When I began my career as a professional speaker I wanted to increase my skills quickly, but I had very little resources, so I started reading. Within a few years, I read more than 200 books in the area of communication.
I read as a way to expand my learning, see the world from a different perspective, and to confirm different strategies in my field. I knew that if I only learned one new strategy from a book then it would be worthwhile.
I quickly realized that many of them contradicted each other. Some were based on theories that didn’t lead to positive results when I tried them at work.
Thankfully I found a few books that I love to recommend, due to their in-depth analysis on key subjects. The 9 books included in this list are essential to enabling speakers (aspiring or active) in the three biggest areas of style, story, and state.
Style – increase your presence and connection with others
I’ve read lighter, funnier books on non-verbal communication, but for me, the depth of Morris’ work is crucial. This guy is serious about fully understanding how human beings interact with each other—from an evolutionary understanding of how tribes have communicated to how we communicate in the modern day-to-day. Morris took his original book on human behavior, Manwatching (1978), and updated it entirely in 2002. Now it’s called Peoplewatching. Before body language was a popular thing to talk about, Morris conducted his own research in the area in addition to collating what others had done. If you want a definitive resource on non-verbal communication and you’re willing to dedicate some time to read it (it’s pretty hefty!) this one is for you.
One of the most striking theories in Rodenburg’s work is her ‘three circles of concentration’. She refers to this usually when discussing the ways we connect with our audiences. For example, how is it possible for an actor to connect with their fellow person on stage, but also 3,000 people in the audience? And this skill doesn’t just apply on-stage, it can improve your impact in an interview, a small meeting room, or a major company presentation.
To accomplish this, Rodenburg talks about ‘2nd Circle’ in Presence— where you’re fully connected with yourself (mind, body, and emotions) as well as the people around you. It feels like an authentic way of getting to a state where you feel present and other people feel that you’re present with them.
Story – use the power of storytelling to bring your words to life
McKee has trained writers who’ve won 60 Academy Awards and 200 Emmys, so it’s safe to say he thoroughly understands the story. Most recently, he’s applied his knowledge to the world of business. He wants his readers to understand that business storytelling strengthens your ideas, gives context to your numbers, and leaves your audience with a takeaway they won’t forget. This is a really popular topic in the business world, and I’m personally asked about it frequently. Everyone wants to know how to take brilliant storytelling methodology that’s worked for years and apply it to the business world—which is exactly what McKee does in Storynomics.
Vogler, who was involved in movies like The Lion King, summarized what’s called “the hero’s journey,” which a lot of people have heard about in storytelling. He took Joseph Campbell’s work and put it into a memo that was then distributed around Hollywood. In The Writer’s Journey, he expands on that memo to help people understand how storytelling really works. What are the principles around it and how could you use it yourself? It’s incredibly helpful for anyone who wants to tell a solid, engaging story.
State – perform at your best with a peak mindset and deepen your understanding of the brain
If you need to convince your boss you should stop putting text on slides, and you want to understand how the brain reacts to a PowerPoint and to the environment around you, then you should check this out. It digs deeply into the science behind why we react far better to visual stimuli than text. Medina also has some really engaging videos online that bring his research to life.
Peters coached the British cycling team for the 2012 Olympics when they won multiple gold medals. If you’re looking to better understand the things that stand in your way, cause you anxiety or stress, then The Chimp Paradox is a good choice. Peters explains how he helped the winning team get into a mindset to perform at their best under intense pressure and get the results they deserved.
The author of this one is a Nobel Prize winner in economics and he gives a deep insight into behavior and brain function so you can understand what’s happening to you in different situations. For people who liked Predictably Irrational or Freakonomics, Thinking, Fast and Slow will be a new favorite. It digs into the different tracks of thought when we make decisions and helps the reader to better understand what instincts they can or cannot trust.
This recommendation is short—maybe 70 pages. You can read it quickly and it’s a great motivation or inspiration to keep in your pocket. I’ve found that I carry it around with me for months and dip into it to see one of the quotes to get me into a better mindset.
I love Brown’s work on vulnerability. She’s given Ted Talks that have gone viral and had several bestselling books. The main goal of Daring Greatly is to help you embrace your own vulnerability. If you’re struggling to drop your armor and be your true self, Brown’s work can definitely help. For me, this book has been really key in my own journey to connect more genuinely with my audience by lowering my own armor.
If you would like to learn more about improving your communication at work you can listen to my new podcast ‘Born To Speak’ on iTunes.