The pile of books beside my desk has grown too high; it’s time to cull the best from the herd and let you know about them.

11 Deadly Presentation Sins, Rob Biesenbach

11 deadly sins

One of my favorites in the pile is this quick, clever analysis of the most common sins that (especially) beginning speakers make – and too many experienced ones as well.  Failure to understand your audience?  Flat opening?  Lack of focus?  Bad Storytelling?  No emotional pull?  These are all sins that we speaking coaches have worked to eliminate amongst our coachees, and Rob is right to call attention to them.  A fun, light, and highly useful read for beginning speakers and more experienced ones who want to avoid complacency.

Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work, Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Chip and Dan have done it again.  Like their previous two bestsellers, Decisive takes an idea from a deep thinker (in this case Thinking Fast and Slow’s Daniel Kahneman), simplifies it, turns it into a readily digestible action plan, and wraps it in stories.  In this case, it’s all about the lousy track record we have for making decisions.  Here’s how to do it better.  First, recognize you have four biases that push you to making bad decisions:  narrow framing, confirmation bias, short-term emotion, and overconfidence in the future.  To combat these, widen your options, reality-test your assumptions, get distance, and prepare to be wrong.  Brilliant clarity and another example of the Heath brothers’ uncanny ability to simplify and make actionable.  I’d be very surprised if Decisive wasn’t another bestseller.

Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek

This simple, clear book outlines the responsibilities of leaders, heavily based on insights gained from studying the Marine Corps.  Sinek’s book touches on the biology of leaders and tribes – what feels good, what drives us, and so on – but at heart this book is really a sermon on leaders and what it means to accept the mantle of leadership.  We need more leaders, Sinek says, by which he means responsible leaders, and we can only wholeheartedly agree.

Folding Time:  How to Achieve Twice as Much in Half the Time, Neen James

I love this little book on time saving and productivity.  If you haven’t recently conducted a personal audit to see how productive you are, time to do one, and this is the perfect book for it.  James advocates 15-minute meetings, 3-priority days, and non-negotiable dates in your week – and a host of other smart ideas.  Take the time, read the book, save the time.

Business Model Generation, Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur

I love this workbook – both its design and the ideas.  It takes the nine pieces of a business model – customer segments, value propositions, channels, customer relationships, revenue streams, key resources, key activities, key partnerships, and cost structure – and gives you ideas, questions, activities and examples to generate ideas in each area.  Work through this book if you’re thinking about starting a business and the result is far more likely to be successful.

business model 






  1. Thanks for the heads-up on those books, Nick. I’m prepping for an interview with Doug Stone regarding the book he and his wife launch next month: Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. As speakers we regularly get feedback, from our sponsors, audience, etc. But how well do we receive it, even when they don’t deliver it well? I think it’s brilliantly written and have added it to our 2014 recommended reads.

    1. Thanks, Andy — one good book rec deserves another! I’ll add the feedback book to the pile. Feedback for speakers is tough. People want to give it to you right after the speech, but the speaker is really not ready to hear it at that point. You’re ready to hear feedback once the adrenaline has left, so not for at least 4 hours or so. 24 is better. But that’s hard for would-be critics to understand. I suppose I should do a post on that topic!

  2. First off, Nick, thanks for waking up my brain this morning starting with some math in order to submit my comment. I learn so much from your books and now to have your recommendations for additional reading is even better. I have read Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and now look forward to “Decisive”. And this isn’t a quick decision on my part!

    1. Thanks, Glenn — I’m hoping that “Decisive” will help you pick all future books better, so that reading it is a good investment no matter what.

    2. One of the biggest takeaways from Decisive for me was the idea of a tripwire. I’ve had some friends who wanted to be speakers and spent a lot of time and money trying to develop a business that never, well, developed. The Heath brothers do a masterful job of helping us “Prepare to be Wrong”, including setting a tripwire. This could be an income level, the types of engagements (“If I’m still only doing free speeches a year from now, this isn’t the business for me…”), etc. The book website has great resources as well…..

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