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Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery April 14, 2010

Posted by Kevin Liu in Uncategorized.

Presentation Zen, written by Garr Reynolds, explains the magic behind designing effective, winning presentations. The book walks through the stages for building a presentation, starting with the idea formation to a final presentation. The book is amazingly visual. For every point the author makes, there are example slides illustrating the point… usually an original, mediocre slide is juxtaposed with a transformed, more solid version of itself, which is noticeably more effective.  The book is filled with important concepts that can only enhance a presentation and cites poor or successful examples along the way.

Below, I have noted the points he made that stuck with me.

  • Brainstorm. Use the pen and paper/sticky notes method.
  • Sort your ideas into categories. Identify the core message.
  • Storyboard the presentation. Sketch prototypes of the slides onto paper. Note what you what you want to emphasize for each slide.
  • Build the storyboard in the “slide sorter” view so that the flow of the presentation is clear.
  • Kanso, Shizen, Shibumi… Simplicity, Naturalness, Elegance. He refers to Zen terms a lot and relates them to how presentations should be made. Some aesthetic values include simplicity, elegance, suggestive rather than descriptive/obvious, naturalness (nothing is forced), tranquility, eliminating the nonessential.
  • “Simplicity is power and leads to greater clarity, yet it is neither simple nor easy to achieve.”
  • Limit bullet points or don’t use them at all.
  • People cannot read and listen at the same time. Make your presentations like Steve Jobs and not Bill Gates. You can view Jobs’ most recent presentations here. http://www.apple.com/quicktime/guide/appleevents/
  • Use images whenever possible, they are powerful, direct and communicative. Visuals are meant to amplify your presentation and invoke more harmony with your presentation. Always think, “what information are you representing with the written word on a slide that you could replace with a photograph?” Using visuals “helps learning and increases retention compared to witnessing someone read words off a screen”. Along those lines, Garr also repeatedly recommends using royalty-free stock photos in presentations. They make presentations look so much more sharp and professional. Here are several stock photo resources that he listed in his book: iStockphoto.com, dreamstime.com, fotolia.com, Japanesestreets.com, Shutterstock.com, Shuttermap.com
  • Simplify but do not oversimplify.
  • It is sometimes better to use full images that spill out of the page and have text within the empty spaces.
  • Contrast can be used to your advantage to illustrate your ideas. This could be using fonts of different size, colors to illustrate something different or important.
  • Use the rule of thirds when making a slide. Divide the slide into 3×3 grids and try to align your content along the lines. Doing so will help your design elements fit more harmoniously on the slide.

These points are much more convincing if you could see the examples yourselves so I highly recommend reading this book. It is a really quick read and great reference to have. If you imitate the formatting and style shown in his example slides, your presentations will be darn successful.

On a final note, here are some of the presentations that he included in his book as examples what’s well done.

www.slideshare.net/chrislandry (Sustainable Food Lab)

www.slideshare.net/GKawasaki (Truemors)



1. Kevin Kuramura - April 14, 2010

Nice. It sounds like Garr and Dan Roam (the author of Back of the Napkin), have a lot of common influences regarding the use of images vs. text. With so many benefits it’s a wonder so many people continue to use endless bulleted lists (or paragraphs!) in presentation slides.

Jon, your slides are excellent of course. I’m sure Garr, Dan Roam, and Tom Wujec are all reasons for that.

Jon Pittman - April 22, 2010

They are all influences – there are many others.

Here is a nice little presentations on presentations http://www.slideshare.net/selias22/taking-your-slide-deck-to-the-next-level

2. Kevin Liu - April 14, 2010

Yeah. I actually really like the clean black backgrounds used in Jon’s slides. That was the first thing I noticed on the first day of class… how the slides are actually good.

3. Mansi Thakkar - April 18, 2010

Nice review, Kevin! I’d seen a presentation describing the main points of this book a couple of months back and that has been one of the most memorable presentations I’ve seen to date. The book communicates quite effectively how to use space on a presentation and how to make it effective. I definitely keep the points of this book in mind while designing presentations and its made a huge difference.

4. Helene Cahen - April 24, 2010

Great review of a book I found very useful. Personally this book has transformed the way I have done presentations. Once I understood the principles, I have had little patience for presenters reading their bullet points on a power point slide full of text which is still the reality in many businesses and in my experience with the academic world!

Around the same concept (and the authors refers to it in the book), I found the Pecha-Kucha format very interesting. Pecha-Kucha means to chatter in japanese) and the format is a power point presentation with 20 slides, each automatically timed to last 20 seconds exactly, for a total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Obviously with these constraints, presentations have to be highly visual and focused on the essence. This may be too much constraints but a good learning experience. If you are interested you may want to find out more information about Pecha Kucha http://www.pecha-kucha.org and specific San Francisco events at http://www.pecha-kucha.org/night/san-francisco.

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