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Book Review: 15 Minutes Including Q&A 153

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
brothke writes "When I initially read 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World From Lousy Presentations, I enjoyed it and thought it was a good book. It was only a few days later, sitting through yet another tedious vendor briefing, when I reread it and truly appreciated how awesome a book it really is." Read on to see what Ben has to say about this book.
15 Minutes Including Q and A: A Plan to Save the World From Lousy Presentation
author Joey Asher
pages 112
publisher Persuasive Speaker Press
rating 10/10
reviewer Ben Rothke
ISBN 0978577620
summary Great book on how to make your presentation heard
Author Joey Asher's premise is quite simple and intuitive: if you as a salesperson (or anyone trying to get a message across) can't state your case simply and succinctly, no one is going to get it or care. He notes that a major problem is that far too many salespeople and speakers waste their time on areas they think is important; but not on what the attendee wants to hear.

Asher notes that every day, businesspeople bore listeners with presentations that ramble on, make no clear points and fail to address the attendee 's key concerns. His book lays out a plan for eliminating lousy presentations.

The introduction asks the basic question, why do most presentations stink? The answer Asher gives is that they ramble on, fail to make any points, try to say so many things that they become unwieldy PowerPoint death stars with no impact and ignore key audience concerns.

Asher's answer to the problem is this: keep the presentation short; leave ample time for Q&A and work to get a compelling dialogue and interaction with the attendees. That is the premise of the first two chapters.

The book is divided into 3 sections. Part 1 is about preparing a seven-minute rifle shot presentation. In essence, tell your entire story in about seven minutes. While counter-intuitive at first; the book shows how this can be achieved.

The focus of chapter 3 is to start by focusing on key business challenge. Asher warns against starting a presentation by giving a bunch of background information about the approach. In addition, don't tell the history of the project or do anything other than shine a light on the attendee 's key problems. He suggests using short stories to succinctly illustrate the issue. Just think of how many presentations you have been in where the speaker did not get to the point until 25 minutes and 20 slides into the presentation.

Chapter 11 is titled creating slides to support your message. The book astutely notes that preparing presentations has to a large part become an exercise in preparing PowerPoint slides. The reality is that it should be an exercise in figuring out how to tell your story. Asher notes that if you want to use slides well, you should only prepare your slides after you have figured out the story that you plan to tell your audience. The failure of many presentations is that the PowerPoint drives the story and not the other way around.

Part 2 is about allowing listeners to fill in the blanks and raise questions with Q&A.Asher suggests in chapter 12 to make Q&A a major part of your presentation strategy. He notes that Q&A allows the audience to guide the message and fill in missing information. It also gives the speaker the chance to persuade by responding to objections. And finally, it improves the speaker's communications style.

While he may not realize it, Asher has uncovered what is the Achilles heel of many project problems and failures. It is that the salesperson sells an obtuse problem to a clueless customer who is oblivious to what they want or how they are going to deploy the solution.

The beauty of Q&A is twofold: first, it requires the salesperson to clearly articulate what they are selling, and the customer to articulate what their specific problems are. The answer should be a clear understanding of the issue and how the product can solve it. But the reality is that many companies will deploy expensive hardware or software solutions (often costing millions of dollars) without really understanding why they are embarking on such a venture.

The book concludes with part 3, on delivering the presentation with intensity. Part 3 moves away from the PowerPoint and into areas such as eye contact, voice energy, rehearsal and other important points. These are critical areas as even the best presentation delivered without intensity can turn into a fruitless endeavor.

While the title 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World From Lousy Presentations may border on hyperbole, the reality is that the term death by PowerPoint is a real problem. The book shows a clear path in which to stop that. At 104 pages, Asher writes like he talks, clearly, succinctly and to the point. For many people, it is only after reading this important book when they will truly understand how much of their lives are wasted in by viewing pathetic PowerPoint's and listening to rambling sales monologues.

The truth is that Asher's points don't have to be limited to PowerPoint presentations exclusively. Be it e-mail messages, memos, status reports, proposals and more; if you can get to the point, and get your point across, you are often more likely to succeed.

At $7.95, the book is about as inexpensive as they get, which means you can also give ample copies to numerous people in your organization. In fact, it should be required reading to anyone who will be using PowerPoint and giving presentations.

