A feature of some of my books is a ranked bibliography. I rank books in order of their usefulness in writing the book. Below is the ranked bibliography from Confessions of a Public Speaker, which suggests which books are the most valuable to read.
Of course reading about doing something is never as valuable as doing the thing itself. Putting in the time to speak in front of people and getting good feedback is far more efficient and valuable than reading alone. Even posting a 5 minute web video of you practicing giving a talk and asking friends for feedback is a great investment of time.
Popular recent books like Reynold’s Presentation Zen and Duarte’s Slideology didn’t rank high on this list even though I recommend those books often. The reason is both books focus on slide design which in my experience isn’t the primary place to start in helping speakers improve, which explains why I only spend a few pages in Confessions with advice on slides. I needed to cover a range of subjects including history, anxiety, business, performance, neuroscience and teaching – and books on my list scored better when I learned the most.
The best books on public speaking, ranked in order of number of notes I made while reading them:
40: What’s the Use of Lectures?, Donald A. Bligh
31: Speak Like Churchill, Stand like Lincoln, James C. Humes
28: Public Speaking for Success, Dale Carnegie
28: Lend me your ears: All you need to know about making speeches, Max Atkinson
26: Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving, John Medina
26: History of Public Speaking in America, Robert T. Oliver
25: Money Talks: How to Make a Million As a Speaker, Alan Weiss
23: Um: Slips, Stumbles and Verbal Blunders, Michael Erard
22: Conquer Your Speech Anxiety, Karen Kangas Dwyer
22: The Francis Effect: The Real Reason You Hate Public Speaking (Oakmont Press)
20: What the Best College Teachers Do, Ken Bain
15: The Lost Art of The Great Speech, Richard Dowis
14: Speak for a Living, Anne Bruce
13: How People Learn, National Research Council
12: Secrets of Successful Speakers, Lilly White
(The list goes on for another 25 books – but the value of a ranked bibliography is you’ve now seen the highest ranked ones!)