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Book Review: How To Wash A Chicken: Mastering The Business Presentation by Tim Calkins
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Book Review: How To Wash A Chicken: Mastering The Business Presentation by Tim Calkins - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: How To Wash A Chicken: Mastering The Business Presentation by Tim Calkins

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: How To Wash A Chicken: Mastering The Business Presentation by Tim Calkins

In a book full of excellent advice for delivering meaningful, impactful business presentations, author Tim Calkins comes right out with perhaps his best (and first piece of) advice near the very beginning of How to Wash a Chicken: Mastering the Business Presentation (Page Two Publications, 2018): know when not to present. It seems like obvious wisdom, but if it were so obvious, we wouldn’t waste so much of our time looking at slides that could have been emailed to us for reasons of questionable value. Are we sitting through this slide deck, staring at pie graphs because we need the info, or because someone needs to look important?

The advice is doubly important because it highlights an important truth about our words: if we want people to value them, it’s critical that we don’t waste them. Calkins, a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, has won numerous teaching awards and claims “more than 5,000” presentations. His first bit of advice reveals a philosophy of communication and persuasion reaching beneath the simple how-to a book like this usually provides. Who are you, what are you really trying to accomplish, and why? In more practical words by the author, “You simply need to think logically, prepare diligently, and speak clearly.”

Beyond this is a lot of good, practical advice that will seem like review to anyone who took a frosh-level public speaking course in college. Yet somehow, despite so many of us having taken these courses, a good presentation is so rare that the good ones stand out as the exception rather than the expectation. Resist the temptation to skip over things you know, and take your time through Calkins’s book, and you’ll feel equipped to knock someone’s socks off.

The temptation would be understandable. Just reading through the chapter titles causes flashbacks to those first-year speech courses: Pick Your Moment, Be Clear on the Purpose, Know Your Audience, Find the Story, Use Compelling Data, and Present with Confidence. Yet the writer’s clear advice and clear writing will underline in each of us good practices we’ve let get away from us. Honest readers will probably say more than a few times something like, “Oh yeah. I guess I haven’t been doing that lately.”

The book’s greatest strength is how easy it makes good presentations sound. “Perhaps the single easiest thing you can do to ensure your presentation will go well is to arrive early and get ready for the event. You want to organize the room,” Calkins writes in the chapter titled “Set the Room.” “Of course,” you say, but how many presentations have we all sat through, just in the past year, where the presenter walked in just a minute or two early and hadn’t yet connected his laptop to the projector or had to hurry out to make a few more copies of his handout? Play your videos! Test the sound! Walk through the presentation! Arrange the room! Leave yourself space! It all sounds so obvious. And easy. And somehow forgotten by most.

Its drawback (and it’s a little one) is that it feels a bit long for its purpose, although as a training guide, it could work really well for any team working together on improving its presentation skills. The kind of growth the book aims for does take time and practice.

It gets a few points as well for an excellent and perhaps counterintuitive chapter on TED talks and Steve Jobs’s famous speeches. “This is not how business presentations tend to go,” Calkins warns. “At most companies, people will shuffle in. Some people will be late. Many have coffee, and this will inevitably get spilled. People might have donuts. The conversation is a mix of the mundane … and practical. There is no spectacle and no drama.”

There are a few excellent things to learn from TED and Jobs, and Calkins points them out as well. Use data, but don’t use too much. Speak slowly. Prepare.

We can all use some brushing up, and a great presentation can be a career-changer. This book is practical, encouraging, and well written. Highly recommended for just about any reader with a career.

 

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Book Review: How To Wash A Chicken: Mastering The Business Presentation by Tim Calkins - Executive Leadership Articles

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