Ultimately, the value of 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World From Lousy Presentations is best summed up by Scott Leslie who suggests that one keep extra copies of this book in their briefcase at all times. Next time you re forced to listen to someone laboriously narrate bullet points, quietly slip a copy in the presenters briefcase without them noticing and sign it: "Thought you might enjoy reading this. That way, maybe your audience will enjoy your next presentation. "

Ben Rothke is the author of Computer Security: 20 Things Every Employee Should Know

You can purchase 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World From Lousy Presentations from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Book Review: 15 Minutes Including Q&A

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday April 04, 2011 @02:43PM (#35711316)

    If it's one thing that almost every presenter needs to learn, it's the power of brevity.

    If you're putting more than 50 words on a slide, you've fucked up.

    If you're putting more than 30 slides in a presentation, you've fucked up.

    Unless you audience is highly technical and specifically looking for a highly in-depth presentation, you should never be violating those two rules.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      That was way too long! Your entire post can be summed up in 4 words:

      "Nice guys finish fast"

    • by hawkeyeMI (412577)

      Usually if you're putting more than *5* words on a slide, you really better be able to justify it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by utoddl (263055)

        Yeah, but fewer than 5 should be left-aligned.

      • by tomhudson (43916)

        If you're using slides, you better be able to justify it.

        FTFY

        If you really know your topic, you don't need slides, just a whiteboard, marker, and an audience who wants to ask questions.

        • That assumes you have the skill/talent of being able to write and/or draw legibly on a whiteboard. I certainly do not have that talent.

          I can't read my handwriting -- I certainly don't expect other people to be able to read it.

        • by hedwards (940851)

          I used to think that way, but these days I like slides as a way of keeping myself accountable and making it easier for my audience to follow. Some people have a really hard time following long blocks of speech. Plus, previously I was making short lists of points to hit anyways, so putting them down on slides isn't really that much trouble.

        • Well, that assumes a whiteboard and marker are available.
          Also, the nice thing with slides is that you can make nice pictures which would be quite time-consuming to draw by hand (and unless you are very good in drawing, might end up quite messed up).

        • by Abstrackt (609015)

          If you're using slides, you better be able to justify it.

          Okay, I'll bite. Presenting your information in multiple formats (i.e. verbal and visual) reinforces the material for different types of learners. Charts and graphs are also handy for people who can't visualize numbers. Good slides won't save a bad presentation but they can improve upon a good one.

    • If you're putting more than 50 words on a slide, you've fucked up.

      You know, most people say "pictures, pictures, pictures" instead of words on Powerpoint slides. At an exchange rate of 1000 words/picture, you shatter this rule pretty fast...

    • by dgatwood (11270)

      If it's one thing that almost every presenter needs to learn, it's the power of brevity.

      Seriously. I mean, I bought the book-on-tape version of this, and it was way more than 15 minutes. And no Q&A. I mean, seriously, WTF?

      :-D

    • At my company, unfortunately, powerpoint presentations at team meetings are pretty much the only way key data get presented and recorded. Some of it's in the database, but because these slides will often be referred to in perpetuity, without consulting the author, there need to be lots of words to make sure the message is clear. While that may be fine internally, too many people have gotten in the habit and their external presentations are way to heavy and wordy. Gotta be flexible depending on your aims.
    • As my high-school English teacher used to say: "Be brief, be concise, and be seated".
      • by Americano (920576)

        I guess my math teacher learned the blue collar version of that: "stand up, speak up, and shut up."

    • "If you're putting more than 50 words on a slide, you've fucked up."

      50? Seriously? Unless you're showing a screenshot, listing some code, or pulling a quote, the magic number is seven. In general, if you have more than seven words on a slide, you've fucked up.

      More than that, and the presenter is usually just reading the Powerpoint deck. And in that case, why are you wasting my time, when you could have just emailed it to me in the first place?

      • by Heshler (1191623)
        Seven words is for the verbose! More than two words and you've fucked up! I'm so hardcore!!!!!
      • by vlm (69642)

        And in that case, why are you wasting my time, when you could have just emailed it to me in the first place?

