jump to navigation

Presentation Zen Design, Garr Reynolds April 16, 2012

Posted by Marina Shrago in Uncategorized.

Garr Reynolds is one of the leading authorities on presentation design and delivery, former corporate trainer for Sumimoto Electric and currently Associate Professor of Management at Kansai Gaidai University.   He draws on his experience of life in Japan for examples and metaphors throughout the book as well as for fascinating asides on things like Zen aesthetics, bento boxes and umbrellas.  His blog is at http://www.presentationzen.com/ and is very much worth reading regularly.

Presentation Zen Design is a “practice” follow-up volume to Presentation Zen “theory” volume that gives general concepts of good presentation design illustrated by slide examples.  Despite its practicality it is an inspiring book.  The author fully believes that every presentation has the potential to change the world for the better, and with that plank set it is psychologically difficult to just copy last year’s slides.  Despite the commonplaces, such as praise of Apple’s keynote speeches and overuse of the phrase “death by Power Point” it’s a very worthwhile read.

The Presentation Zen approach is to see that most existing presentations are “out-of-kilter” with how people actually learn and communicate.   However, if one deliberately designs a presentation with an aim to make it efficient and graceful (rather like a mathematical formula) it can make a striking difference both to the audience and to one’s career.  Although Presentation Zen says that there is not “an inflexible list of rules to be followed by all in the same way” there are some basics that will work well for most presentations and these are shown in Presentation Zen Design.  Like Presentation Zen this book also includes inserts from other recognized presentation design experts.   Unsurprisingly Presentation Zen Design sets the same general aim for presentations as Presentation Zen:

  1. Restraint in preparation
  2. Simplicity in design
  3. Naturalness in delivery

Presentation as a whole is taken to consist of three parts: the slides, the speech, and the take-away document (not necessarily a printout) with the details that frees the listener from the necessity of taking notes. Presentation Zen Design is concerned primarily with the slides, so need to convey data (as opposed to a story) is presumed to be minimal.   To make a slide set stronger and stickier it is made to be more like a rock garden.  However, a lot of attention is given to practicing the speech itself, merging it seamlessly with the visuals, and there are some useful descriptions of what should go into the take-away document.

The value-add of Presentation Zen Design are sections on color, type, data and video and more specific tips and tricks on things like use of white space or putting together a color scheme.   Emphasis is on creating powerful visuals.  Wherever possible an emotionally charged image is substituted for text.   This is explained by references to Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind.  Many slides used as examples are by Duarte Design and there is a side note by Nancy Duarte.  We are rapidly nearing the point where class reading circles its wagons and becomes self-referential.

Some of the tips are very basic (e. g. making sure size of the images within the same slide is balanced, making sure that the text can be easily associated with the image), yet too many people ignore or are ignorant of even the basics. Others, like correct text/image placing, may be basic, but were news to me.

I feel that Presentation Zen Design  is more useful than Presentation Zen because many of the ideas (especially in the section on color) can be used for everyday presentations as well as for strategic presentations, however, the main focus of both books are strategic, life-altering presentations and the author does not seem to recognize the existence of any other kind.  At times, I was stricken with a powerful desire to see the author give an annual financials presentation to the board of a medium-sized bank.  He would probably try to substitute a report.  Boards like to have someone on hand to present and answer questions.  Another example of an orientation away from everyday presentation is the author’s insistence on the use of professional stock photos.  I have yet to work in a company that provides a budget for purchasing professional stock photos to most employees for most presentations.  Of course, no one would consider illegally using copyrighted images.

That said, reviewing even everyday presentations from the Zen approach is an unusual experience.  Try designing a presentation with a clear and deliberate intent.  Ignore existing slides, charts, and the corporate color scheme, starting from scratch and using a sketch pad before you approach a computer.  Try making a set of slides without bullet points, with ample white space, with a conscious use of color and shape balance.  Try ruthlessly to exclude everything inconsequential and to add meaningful, thought-out elements, explaining to yourself the intent behind each inclusion. You may not succeed, but you will be forced to think about what you are trying to say in a new way, and this freshness of thought will transfer to your speech.