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Eric Kuhn on PresentationZen by Garr Reynold December 10, 2009

Posted by eskuhn in Presentation Zen, [Books] Visualization & Presentation.
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99% of presentations suck.

At least that’s what serial entrepreneur turned investor Guy Kawasaki says. And he’s right. Don’t deny it. You’ve seen these presentations, you don’t remember them, you might have even fallen asleep during them. And what’s worse: you’ve given them. So have I

But don’t worry, it’s time for penance. It’s time to right the wrongs of decks past.

Rarely have I picked up so much so quickly from a book than I have from PresentationZen. Built on the work of Nancy Duarte and Edward Tufte, this book is packed with advice on how to NOT bore people to death during your presentations.

“Our lives are frittered away by detail; simplify, simplify.”

The first lesson of PresentationZen is to keep things simple. That slideument you gave at the end of last summer’s internship? Never Again. And this time, they might actually remember it.

There are three stages:
1) Prepare
First, start with a beginner’s mind. Pretend you’ve never been given that corporate template. What do you want to say? What’s the best way to say it?
Secondly, step away from the computer. Go analog. Pen, whiteboard, crayons, whatever you want to use to dump the thoughts in your head, use it. Get it all out.
Thirdly, organize these thoughts in a storyboard, frame by frame. Fit what you can fit in these boxes. That’s all you’re going to use in your presentation.
Lastly, be sure to answer one very important question: “So What?”
2) Design
Garr Reynolds gives some great slide design advice, and I advise you to read the book if you’d like to learn the most. From signal-to-noise ratio to optimizing white space, the images in the book will help the design of your slides communicate far more effectively.
3) Deliver
People came to see one thing: You. If the presentation can stand on its own, why are you there? Designing your words and actions to supplement the deck are just as if not more important than the slides you just created. So show up!


A picture is worth how many words? December 10, 2009

Posted by Graham Pingree in Presentation Zen.
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Garr Reynolds tackles the subject of PowerPoint in his book, and introduces an approach (distinguished from a process or methodology, which tend to follow more strictly delineated steps and guidelines) to creating better presentations. While I found the use of Zen as a referent and framework a little kitschy and contrived, I found several useful messages in Reynolds’ writings, the most potent of which I make note of below:

  1. He begins by noting that PPT presentations are distinct from documents, and meant to be visual signposts accompanying and underscoring the major points of a talk. He insists that the slides of a presentation should not be distributed to the audience, as their meaning is necessarily derived from the words that the presenter uses to tell his/her story. In the event of a particularly data-rich presentation, Reynolds suggests leaving behind a document of charts/graphs/text, but notes that PPT isn’t the ideal option for building such a stand-alone piece.
  2. He suggests the creative process of framing and mapping the presentation should be performed completely away from a computer (“going analogue”), in a solitary environment if possible. I found the practice of building a deck using paper and pen was liberating, even though my end-product reminded me of the scribbling of schizophrenic John Nash (Russell Crowe) in A Beautiful Mind. I found the solitude Reynolds recommends was consistent with the incubation period described in Design Thinking, allowing time to ruminate on what’s effective and what’s not.
  3. Reynolds continually returns to the idea of restraint and simplicity as keys to engaging presentations. He suggested the presenter should constantly return to the central question: “What’s my point? Why does it matter?” I found a rigorous focus on the central theme helped me eliminate extraneous material, streamlining my thoughts and better capturing the major point of my presentation.
  4. He mentioned a few stylistic suggestions for actual slide layout that I found helpful – most were fairly intuitive, but a useful reminder when preparing a presentation:
    1. Contrast is crucial, be sure the different elements of your slide are visually distinct
    2. Repetition is OK, and helps focus on the audience on the most important points
    3. Empty space is good when used appropriately
    4. Connecting with the audience is key, so anecdotes and stories are very powerful

Preparation, design and delivey December 9, 2009

Posted by Ignacio Larrain in Presentation Zen.
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Presentation Zen is a very colorful book. It has several examples on how to apply the concepts that are presented making it dynamic and easy to assimilate.

The idea is that behind every good presentation there is a process, made up of three major stages: Preparation, Design and Delivery . This process requires specific tools on each stage. If we fail in any one of these stages, then the whole presentation is in danger.

Here are a couple of interesting takeaways from each step:


The idea is to focus on three questions to drive the flow of the presentation.

  • What is the main point of the presentation?
  • Why does it matter to the audience?
  • If the audience will remember only one thing, what should it be?

Some concepts that help in this stage are:

  • Get back to see the big picture
  • Go analog: get away from the computer and take time to think
  • Do not be afraid of restrictions, they can help you stick to the core messages
  • Keep it simple
  • Think of examples and stories
  • Play with people’s emotions


Keep presentations simple by reducing the non-essentials. Also, pursue grace, elegance and subtlety.

The following is a list of principles and techniques that can be applied for these purposes:

  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio: A higher ratio means communicating clearly with as little degradation to the message as possible. Degradation can occur when we use inappropriate charts, ambiguous labels and icons, emphasize items such as lines, shapes and symbols that do not play a key role in supporting the message.
  • Picture Superiority Effect: Use images! And be thoughtful that those images are of good quality and related to the core message.
  • Empty Space: Do not feel the urge to fill empty spaces in a slide. Empty space implies elegance and clarity, and it can convey a feeling of high quality, sophistication, and importance.
  • The big four: Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. These principles speak for themselves and are very effective in the design step.


For this stage there are three main things we have to acknowledge:

  • Be in full presence when presenting, as if you were in a conversation
  • Mistakes may happen – just leave them behind
  • PREPARE: it is the only way to gain confidence and to look easy and natural

Presentation Zen December 7, 2009

Posted by Hernan Haro in Presentation Zen, [Books] Visualization & Presentation.
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Garr Reynolds wrote this great book that explains a very effective and minimalistic approach to how to build compelling presentations. It places the presenter in the center of the action, and emphasizes the importance of delivery. In the ends, the presenter is the ultimate reason why the audience is there. If they could get all the information from the slides alone, would it be more effective to send them over email so everyone can read them at his/her own pace?

To help structure the message Garr proposes to reuse the acronym SUCCESs, borrowed from “Made to Stick“. SUCCESs stands for simplicity, unexpectedness, credibility, concreteness, emotions and story. Most audiences have a very short attention span, so it is up to the presenter to find the right way to get the message across. Keeping the presentation simple is fundamental. If you try to communicate too much you are likely to end up communicating nothing. You must know what is the basic and most fundamental idea you want to communicate, otherwise your presentation won’t be clear enough and your audience will just NOT get it. The element of surprise is invaluable. Say the unexpected and your audience will listen to you, state the obvious and you will lose them. Build credibility to make your points stronger and be concrete. Saying one million people live in poverty is not as effective as showing a picture and saying: “John every day has to feed his family with less than what any of us spent in coffee this morning”. This example also appeals to emotions, and can help you build a story. We all love stories, tell stories, and – most important – remember stories. In the early days, societies used to transfer knowledge through stories. Stories have been passed on for centuries from one generation to another. Some companies are also realizing of the power of the stories, and including them as part of their knowledge management efforts. Building solid, concrete, emotional stories in your presentations is a safe way to be sure your audience will remember the message.

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

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