resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences

It’s been said that there are no new stories; there are only new ways of telling the old stories. The same holds true for public speaking and presentation skills. After all, people have been writing about public speaking since Aristotle penned Art of Rhetoric in the 4th Century B.C.

Resonate by Nancy Duarte

Yet every so often, a book comes along that takes us by surprise. It presents the same information, but in a creative and compelling format. We look at an old subject in a new way.  The book “resonates” with us. Nancy Duarte’s latest work, resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences is such a book.

resonate (yes, the “r” is intentionally lower case) is a glossy, beautifully designed, over-sized offering that is bursting with vivid images. But it is the underlying content and structure of the book that make it a must-buy for any serious student of public speaking.

The book’s tagline, “Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences”, gives a clue to two themes that Nancy emphasizes throughout the book: (1) stories convey meaning; and (2) the audience is the hero. These are fundamental principles for anyone who wants to be a better public speaker.

The book is divided into nine chapters as follows:

1. Why Resonate?

The opening chapter sets the stage for the rest of the book. It introduces some important ideas on which Nancy elaborates in subsequent chapters. Most importantly, it gets us to think about why we are presenting in the first place.

Key Message: Resonance causes change.

2. Lessons from Myths and Movies

Drawing on lessons from the dramatic arts, Nancy explains why stories are important for presentations. As she says, we need to shift our mindset from solely transferring information to creating an experience. We should take the audience on a journey from what is to what could be.

Key Message: Incorporating story into presentations has an exponential effect on outcomes.

3. Get to Know the Hero

The hero, of course, is the audience. A speech or presentation is always about the audience. We need to understand the people to whom we will speak and communicate from the common ground that we share.

Key Message: If a presenter knows the audience’s resonant frequency and tunes to that, the audience will move.

4. Define the Journey

Be clear about your “big idea”, the one key message that you want to convey, and then plan how you will lead the audience to it. A good presentation moves an audience beyond its comfort zone. In so doing, however, you will often encounter resistance. This chapter provides some good insights into overcoming that resistance.

Key Message: Every audience will persist in a state of rest unless compelled to change.

5. Create Meaningful Content

One of the things that I like best about this chapter is its positioning in the book. It is only at the halfway point — after we have given sufficient thought to why we are speaking, who our audience is and what our key message is. Only then should we turn to the content. When creating content, we should generate as many ideas as possible and then transform those ideas into messages.

Key Message: Use the big idea to filter out all frequencies other than the resonant frequency.

6. Structure Reveals Insights

A solid structure is the foundation of a coherent presentation. Nancy encourages us to move away from a linear format when designing a presentation (e.g., a series of slides) and create an environment where we can see the presentation spatially (e.g., sticky note, whiteboard, etc.). She explains how to order our messages for maximum impact and how to create emotional contrast in our presentations.

Key Message: Structure is greater than the sum of its parts.

7. Deliver Something They’ll Always Remember

We are encouraged to create a moment in each presentation that is so profound that the audience will not forget it. Nancy calls this a S.T.A.R. Moment (Something They’ll Always Remember) and looks at five ways in which to create one: memorable dramatization; repeatable sound bites; evocative visuals; emotive storytelling; and shocking statistics.

Key Message: Memorable moments are repeated and retransmitted so they cover longer distances.

8. There’s Always Room to Improve

In this chapter, Nancy discusses how to amplify the message and minimize the noise (bias, credibility, semantics and experience). She also discusses giving a positive first impression, being succinct, weaning ourselves from slides and balancing logic with emotion.

Key Message: Audience interest is directly proportionate to the presenter’s preparation.

9. Change Your World

Ending on an inspirational note, Nancy uses a quotation from John F. Kennedy: “The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.” And it’s true. Whenever we give a speech or presentation, it is like casting a pebble into a still lake or pond. We have no idea just how far the ripples will spread. All change, whether it is worldwide or in our corporate department, begins with an idea. In order for that idea to take root, it has to be shared with others.

Key Message: You can change the world.

To support her points, Nancy examines in detail a wide variety of speeches and speakers. She shares several of her own experiences, and even goes beyond the public speaking realm to garner insights for speakers from the worlds of dance, music, film and poetry.

Nancy also uses an interesting technique known as a “sparkline” to analyze several speeches graphically. (Click on the image below to see the general form of a sparkline.)

resonate - Sparkling

As visually pleasing as this book is, it would be a mistake to keep it in pristine condition. resonate should be read with a pencil and a highlighter in hand. It should be annotated and marked up and eventually become dog-eared from use. resonate deserves a place on your bookshelf next to other key reference books.

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    1. Hey, Nancy. Thanks very much for stopping by and leaving a comment. It was an easy review to write. The book is terrific and will benefit many people for years to come.

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International