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Title: Working the Room
Author: Nick Morgan
Publisher: Harvard Business School Press
Copyright: 2003
ISBN: 1-57851-819-9
Pages: 229
Price: $24.95
Rating: 91%

The thought of speaking to a group fills people with dread. When a colleague of mine in DC found out he had to give a speech to a few hundred people in a conference plenary session, he completely shut down. He called in sick a few days during the week before the conference and in general just moped around the department trying desperately to avoid working on his presentation. Eventually he threw together two hours of material and tried to get it into some sort of order on the three-hour flight to the venue, but he ran out of time and put both himself and his audience through forty-eight minutes of rambling, backtracking, and missed opportunities.

Nick Morgan, the editor of the Harvard Management Communication Letter and founder of Public Words, a communication consulting firm, states right at the outset that the only reason to give a speech is to change the world. Not that every conference presentation will make the audience rise en masse and go forth to do your bidding, but Morgan argues quite rightly that addresses given to smaller audiences are opportunities to persuade and effect change.

The book's subtitle, How to Move People to Action through Audience-Centered Speaking, precisely describes Morgan's method: he wants speakers to consider why what they're saying is important to the audience. Where, for example, does the need addressed fit on Maslow's hierarchy, with survival at the base and self-actualization at the top? The author argues quite correctly that the only way you can convince individuals to take action is by making them believe that doing so is in their best interests. As Morgan says in one of his chapter subheadings, you must "[t]ake your audience on a journey from 'how' to 'why'."

Working the Room covers the whole range of speech development and presentation techniques, with lessons on crafting an elevator speech (useful when you're in an elevator, your CEO gets on, and asks you what you're working on), developing your material, and rehearsing your presentation. Yes, there is much more to rehearsal than just running through the words the night before your talk, and Morgan shows you a variety of techniques you can use to improve your delivery and even calm your nerves.

As an occasional public speaker with a background in theater, I found Working the Room to be an excellent synthesis of sound advice and proven techniques for creating compelling presentations. Readers will need to spend time developing and practicing to benefit fully from Morgan's advice, but there's enough good counsel in Working the Room to help attentive readers improve the speech-making abilities.

Curtis D. Frye ( is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews.  He is also the author of three online courses and twelve books (six for Microsoft Press) , including Privacy-Enhanced Business from Quorum Books.