        An accurate summary of 99% of the time I've spent in meetings over the past decades.

      • Unless you're showing a screenshot, listing some code, or pulling a quote, the magic number is seven.

        Seven words? Seriously? How many slides per minute are you doing?

        Or maybe you don't have the relevant information on the slides. But then, why have slides at all? They are not helpful then.

        More than that, and the presenter is usually just reading the Powerpoint deck. And in that case, why are you wasting my time, when you could have just emailed it to me in the first place?

        Because I was asked to do a present

      • Re:50 Words? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by element-o.p. (939033) on Monday April 04, 2011 @03:54PM (#35712476) Homepage
        Word count matters not.
        Present yourself in haiku.
        Concepts are retained.
        • + 1.

          Well played, sir, well played.

        • The goose cries once more,

          Its sound falls with autumn leaves,

          Towards the bored earth.

      • And in that case, why are you wasting my time, when you could have just emailed it to me in the first place?

        You've hit it on the head: 99% of presentations are a waste of time, and could be avoided if people were willing to read.

    • by Happler (895924)

      At the same time, in-depth info should be made available on request. Too many times have people built slide decks as the whole of their presentation and totally forgot that there are some people who either by want or need, will request much more info then can be presented in a deck or during the Q&A.

    • by Synn (6288)

      Woah, woah, woah. Way too many words. I was like "What?" and then I was like "Huh?" and then, uh, I got a little bored. Something about slides?

    • I disagree on 30 slides. I use an approach that I call "Turbo power point" in which I will rip through that many slides in under two minutes. It does get, and hold, the attention of the audience, but it violates the arbitrary limits you have set.

      I agree with the 50-word limit, though. In fact, I would recommend that the slide should contain either (and only) a picture, by itself (perhaps with something to highlight a specific thing in the picture) or a heading and three bullet points.

      Animation is optio

    • by eepok (545733)

      Unless those 50 words are not actually spoken and those 30 slides aren't packed with words.

      In the world of PowerPoint presentations, you have to remember that those presentations are almost always requested by those in the audience as *notes*. If there's not enough information on those slides, then those will be bad notes. If there's not enough slides to fully describe your topic, then, again, they're bad notes.

      • by Cederic (9623)

        The most powerful documents are the ones which fit onto a single page.

        People carry a good picture around for months. They pull it out in multiple meanings, share it with others, use it to discuss issues and set direction.

        If you need notes, sure, powerpoint can provide notes that aren't even on the slides but still print out alongside them. But cut out the crap, reduce things to the simple basics and give people strong concepts they'll remember and work to.

        If you need lots of slides to describe your topic th

        • by Tacvek (948259)

          For some examples of excellent slides, watch this presentation by Lawrence Lessig: http://randomfoo.net/oscon/2002/lessig/free.html [randomfoo.net]
          He uses many, many slides, but they are often very short, a single sentence, frequently less. His slides punctuate his speech and help keep you from getting bored. They would not really be meaningful in printed form, but that is fine. He has many

          For another good style:
          any one of Steve Job's keynotes. Again though, the slides are not really worth much without the speech, but in t

  • by Anonymous Coward

    15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World From Lousy Presentation

    Your comment violated the "postersubj" compression filter. Try less whitespace and/or less repetition in the subject line.

  • I think you might have a little bit of an output escaping bug there, /.
  • Brian Tracy has a series of lectures about exactly that point (selling).

    If you list the good features of your product no one will care. Worse, no one will give you the 10 minutes you need to describe the product.

    Example1:

    a) Our copier can produce 40 pages per minute
    b) ...has a 500 GB disk
    c) ...has networking capabilities
    d) ...can sort, collate, and staple

    If you put the product in terms which are advantageous to the listener (usually money), then you spark their interest.

    Example2:

    Mr manager, if you purchase

    • by Obfuscant (592200)

      If you put the product in terms which are advantageous to the listener (usually money), then you spark their interest.

      Mr. Manager, I can reduce your cost by $5000/month. My copier doesn't do 40 pages per minute, it has no disk, it has no networking capability, and it cannot sort, collate, or staple.

      It is a cardboard box. Your users lay their originals on top, wait ten seconds, and then walk away with the originals.

