to reference all the time (especially thanks to the great app readwise.io). Read to the end, as I saved the best for very last!
HOW PEOPLE THINK ABOUT AND ACT ON IDEAS
This group of books is all about people, and therefore, your audience. If you want to know more about how people pay attention, think, understand, remember, and act, these are sure to get you started. These are the books that are the “why” behind why I present information the way I do.
Thinking, Fast and Slow
No other book has had more of an impact on my understanding of both people and messaging than this one. Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for his work, which is the basis of this book. If you’ve ever heard of “lizard” or “monkey” brains versus our more evolved brains, it’s all based on this. I’m a big fan of reading the primary sources whenever you can, and this book is fascinating, readable, and very, very useful.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Robert Cialdini, Ph.D.
Using much of his own work and research (plus great stories and citations of others’ work), Cialdini talks about what contributes to, and complicates, persuasion. As with Kahneman’s book, just about every other book on these topics owe a lot to Dr. Cialdini’s work, including a few of the books below. So many of these concepts are those that once you know about them, you won’t be able to forget them… or not use them in your own work.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Chip and Dan Heath
This is required reading for anyone in the idea business, whether as the creator or communicator of them. While you’ll likely never remember what all the letters in their “SUCCESS” acronym stand for, the lessons of why and how people pay attention and remember ideas will stay with you forever. The Heath brothers’ follow-up book on motivation, Switch, is also good, but it’s essentially all of Kahneman’s work in a different form… so just read Kahneman. A great follow-up to this book was written by someone that worked with Chip Heath, Jonah Berger. Berger’s book is about what makes ideas spread, which can be very useful, as well.
Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning
Peter C. Brown
Despite the similarity of title, this is a very different book from the Heath brothers’ book, and just as useful. Where the Heath brothers focus on what makes an idea sticky, Brown focuses on how people learn and retain information in the first place. It’s useful not only to help you design how you structure and present information, but also for how you can become a better learner, too.
100 Things Every Presenter Should Know About People
Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.
While this is aimed at presenters (and so could have gone with the books on delivery, below), Weinschenk basically gives you a survey course on not only a lot of the topics covered above, but a bunch of other ones, as well. So, if you’re trying to find a bunch of “quick hits” of useful information, this is a great book to have on your shelf.
HOW TO ARTICULATE IDEAS
This group of books are the ones I rely on to help me phrase and articulate specific concepts of ideas.
The Micro-Script Rules
This author was instrumental in coming up with the “USP,” or “unique selling proposition” idea that dominated marketing and branding a while back. The USP, which evolved into the “Dominant Selling Idea,” is the single phrase or statement that captures what differentiates a company or product from its competitors. This book talks about both the why and how of boiling a big idea down into a single short statement.
The Proverb Effect: Secrets to Creating Tiny Phrases that Change the World
Ron is the one who originally recommended The Micro-Script Rules to me — he’s long been fascinated with both storytelling and with the shortest form of storytelling: proverbs. Ron’s book is a great companion to Schley’s book, and is particularly helpful when you’re trying to find the perfect way to articulate elements of your Red Thread®. Also, Ron is coming out with a deck of cards to help you build your own proverbs, so sign up for his newsletter so you can be first on the list to get it!
Magic Words: The Science and Secrets Behind Seven Words That Motivate, Engage, and Influence
I literally use things I learned in this book every single day. Every. Day. It’s a quick, but useful read, and will immediately change how you structure sentences and sentiments. Funny story: Tim and I have since become friends. We both were in a mastermind of speakers and I hadn’t caught his name when we first all logged on to the call. When he started to explain who he was and the book he wrote, I literally squealed, clapped, and pretty much shouted, “OH MY GOSH I LOVE YOUR BOOK AND USE IT EVERYDAY.” I don’t do that very often. This book is that good. Get it.
Exactly What to Say: The Magic Words for Influence and Impact
Phil M. Jones
Another funny story: when first published, this book was also called “Magic Words.” Whereas Tim takes his background in magic and focuses on specific, single words, Phil takes his background in sales and focuses on specific phrases. It may be an even quicker read than Tim’s book, but is equally useful, especially when it comes to asking your audience to take action, whether at the end of presentation or on a sales call.
