Zen and the art of presentations

presentation zen

Presentation Zen : simple ideas on presentation design and delivery
Garr Reynolds.
New Riders/Voices That Matter. 2008. 229 pp.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by bad PowerPoint presentations,
starving, hysterical, naked,
dragging themselves through conference hotel hallways,
looking for an angry fix. . . .

Garr Reynolds poses a question I’ve asked myself many times: If people can’t listen and read at the same time, why do most PowerPoint slides contain far more words than images?

In this beautifully designed and well written manifesto, Garr Reynolds offers not a method, but an approach—think of presentation design as a road, a direction, a frame of mind, perhaps even a philosophy, but not a formula of proven rules to be followed.

In three sections, Preparation, Design, and Delivery, Reynolds illustrates how your presentations can engage and even inspire audiences, with just a little more effort and imagination in the preparation and design stages. Surprisingly, that may mean thinking in terms of creating a good comic book or a good documentary film. Why? Because a good comic strip is “amazingly effective at partnering text and images that together form a powerful narrative which is engaging and memorable.” And a good documentary film not only tells a story but also touches emotions.

Most presentations we see are lists of bullet points. They are entirely ‘left brain.’ The best presentations, he says, will be created by those who have strong “whole mind” aptitudes and talents. “I have learned much about the use of imagery in storytelling from watching virtually every Ken Burns documentary ever produced,” he says.

During preparation, he advises, get away from your computer. Use paper and pen to sketch out rough ideas in the early stages. Or get some 3×5 cards or some Post-its. Then arrange your ideas in storyboard format. Visualize the overall flow and “feel” of the presentation.

Your presentation should include three components—the slides, your notes, and the handout. The handout should not be a mere printout of the slide deck. Instead, it should amplify and expand on the slides.

Design is not decoration. Design is about making conscious decisions about inclusion and exclusion. Simplicity is powerful. Simplicity “comes from an intelligent desire for clarity that gets to the essence of an issue, something which is not easy to do.”
Make your audience feel something. Example: You’re explaining the devastation of hurricane Katrina. Do you use bullet points, data, and talking points? Or do you show pictures of the wreckage and flooding and human suffering?

In the end, Grasshopper: Do not rely on software to dictate your choices. Do not let mere habit—and the habits of others—dictate the your preparation and design.

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One Response to Zen and the art of presentations

  1. Eamon says:

    Enjoyed this article and found it useful.

    Visuals are important in so many ways.

    For some reason the brain loves images. Einstein used to work, partly, in images, not just to help communicate ideas but, also, to help him develop ideas in the first place.

    Images can sum up a situation / problem / solution, nicely.
    Images can re-create emotions.
    And they can, also, provoke ideas from audiences. In this case images don’t necessarily have to be correct (but are laid out in such a way that they provoke ideas in others that may lead to correct answers later on).

    Eamon – account planner. http://www.spotlightideas.co.uk/?p=48

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