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Book Reviews

Book Review – Rock Your Presentation by Nigel Barlow

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Nigel Barlow is a skilled conference speaker. He asked us to review his latest book, ‘Rock Your Presentation‘, and we were very happy to do that with one caveat. That we would be honest. Jim Harvey reviews the book here.

I like this book. It’s fresh, opinionated and built around an interesting extended metaphor. Nigel asks us all to think like ‘rock-stars’ when we write, design and make our presentations. He’s a lover of popular music, and his love for that and public speaking, shines out of the book. In part one he asks us to work hard to make the talk memorable. For Nigel:

A good 3-minute song is a masterpiece of compression. Whole stories, emotions, characters and landscapes are grasped by the mind. Sometimes it’s enough to hear only the first one or two notes… for your brain to race ahead, chemically and electrically reproducing the rest.

He offers 5 ideas to help us add some of that rock n roll ‘stickiness’ to our speeches. He encourages us to:

  • Short, sweet and tweet – make really concise messages
  • Your opening bars – that start well
  • Verse and chorus – that use deliberate repetition
  • The Bridge (or Middle-Eight) – with a stand out, middle section that changes pace, tone or direction
  • Your Climax (codas and fades) – and ends with an unforgettable event.

For each idea, there are many interesting, varied and practical examples from the world of music, business and presenting. He ends the chapter with a succinct and pragmatic call to action to make us think, apply and use the ideas in ways that even a ‘slacker’ like me found useful.

Try only one or two of the actions. Pick the ones that most resonate with you and the material you’re working with. They are all connected, so try any one or two and the others may also be triggered.

So the book starts brilliantly. Where does it go from there? Well the short answer is that it goes on getting better. It’s like one of those rare records that grab you at the first track and then every subsequent track takes you somewhere surprising, interesting and rewarding. It’s like the best concept album you ever bought. From the attention-getting part one, the book goes on to tackle all of the following areas:

  • Set the stage – prepare like the Rolling Stones, not like a ‘pub band’.
  • Power Chords – speak like you want to melt the stars, not put the world to sleep.
  • Sound and vision – use visuals, props and technology for a purpose, not for expectation’s sake.
  • Perform – for me, the best chapter in whole book, because it spoke to me. Experienced? New to the game? It’s a lifetime’s wisdom condensed in to 30 pages.
  • Rock the crowd – make it interactive by making it real.
  • Rock your pitch up – 10 great thoughts that need to be said but didn’t fit elsewhere.
  • The Zen of Presenting – a bit of real time philosophy for those who really care about their audience and themselves.

In summary, the book is brilliant. It’s £13.99 but it’s value is about 100 times that, if you consider that you could pay £1399 to go on a good presentation skills course, and get far less original thinking and insight out of that , than spending the 3 hours that I did reading this.


Who’s it for?

  1. Experienced presenters to give them a bit of a ‘reboot’ – to allow them time in experienced company to realise what they already knew, and what they didn’t know or had forgotten over time.
  2. The relatively inexperienced presenter who wants to become brilliant – because this is the kind of book that you’ll go back to year after year, and hand on dog-eared and grease-stained to your friends, colleagues and children, saying, It’s a work of genius’.
  3. The presentation writer to give them some simple ideas to move from the formulaic (3-acts, prologue, epilogue, rhetoric etc.) to the still structured yet original, surprising and free-form speeches that change the world, or your small part of the world.
  4. The presentation designer to understand what their clients could achieve when they bring a dull script to them and expect the designer to make it interesting. The very best designers will read the book and be as inspired as their speaking clients would be.

‘Rock Your Presentation’ by Nigel Barlow, is a book that is much more than the sum of its parts. It is a book that uses a metaphor for its inspiration and its structure, but unlike so many books like that, the metaphor works and never grows tired. Even without the ‘it’, the content is golden and reading it reminds me of hearing a Beatles album for the first time at age 14.

My only disappointment is that I didn’t think of it and write it before Nigel did. But even if I had, I don’t think it would have been anywhere near as good as this. 5 Gold stars.

Jim Harvey

Jim Harvey

Managing Director at The Message Business
Jim is a serial entrepreneur and the MD of The Message Business, a company which helps international and FTSE 100 companies sell themselves, and their products more effectively. Jim has many years of experience speechwriting, presentation coaching and motivational speaking, all over the world.
Jim Harvey
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