Category Archives: book review

Review of “Back of the Napkin”

In my last posting, I mentioned that I would scan a diagram from Dan’s book to illustrate how cluttered his virtual thinking sketches can become. Here is one. Tell me what you think.


An initial review of “The Back of the Napkin”

Dan Roam has written an interesting book on visual thinking. I had posted a video on some of his thinking on this blog. I read Dan’s book on the plane as I flew from Seattle to Virginia Beach. This is an initial impression of his book. There will be more postings to come.

The book starts off by showing how to draw simple diagrams to illustrate ideas and points. The concept is very elegant and SIMPLE. Remember: simplicity = beauty. Half way into the book, Dan presents an MBA-like case study by applying his virutal thinking concepts to “real life” situation. This is where things start to go awry. His simple (and beautiful) diagrams in the case study evolve into some hand sketched diagrams that look like some organization charts from the federal government. And we all know how bad that can look. His diagrams are worse than those awful PowerPoint slides we see in Coca Cola’s presentation.

So instead of a bunch of PowerPoint bullet points, he ends up with a bunch of diagrams. When I get back to my office, I will scan a few examples of his virtual thinking diagrams and post them here.

One of my readers complained that I mixed typed text with hand sketches in my virtual thinking sldies. To go along this line of thinking, Dan should have written his entire book by hand. By the way, some of his sketches are so small that you almost have to have a magnifying glass to read. This is due to the fact that the fonts are small and the book measures about 4 by 4 inches instead of the usual size.

My take of this book? It is a mixture of simple elegance and awful clusters of almost unreadable diagrams. More later. Any comments from anyone? 

If people are turned off by clusters of bullet points (and they are), why would it be different with clusters of diagrams?

Connecting with your audience

One of Tom Peters’ presentation tips is “By hook or by crook..connect, connect and connect” with your audience. There are many ways you can achieve that. The most obvious one is to maintain eye contact with the audience by NOT reading your notes. Talk to them the same way you talk to your friend.





Another way is to relate to your audience’s experience by telling stories. Remember: every presentation is a story. You connect with them by sharing part of your experience that is similar to theirs.





For example, when I give my 2-day presentation on environmental regulation (a potentially deadly dull subject) to an audience made up of environmental managers, I relate to them by telling them the failures and successes that I had when I was a corporate environmental manager. I connect with them through a shared road map of our past. I was experiencing the same challenges that they are having now. That’s where the connection occurs. As a result, I am able to make a deadly dull subject sound interesting to the audience.


Contrast this approach to that taken by many attorneys before the same audience. The attorneys cite regulations ad nausea because many of them have never visited a factory or have to be responsible for compliance in a corporate setting. They have no stories to tell that the audience can relate to. On top of that, these attorneys show up in full business suits when there is not a single tie in the meeting room. 

 You just can’t connect this way.     

More on “Words that work”

In Frank Luntz’s book “Words That Work”, he lists ten rules of effective language. We can apply these rules in our presentations. Frank uses advertising slogans to illustrate his points: 

  1. Simplicity.  Try to use small words whenever you can. Forget about fancy multi-syllable words.
  2. Brevity.  Try to use short sentences if you can. Nike’s “just do it” ad campaign is a good example. Have you noticed that most office memos are only one page long and have short sentences.
  3. Be credible.  A good example is Wal-Mart’s slogan “Always low price.  Always”.
  4. Be consistent. The rental car Avis’s campaign “We try harder” was launched in 1962 and the company has stuck with it for more than four decades.  The consistency of this message has helped Avis to cement its position as the second-biggest car-rental company in the world.
  5. Offer something new. Try to get the audience to think in a new way.  The success of the Volkswagen think small campaign in the late 1950s was an example of shifting the thought process in a novel way.
  6. Sound and texture do matter. The phrase “snap crackle and pop” immediately conjures up images of the actual sound of the cereal itself.
  7. Personalize your message. A good example is GE’s slogan “We bring good things to life”. It personalizes the message.
  8. Visualize.  Paint a picture. A picture is worth a thousand words. M & M’s slogan “Melts in your mouth not in your hand” has a strong visual component to it – something we can see and almost feel.
  9. Ask the audience questions.  Try to get the audience to have ownership of your presentation.
  10. Provide context and explain relevance. Burger King’s slogan “have it your way” is a good example of a message that provides context and relevance.  This slogan sets Burger King apart from the other fast food chains.  This message works because the underlying context and relevance consist of a mass-produced assembly-line food production.

