Book review: Presentation Magic!

  • Presentation Magic by Nick Herbert

Artist and writer Rebecca La Marre reviews Nick Fitzherbert's Presentation Magic!  Achieving Outstanding Business Presentations Using The Rules of Magic

Nick Fitzherbert, the author of Presentation Magic!, is a PR consultant who joined the Magic Circle in London. After learning their tricks he applied his newfound knowledge to the world of marketing, sensing that the rules of magic could greatly improve the success of a business presentation. The book is not written with visual artists or designers in mind, but many of the strategies outlined are directly applicable and probably essential to know for anyone who wants to sell, distribute, or present their work to an audience.

An initial flip through the pages reveals a seemingly impenetrable wall of text with bullet lists, charts, and more than four different typefaces being used. That said, the style of writing is conversational, clearly written and very easy to read and one soon forgets one is looking at words in the first place. This is because Fitzherbert stresses the importance of communicating using ‘words-that-create-pictures’, and this idea is mirrored in the structure of the book, following each introductory point with plenty of metaphors, analogies, and a variety of examples to aid illustration.

In a similar way, strategies he identifies for the effective delivery of a magic trick, such as repetition, are outlined in theory and then integrated into at least three different contexts relating to business. This might make it sound like the book becomes dull quickly. Rather, the result is engaging and very clear. To aid this clarity, each chapter begins by outlining what will be discussed and closes with a summary of the main points delivered.

The rules of magic outlined are engagement, attention, impact and conviction. Each of these areas are elaborated with detailed instructions on how to achieve maximum results in each area, emphasising the importance of maintaining eye contact, presenting yourself as reputable, grouping information into chunks of three, short and snappy pacing, editing ruthlessly, a strong opening and saving the best for last.

Essentially these are rules for capturing an audience’s attention, and although the book deals with an audience of magic lovers and businessmen (a strange combination to be sure), the advice given is perfectly applicable to a gallery-going audience, a curator who might decide to represent your work, or a client who has commissioned you as a freelance creative.

Following his advice on groupings in three, the book is divided into three main sections: construction, preparation and delivery. Fitzherbert stresses that most people focus exclusively on the delivery of a presentation and suggests instead that all three should be considered and weighted equally. This is one area where the book falls short, in that construction is given a whopping 117 pages devoted to the subject, just over half the book. This belies Fitzherbert's insistence that preparation and delivery are of equal importance, which only get respectively 23 and 50 pages. However, we can forgive him (or his editor) this oversight given the depth and quality of instruction in each area, also given his confidence that if construction is properly developed then the rest should easily fall into place. There is also a large section of the book devoted to PowerPoint, which is probably relevant to someone presenting a business proposal or economic analysis, but not to me having only used the programme once for a high-school science fair.

Being someone who loathes speaking in public, I found this book full of helpful, practical tips that demonstrate there is no need to fear presenting your work if you prepare properly. I found myself almost excited about the prospect of trying the strategies he suggests to see if they actually work. There is some real insight into the way that people communicate information and persuade each other, and this is paired with clear instructions on how to use the insight to your own benefit.