HOW TO BUILD CONTENT AND STRUCTURE STORIES
Most of my clients need to follow up the short version of their idea with a longer version, whether it’s a conversation, presentation, pitch, or book. If you read the books in the first section, you’ll soon realize that story is the best way to do that. While there are a ton of books on story, these are the ones that focus not just on the “what” of story, but also the “how” (which are much harder to find!).
Story Smart: Using the Science of Story to Persuade, Influence, Inspire, and Teach
This was another of Ron Ploof’s recommendations, and it’s a staple in my reference collection. It takes all the studies on story that Haven presented in his previous book and tells you what to actually do with them. So good.
Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need
As I was diving deep on story it occurred to me there was a huge group of people who knew exactly how to structure great stories: screenwriters. Even better, the average movie has about 60 minutes of dialogue, like a keynote presentation. This book presents a clear structure for storytelling that works for multiple kinds of stories. That template, along with those presented in next two books in this list, inspired my Talk Block storyboarding tool. Snyder’s follow-up book is great and useful fun, too. It takes the template he introduces in Save the Cat and shows how it works to analyze and structure all sorts of different movies you’ve seen and loved.
The Hero Succeeds
Sometimes you need something shorter than movie length, but again, there’s a group of folks who know how to write for 20 – 45 minutes of content: television screenwriters. This book is very much like Save the Cat in that it presents a template for structuring stories. You’ll see a lot of similarities with Snyder’s book, as well, but there are enough great, new insights here — especially about shorter-form storytelling — that it’s worth getting, too.
The Story Grid
This book is a beast, and one of the rare books I’ll say you want to have in physical form, not in Kindle. (Trust me on this: I bought in on Kindle first, but then kept wanting to refer back and forth through it that I ended up buying it in paperback, too.) It takes the template idea of Save the Cat and The Hero Succeeds and takes it to eleven. This book is built for book-length structures, and is very detailed, but if you geek out on this stuff like I do, you’ll love it.
Give Your Speech, Change the World
No message or presenting library is complete without this book by my friend and colleague (we often co-coach clients) Dr. Nick Morgan. This book could easily fit in any of the categories, as Nick talks about the why, what, and how of creating and delivering presentations, including delivery. I include it here because I love Nick’s “five types of stories” so much. You can present just about any idea in one of his five formats, with dramatically different impact. We know from working together that my Red Thread® approach plays very well with those story types, so we often have fun recasting a client’s Red Thread in each to find the best fit.
The Compelling Communicator: Mastering the Art and Science of Exceptional Presentation Design
If we’re talking about concepts that have fundamentally changed how I approach message-making and content, this book also has to be on the list. It’s the book written by a former boss of mine and it’s the content I used to teach when I used to work for him. At the time, there wasn’t a book, but now that there is… well, you’ll be glad you have it. This is another one that could fit in a few different places, as Tim takes a brain-focused, audience-centered view on why and how to make your communications compelling. It also is another book that checks both the “fun to read” and “crazy useful” boxes.
HOW TO DELIVER IDEAS
Delivery isn’t the easiest thing to learn about from a book — so much of it comes from actually doing it. That said, Nick Morgan’s book, above, is great and talks about how to make sure what you say in words and what you say with your body line up. I’d add these other two to the list as well, especially the last one, which is my very favorite.
Mastering the Moment: Perfecting the Skills and Processes of Exceptional Presentation Delivery
This is the content that was “Day Two” in the workshops I used to teach with and for the author, Tim. It is seminal to how I still present, so it’s only fair that I share it with all of you. As hard as it is to read bout delivery, you’ll see that much of Tim’s approach is still based in process and content. I know from experience that so much of what he recommends is not only easy to implement, it will immediately make you a better presenter and performer.
MY FAVORITE: The Art of Public Speaking
Dale Carnegie and J. Berg Esenwein
This book, now in the public domain since it was published in 1915 (!!), is my very favoritest book on public speaking. Be warned: it is VERY dense, but it’s also so chock-full of great advice that I pretty much highlighted the whole dang thing. Yes, it’s a product of its time, but honestly, the focus on the often lost arts of oration and oratory helps remind you of what public speaking was and can be again. I love it and end up quoting it more than any other book on this list.
So, that’s a peek into my must-have books on message making. Which have you read? Which are you most excited about reading? What would you add? I’d love to know.Here Click To Tweet
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