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Presentation Zen: Best Book of My Semester! September 24, 2009

Posted by Katie Swinerton in Presentation Zen, [Books] Visualization & Presentation.
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Checking out the books from our Visualization and Presentation list on Amazon, I was immediately attracted to Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. “Garr is a beacon of hope for frustrated audiences everywhere” – that is me! Between undergrad, my career, and now, ahem grad school, I have suffered through many bad PowerPoint presentations. Any ray of hope was something to go on.

Garr Reynolds at Google Talks

Reynolds goes through how to prepare for a presentation, how to plan and craft a story, how to make slides that have a “zen” aesthetic and how to effectively deliver a presentation. I highly recommend reading this book – it has already started to change the way I make presentations. The tough part is that his recommendations really challenge the status quo. As a former consultant, it is hard for me to fathom doing a slide deck with a maximum of 6 words of text per slide. Fortunately, I am in a relatively safe environment (the business school bubble) right now that just so happens to demand presentations weekly, so I plan to experiment with his style a bit. It will be very interesting to see if I can continue to do presentations that go over rigorous content without lapsing into the standard, cluttered and bullet heavy presentations that we are all so used to.

Instead of continuing on with my reaction to the book, I think the most useful thing I can do is share some of the tips that I have picked up from the book:
1. Keep slides simple: slides should complement what you are saying, not repeat verbatim what you are saying. You are the star of the show – not the slides! Think about using very simple text and lots of images and white space.
2. Use handouts: instead of making your presentation data heavy, include the necessary facts in your talk and in a takeaway handout. That way, everyone gets the information they need, but they absorb it first by hearing you say it, and get the visual and details later. The handout should be what you send out after your presentation (not your slides), and it should contain highlights and explanations of your presentation.
3. Kill bullets: bullets are boring for the audience and for the presenter. They also lend themselves to being read directly which is a big no-no. Reynolds argues that the best slides have no text at all.
4. Use real photos: Clip art should generally be avoided. People have seen it before and it undermines your efforts to make a real connection with people. Instead, use high quality photos of real people and things as often as possible – these are much easier to connect with and to remember. Some good sources of photos are: istockphoto.com and flick.com/creativecommons. You can always take pictures yourself with a digital camera.
5. Use zen principles for slide design: contrast, repetition, alignment, empty space, proximity, and balance can make your slides much more compelling.
6. Deliberate delivery: Keep the lights on in the room so people can see you and you can connect. Use a remote so you are not tied to a lectern or reading your slides. Incorporate storytelling and humor into your words.

Two videos worth watching are: Reynolds at Google doing a presentation on presentation zen (see above) and a Ted talk by Dr. Jill Taylor, a brain scientist, about her experience having and recovering from a stroke. Both show presentation zen in action, at its best.

Jill Bolte Taylor’s Stroke of Insight on TED Talks

Vodpod videos no longer available.
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