      This saves you money on paper needlessly used. It shuts down one major method of employee theft of intellectual property. It doesn't waste people's time waiting for the copier to warm up before it can copy. It

      • Mine is twice as fast as yours, you just wait 5 seconds and go away with the originals.
        • by Obfuscant (592200)
          I'm suing you for patent violation, and I just patented an improvement where you don't even have to have an original. I'm calling it the "Psychic Copier".

          It does require your employees to remove their tinfoil hats, however. My research department is working on a solution...

    • Mr manager, if you purchase our copier you can reduce your costs by $2000 per month. Would you like me to explain how?

      You have to be careful not to boil it down too far though. I know you were just making a point, but if you open a sales presentation like that you are likely to sound like an "as seen on TV" direct seller.

      Some buyers like to feel smart, and in those cases it can help to simply demonstrate what it is about your product that makes it special and let them make the link to how it will save money/time/trees/headlight fluid. You're guiding them there of course, but it can help to let them think they made the

      • by Kittenman (971447)

        Mr manager, if you purchase our copier you can reduce your costs by $2000 per month. Would you like me to explain how?

        You have to be careful not to boil it down too far though. I know you were just making a point, but if you open a sales presentation like that you are likely to sound like an "as seen on TV" direct seller.

        You can avoid that by saying "but wait - there's more".

    • by Alex Belits (437) *

      Mr manager, if you purchase our copier you can reduce your costs by $2000 per month.
      Would you like me to explain how?

      Why would anyone want to do that?

    • by hubie (108345)
      For your example 2, it depends. I see many clicks that tell me how I can save 15% on my car insurance, but I ignore them.
  • Brevity is important if you are trying to communicate decisions that have already been made and cannot be questioned, or if you are doing a sales presentation for a product that cannot be altered as part of the contract. If you're trying to work with a group (for example, Test, Development, and Build/Release) to make a decision that everyone can support, trying to be too quick about it will destroy any progress possible. Same if you have a highly customizable product you are trying to sell while gaining in
    • by hedwards (940851)

      As a part of my current coursework I've been doing a fair number of presentations. And brevity isn't really the goal. A better focus is making sure every slide gets you closer to the goal of communicating the whole topic you're covering. Limiting yourself really to no more than about 3 slides or so without involving the audience and cutting down on extraneous information that interferes with the flow of information. And really every slide should have a reasonable and identifiable connection to the talk.

      Powe

      • As a part of my current coursework I've been doing a fair number of presentations. And brevity isn't really the goal.

        You're absolutely right. Clear communication is the goal. Brevity can help that, but is not the goal itself.

        Shooting for brevity risks leaving out or glossing over key information. Perhaps a better way way to think if it would be shooting for conciseness (that word should be concisity, it sounds truthier).

  • by khr (708262)

    suggests that one keep extra copies of this book in their briefcase at all times

    I've never owned a briefcase, you insensitive clod!

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Monday April 04, 2011 @03:00PM (#35711602) Homepage Journal

    Hard to come by, but not impossible or expensive - radio comedian Fred Allen's Treadmill To Oblivion covers the workings behind a radio show in the 1950's. Plan to do a show in 30 minutes, have some ideas, write them down, rehearse, remove what doesn't work, add in what would work better. Comedy or business, it's about getting the attention and holding it, you've got about 20 minutes before people start to fidget and look for a clock. It's better to test on an audience before going live, particularly an honest one who will tell you what your are missing - never overlook the obvious, what IS your point here?

    I'm sure the book is great, but tightening up a show for a fixed amount of time is a pretty old science by now.

  • by scrib (1277042)

    Isn't the book's title a pretty good "executive summary" of the book itself? How do you fluff that out to 104 pages?

    • Some people need to be told to shut the fuck up about a hundred times before they get it. Motivational and style-type books are an exercise in repeatedly showing you why you're an ass. Sure everyone says "be brief," but I have so much shit to cover, and what do you mean no one cares? After a dozen examples, explanations, and breakdowns, you start to see a pattern of "that's a great pitch!" "Oh... that's really annoying, and nobody gives a shit about anything except the last 2 paragraphs here..."
  • Also: Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. Including pretty pictures!
  • by srussia (884021)
    n/t
  • by SoupGuru (723634) on Monday April 04, 2011 @03:09PM (#35711752)
    It's harder to write short, succint points. It's much easier to ramble, especially because a lot of people equate long and wordy points with being smart. Orwell ranted about the problem. [pickthebrain.com]
  • A woman's skirt. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LoudMusic (199347) on Monday April 04, 2011 @03:20PM (#35711902)

    Anything presented to an audience should have the same characteristics as a woman's skirt.

