9 Must-Read Books For Public Speaking
When I began my career as a professional speaker, I wanted to increase my skills quickly, but I had very few resources, so I started reading books for public speaking. Within a few years, I read more than 200 books in the area of communication.
I read as a way to expand my learning, see the world from a different perspective, and confirm different strategies in my field, knowing that if I only learned one new strategy from a book, then it would be worthwhile.
I quickly realised that many of them contradicted each other. Some were based on theories that didn’t produce positive results when I tried them at work.
Thankfully I found a few books that I love to recommend due to their in-depth analysis of key subjects. The nine books included in this list are essential to enabling speakers (aspiring or active) in the three biggest areas of style, story, and state.
I’ve read lighter, funnier books on non-verbal communication, but for me, the depth of Morris’ work is crucial. This guy is serious about fully understanding how human beings interact with each other, from an evolutionary understanding of how tribes have communicated to how we communicate in the modern day-to-day. Morris took his original book on human behaviour, Manwatching (1978), and updated it entirely in 2002. Now it’s called Peoplewatching. Before body language was a popular thing to talk about, Morris conducted his own research in the area in addition to collating what others had done. If you want a definitive resource on non-verbal communication and are willing to dedicate some time to read it (it’s pretty hefty!), this one is for you.
One of the most striking theories in Rodenburg’s work is her ‘three circles of concentration’. She usually refers to this when discussing how we connect with our audiences. For example, how can an actor connect with their fellow person on stage and 3,000 people in the audience? This skill doesn’t just apply on-stage; it can improve your impact in an interview, a small meeting room, or a major company presentation.
To accomplish this, Rodenburg talks about the ‘2nd Circle’ in Presence — where you’re fully connected with yourself (mind, body, and emotions) and the people around you. It feels like an authentic way of getting to a state where you feel present, and other people feel you’re present with them.
McKee has trained writers who’ve won 60 Academy Awards and 200 Emmys, so it’s safe to say he thoroughly understands the story. More recently, he’s applied his knowledge to the world of business. He wants his readers to understand that business storytelling strengthens your ideas, gives context to your numbers, and leaves your audience with a takeaway they won’t forget. This is a popular topic in the business world, and I’m asked about it frequently. Everyone wants to know how to take brilliant storytelling methodology that’s worked for years and apply it to the business world — which is exactly what McKee does in Storynomics.
Vogler, who was involved in movies like The Lion King, summarized what’s called “the hero’s journey,” which many people have heard about in storytelling. He took Joseph Campbell’s work and put it into a memo that was then distributed around Hollywood. In The Writer’s Journey, he expands on that memo to help people understand how storytelling really works. What are its principles, and how could you use it yourself? It’s an incredible book for public speaking for anyone who wants to tell a solid, engaging story.
If you need to convince your boss to stop putting text on slides, and you want to understand how the brain reacts to a PowerPoint and the environment around you, you should check this out. It digs deeply into the science behind why we react far better to visual stimuli than text. Medina also has some really engaging videos online that bring his research to life.
Peters coached the British cycling team for the 2012 Olympics when they won multiple gold medals. If you’re looking to better understand the things that stand in your way, and cause you anxiety or stress, then The Chimp Paradox is a good choice. Peters explains how he helped the winning team get into a mindset to perform at their best under intense pressure and achieve their goals.
The author of this one is a Nobel Prize winner in economics. He gives a deep insight into behaviour and brain function so you can understand what’s happening to you in different situations. For people who liked Predictably Irrational or Freakonomics, Thinking Fast and Slow will be a new favourite. It digs into the different tracks of thought when we make decisions and helps the reader to understand what instincts they can or cannot trust.
This recommendation is short — maybe 70 pages. You can read it quickly, and it’s a great motivation or inspiration to keep in your pocket. I’ve found that I carry it around for months and dip into it to see one of the quotes to get me into a better mindset.
I love Brown’s work on vulnerability. She’s given Ted Talks that have gone viral and had several bestselling books. The main goal of Daring Greatly is to help you embrace your own vulnerability. If you’re struggling to drop your armour and be your true self, Brown’s work can definitely help. This book has been key to genuinely connecting with my audience by lowering my armour.
I’ve also written two books, You Were Born to Speak and Lift Your Impact.
You Were Born to Speak details my quest to overcome a crushing fear of public speaking and discover the secrets of successful communication. From learning non-verbal communication from monks in a Tibetan monastery to giving 1000 business presentations for a Formula 1 racing team and teaching tens of thousands of clients worldwide, you’ll discover everything I learned on my journey while building a multi-million-pound communication training company. This personal journey is filled with practical strategies you can apply immediately to transform your communication skills.
Lift Your Impact is about transforming your mindset, your influence and your future. Published in 2023, my latest book documents vital communication techniques that can dramatically move the needle for business leaders, personally and professionally.