Great Presentation Books

Reynolds, Garr Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (Voices That Matter) (New Riders; 2nd Edition 2011-12-15)

Garr’s book may be aimed at business people, but it is clear that he is a scientist at heart. His advice for clear thinking and presentation focused on key topics will help every scientist become a better communicator and presenter. Don’t let the Zen imagery dissuade you – this is a book that will make you much more effective as a champion. Keep up to date with Garr at his blog.

Duarte, Nancy slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations (O’Reilly Media 2008-8-12)

Nancy is one of the best slide designers on the planet. Her work for Al Gore stands out as the example of making complicated science straightforward and easy to absorb. Some images from that project are available on her company website. This book often dives much deeper than scientists can absorb, but it is great to know what real artists are capable of. When you are working with professional designers, you will know what to ask for. Nancy’s company blog is a great source, as are her archives blog.

Tufte, Edward The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (2nd Edition Graphics Press 2001-1)
Tufte, Edward Envisioning Information (Graphics Press 1990-1)
Tufte, Edward Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative (Graphics Press 1997-2)

Edward Tufte is the master at designing beautiful and effective graphics. Absorb these three books and you will give your audiences the gift of rapid understanding of your ideas and data. Going far beyond the championship arena, Tufte’s principles apply to any graph or image you create, whether it be a figure in Science or a drawing on a napkin. Get info on Edward’s courses here.

Frankel, Felice and Angela DePace Visual Strategies: A Practical Guide to Graphics for Scientists and Engineers (Yale University Press 2012-5-29)

Photography has gone from being a ‘nice-to-have’ to being a key part of documenting every aspect of science and experimentation. These books will help you make your photographs, and the slides and graphics you create from them, into extremely high bandwidth conduits of information. They will also be stunningly beautiful. Felice is an MIT researcher and the only true scientist author of any of our recommended books. Felice has a beautiful website, as you might imagine.

Weinschenk, Susan 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People (Pearson Education 2012-05-07)

Susan’s brief summary of 100 key ideas is an easy way to get background on why the most effective communication methods work. Although each section is very brief, scientists will appreciate the Cliff Notes approach to topics that other authors make you suffer for. Keep up with Susan at her Team W website.

Yau, Nathan Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics (Wiley 2011-7-20)

There are many books on data visualization and graphing. Nathan’s stands out in giving details of how to prepare much more complicated graphs than your typical desktop application provides. When you have a particularly complex data set or want to show intricate relationships, Nathan may be able to help.Follow Nathan on Twitter @flowingdata

Great Communication Books

Strunk, William and E. B. White The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition (Pearson 1999-8-2)

Read this book. Regularly. It will keep you from making mistakes of grammar, usage, and composition that distract your audience. Stick with this (old) edition that is still readily available. Newer additions are longer, more expensive, and less useful. These later versions with additions by other authors do not follow Strunk and White’s signature advice: omit needless words.

Pinker, Steven The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (Penguin Books; Reprint Edition 2015-9-22)

Pinker gives scientists two useful guides: how to write with the subject in the foreground and the author in the background, and most importantly, how to think of your writing (and speaking) as a camera that turns the listener’s view toward the subject you want them to observe. He gives the only cogent explanation we’ve seen of why passive or active voice is the right choice for your circumstance. Steven’s details and current publications can be found on his Harvard web page.

Kahneman, Daniel Thinking, Fast and Slow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2011-10-25).

Understanding why your audience absorbs information, or does not, is essential for a scientist seeking to communicate outside their peer group. Kahneman’s fast and slow thinking model is an outstanding way to think about how people understand new information, and make decisions based on it. Daniel’s social psychology network is here.

Cain, Susan Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown Publishing Group 2012-01-24).

Extroverts are not the only great communicators, nor are all decision makers extroverts. Susan helps us understand how introverts make decisions, and how those of us who are introverts can better get our ideas across to others. Susan calls her web site Quiet Revolution.

Maeda, John The Laws of Simplicity (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life) (The MIT Press 2006-07-07).

Impact is heightened by what you leave out. John is another former MIT professor who understands that good design is simple, and his advice is immediately applicable to communication and presentation. Keep up with John at Maeda Studio.

Olson, Randy; Dorie Barton, and Brian Palermo Connection: Hollywood Storytelling Meets Critical Thinking (Prairie Starfish Productions 2013-8-31)

Olson is a PhD marine biologist who became a moviemaker. His book is intended for more than scientists, but his background as a scientist lets him tell the story of storytelling in ways that we understand. Much of storytelling is not equated with critical thinking – Olson tells us how to get a point across by engaging the hard-wired aspects of human brains that absorb a story more readily than simple fact. Randy’s diverse interests can be found at Randy Olson Productions.

Haven, Kendall Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story (Libraries Unlimited 2007-10-30)

Everyone tells us that stories are valuable ways to convey information – Kendall has investigated the effect in detail, and gives us solid background for why this works, and how we can engage it. He spends a lot of time with scientists, and so his book is couched in terms that we understand. Find out about all of Kendall’s books at his website.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition (University of Chicago Press 2012-04-18).

Kuhn takes us on an extraordinarily deep dive into the science of science. Along the way he exposes the fact that scientists are so deeply knowledgeable about their field that it changes the way they speak, and most importantly, how they think. If you want to have a much better understanding of how major changes occur in science, read this book, but give yourself the time to absorb it. It is not a book for the beach.

Mauss, Marcel The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies (W. W. Norton 2000-9-17)

Of all the books we read in preparing this book, this was the most surprising. A deep-dive into the structure and anthropology of societies before writing and commerce existed, it explains the basics of why the exchange of information is so valuable in working with decision makers and collaborators. The concept is more clearly exposed in other books, including Steven Covey’s, but the science of why it is important can be found here.

Cialdini, Robert Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Harper Business; Revised Edition 2006-12-26)

This is the classic popular description of the reasons that some people are persuasive, when others fail. Although not aimed at a scientific reader, it is very helpful to understand why many approaches that scientists regard as stupidly simplistic, are incredibly effective.

Covey, Steven The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Simon and Schuster; Anniversary Edition 2013-11-19)

Begin with the end in mind. Covey’s work is not aimed at presentations, but his advice on planning, relationships, and keeping your goals clearly in mind is relevant advice for the science champion.

Baron, Nancy  Escape from the Ivory Tower. (Washington: Island Press, 2010)

Baron brings the resources and experience of COMPASS, an organization dedicated to helping scientists talk to journalists and policymakers, to bear on helping you become a better speaker. With a focus on the press and journalists, she emphasizes making your message clear and understandable. Her “message box” approach is a great way to keeping yourself on target when talking or being questioned.


Janzer, Anne H.  Writing to Be Understood: What Works and Why, (Cuesta Park Consulting, Mountain View, CA 2018)

Comprehensive and well-researched, Janzer’s book demonstrates the principles of writing well while clearly explaining how put them to use.  She delves into the importance of sparking curiosity, the perils of creating cognitive discomfort, the use of humor and how to come across as humble and credible. She gives scientists a rich set of considerations – many of which matter whether you are writing an article, a grant proposal, or giving a talk to a lay audience.