    Long enough to cover all the important details.
    Short enough to keep our attention.

    I actually heard that the first time from my apparently gay college english teacher. *shrug*

  • by synthesizerpatel (1210598) on Monday April 04, 2011 @03:22PM (#35711936)

    The Cognative Style of Powerpoint Essay
    * http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/books_pp [edwardtufte.com]

    Also

    PowerPoint Does Rocket Science--and Better Techniques for Technical Reports
    * http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0001yB&topic_id=1 [edwardtufte.com]

  • While these are all good points for a technical presentation, say, at a conference, they are not applicable to a sales presentation. Describing exactly what your product does is precisely what a good salesman wants to prevent. The reason for that, of course, is that if that were to happen, the customer would realize he does not need it, or that he can already get it cheaper elsewhere. "But my product is great!" I hear you saying; well, if it were, you wouldn't be giving a sales presenatation about it. You'd

  • As a rule of thumb:

    • No more than six points per slide
    • No more than six words per point
  • The can't be that awesome if he still has to endure tedious vendor meetings in spite of it. May I suggest a Gameboy and a pair of discrete earphones instead?

    • by macraig (621737)

      The book can't be that awesome....

      • If you read chapter 4, you'll find out that leaving out a few words here and there is a great way to make your presentation more concise. You were already advanced in this area, and didn't even realise it!

  • For far too many PowerPoint presentations, the presenter has apologized with "sorry this is an eye chart." If you have to apologize for it being too small, you are doing something very wrong. If there is any supplemental detail you'd like to provide, stick it in either a report or slide notes. (I routinely deliver 15-slide presentations backed by a 40-60 page report stuffed with the relevant technical detail; it works WAY better than a 60-slide presentation with the details right there in the slides.)

    My

    • by DamonJW (1416653)

      Also, don't use complete sentences; complete sentences means that either your audience will either be reading the slides and not listen to you, or if you are a really lousy speaker, you'll start reading the slides.

      I think you should use complete sentences in Powerpoint slides. Many presenters use sentence fragments, or even just lists of nouns -- but to get your story across, what really matters are the verbs, especially the "modal" verb phrases like "I claim that ..." or "everyone agrees that ..." or "in order to achieve X we must ...". Sentence fragments and noun-lists, on the other hand, are only useful as crutches to the speaker, to help him remember his talking points. Or, in Powerpointese,

      • Complete sentences
  • Knuth's Volume 4 only got 9/10 recently, obviously because it is soooooooo wordy.

  • And the book is out of stock at amazon.com, and doesn't exist at amazon.ca. How am I supposed to buy it again?

  • If you can help it, stop using PowerPoint. I do a lot of user group and technology evangelization presentations and I'm doing my best to stop using PP. Sometimes I don't have a choice as I can't control the presentation system (large presentations like VMworld, for example). But when I can I'm using Prezi. It really breaks you out of that bullet point process. You throw your talking points and ideas out on a "canvas" and build your thoughts from there. After making the move I've gotten a LOT of positi

    • I'm sorry, but that is very disorientating. I understand how the zooming is supposed to provide some sort of spatial relationship between ideas, but the effect it had on me was to just make me dizzy.
  • I tend to prepare an elevator pitch of what I want to say, then decide how I bring it best in context with the audience, and after that I will create / find any images if I think they will help (if it's not technical you should think about images as setting the audience's mood).

    In my experience, people really pay attention if you mention you have set yourself the task of making your point in 15 minutes or less - it's fun to start a session with a self-imposed challenge, and it keeps questions at bay until y

  • Joey Asher also wrote "Even a Geek Can Speak" - a book I give to just about anyone starting out giving presentations. This book looks just as awesome - can't wait to pick it up!

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