More tips on making a great presentation

Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when you are making a presentation: 

1.      Show passion in your presentation. It was the German philosopher George Hegel who said: “Nothing great has been accomplished without passion.” It is very important for you to show passion when you are presenting your slides. Your future clients need to know that you truly believe in what you are saying and that you have the desire to do the work if they award it to you. They need to know that you have not made the same old boring presentation to 100 other customers and they are now victim number 101. They need to get the sense that your presentation is the most important presentation you have ever made in your career. Your passion must show through. In other words, the best presentations are the ones that carry high voltage. When you present your reasons for your ideas with passion, the combination will work magic.  In his book “Moving Mountains – the Art of Letting Others See Things Your Way”, Henry Boettinger states that “passion and reason can cut through the fabric of doubt, inertia and fear” that your audience may have about your idea. Passion and reason are like the blades of a pair of scissors. Neither one can cut the fabric alone.  

2.        Focus your clients’ attention on you. Do not load the slides down with words that are mostly unreadable. Even if they are readable, you should refrain from using them because the text on the screen can be a great distraction to your audience. You want them to listen to what you and your team have to say rather than try to decipher what’s on the screen.  The best way to get attention is to give it. You want your clients’ attention on you. So when you do your homework and demonstrate that you truly understand your clients’ problems, you will get attention from your clients. 

Another way of keeping your audience’s attention is to vary your tone of voice throughout the presentation. Never use a monotone. At various stages of your talk, your tone could go from slow to fast, loud to soft, humorous to serious and melancholic to joyful. Use plenty of interesting and out-of-the-ordinary examples. If you are describing an aerodynamic equation, explain to the audience how it describes the flight of a bumble bee. Examples like that would certain keep your audience’s attention on you. 

The difference between a presentation with variety and one without is like the difference between a river and a canal. If you are floating down a river, it offers you different surprises at every bend. You may go from farmland to gorges to forest just by floating along. A canal, on the other hand, is a man-made ditch that is straight and not very interesting. A good presentation is a river. A bad one is a canal.  

(Note: this is an excerpt from Norman’s book “Connecting With Your Future Clients”.)

Precision – a new approach to communication

This is the title of a book on business communication by Michael McMaster and John Grinder. It is one of the best books on this subject. It talks about how to obtain high quality information in business. For example: common business terms such as productivity, motivation, and profit are used often in a business setting and yet these terms are “low quality” words in that different people have different ideas of what these terms mean to them based on their own past experience. The highest quality is what can actually be seen, heard or felt. Compare these two statements: “Our machines are not very productive.” and “Machine #42 operated by Tom only works half of the time.” Which statement is more precise and has better quality information for you to take action?

According to the authors of this interesting book, “many management mistakes are the results of acting on a belief in a common understanding of words which, in fact, does not exist.” Misunderstanding occurs when people are not precise in communicating ideas. The same holds in presentation. When you make your point in a PowerPoint presentation, you want to be as precise as possible so that your audience will understand exactly what you are trying to convey. That’s why a three-word bullet point will not work.  Instead you should describe your point in a short sentence and reinforce that point with a visual presentation (a photo) that is relevant to the topic. You are trying to make a point that can be seen, heard or felt by your audience.

Words that work …… a pretty good book

I have just started to read Frank Luntz’s book “Words that Work”. Frank is a Republican political pollster and consultant. But never mind that. His book applies to all walks of life and is all about communicating ideas effectively. His famous quote is “It is not what you say; it is what people hear”. That’s so true when we make a presentation to a group. We often are so focused on what we want to say and forget about how the message will be received on the other end.

Moving Mountains – the art of letting others see things your way

If you are held captive and your captor tells you that you are allowed to read only one book, which book would you pick?

For me, the choice is “Moving Mountains” by Henry Boettinger. It is by far the best book on communication. It was written back in 1969 by an AT&T executive in England. The language is a bit dated but the advice offered there is timeless.

Peter Drucker’s review appears on the book cover as follows: “A first-class and highly original, but also highly practical, treatise both on how one thinks and how one presents thinking.”

On presentation, Boettinger states that each person listens for his own reason. So it is not what you say that matters; it is what people hear. Before you make a presentation, you need to really try to understand the various reasons people show up to hear you.  

On elegance, Boettinger says that it “exists when a great many aspects of a subject or person are expressed in the simplest possible way.”

On passion, he writes that “you can never affect others if you yourself are not affected by the idea”. That’s why people who read from their speeches or presentations can never convince their audience because there is no passion there. The audience can sense it right away.

Boettinger also says that you should always “treat the audience as equals during the presentation”. If you talk down to the audience, they become resentful. If you try to kiss up to the audience, they despise you.

The best quote from the book is what Boettinger says about making presentations: ” Presentation of ideas is conversation carried on at high voltage — at once more dangerous and more powerful.”

This book is 340 pages of great practical and timeless advice. The bad news is that it is out of print and it is a bit hard to find. Some libraries carry them. You may find it at Amazon or EBay.