As an executive speech writer and coach, I've read many fine books on public speaking. This book is one of the best I've seen about the art of crafting a compelling speech.
I especially enjoyed the three chapters of the first section. They examine how giving a speech is like and unlike holding a conversation. And they suggest ways for making a speech more conversational. You've probably heard much of the advice before - make the audience part of your speech, establish eye contact, pause, avoid being overly formal or using words that are rarely heard in everyday conversation, etc. - but now you'll understand why.
I liked the chapter titled "The Persuasive Power of Words." It examines four rhetorical techniques that make audiences pay attention to and remember what you say:
1. CONTRASTS, which include contradictions ("not this but that"), comparisons ("more this than that"), opposites ("black or white"), and phrase reversals
2. PUZZLES (assertions that briefly confuse the audience, priming them for your solution) and QUESTIONS
3. LISTS OF THREE
4. A COMBINATION OF THE OTHER THREE TECHNIQUES
And I found a lot to think about in the chapter, "Painting Words with Pictures." It begins, "A picture may sometimes tell a thousand words, but words can just as easily be used to create a thousand images." It then examines the different ways of creating images in the minds of your audience: similes, metaphors, analogies, anecdotes, and quotations.
I found the other chapters on visual aids (including PowerPoint) and body language less insightful, although I agree with almost everything Atkinson writes in them. (Beware: if you're wedded to PowerPoint or if you believe that how you speak is more important than what you say, you're going to be challenged - rightly, I think - by what he writes.)
Each chapter is filled with examples and stories (mostly from politics) and ends with a one- or two-page summary. Each section concludes with exercises to help you apply what you've read.
The book's subtitle, "All You Need to Know about Making Speeches," is a bit misleading. The book is more about writing a speech than delivering one. And while it gives great advice about using words, phrases, and images to strengthen a speech's impact, it goes into considerably less detail about constructing a speech.
Atkinson has experience in academia and as a consultant for politicians and corporations. His book is both intellectually stimulating and practical.
You may not like this book if you're looking for a beginner's guide to public speaking. But if you want to make your speeches more engaging and memorable, you'll profit from this book.
It's one of the few books I go back to again and again as I'm writing speeches for my clients. I highly recommend it.