Presentation Zen

PresenationZenThis book reaffirmed what I believe from a design perspective.  Simplicity, simplicity. The book itself is beautiful, just what you would expect from a book on design. Gorgeous pictures and lots of white space. 


Living in the world of corporate IT, there is a constant push to put complex diagrams and a exhaustive text on each and every slide.  Garr confirms my belief that if your whole message is on your slides, then there is no need for a presentation or even you.  You can simply hand out your slides or provide a CD of the slides to the attendees – no meeting or presentation session needed. This is of course what many of us do at the IT conferences we attend.  Just pick up the CD and locate the presentation you missed, and review the slides.  Most of the time you’ve gotten the whole message in 10 minutes, why bother attending a sleep inducing 60 minute presentation.  


Garr’s book is full of wonderful suggestions and tips for creating presentations that support you as a presenter ensuring people are listening to you, and not just reading your slides. Knowing that it is difficult to process both verbal and written information at the same time, Garr suggest that you keep the content on your slides to a minimum in order for your audience to listen to you.  He’s taken Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint to a new level. [The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint: a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.  — Read more: “How to Change the World: The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint“]


I have seen many presentations given by folks who are not comfortable in front an audience and their presentation is their crutch.  With all their content on the slides they don’t have to remember the message or the flow, they allow the presentation to guide them.  PowerPoint has allowed our talented professionals to neglect the art of public speaking.  Although Garr’s book is primarily about the design of slides, he is suggesting you lean on your story and speaking skills, and only use your slides to support your message. Even going as far as to say you should be able to do your presentation without your slides.  Wow.  This is quite the radical concept in the world of corporate IT introverts.  This is always impressive when it happens. 


The most common objection to the “less-is-more” approach is that there is no take-away.  Garr’s suggestion that I am a huge fan of is to create a separate hand-out.  Oh my word, an actual document! Not a “slidument” the ever so awkward combination of slides and document.  In my career I have written many documents to accompany my presentations, mostly due the process by which I work.  I am a writer, so I often write out my message first then create the slides to support it.   The concept of a separate hand-out allows you to provide more support and back up data.  Of course this requires additional work and assumes the presenter truly knows their topic.


The artist in me detests the lack of unity in most presentations that use a mix-match of clip-art.  Bad clip art is worse than no images.  And please, please no cheesey animations.  The best use of animation I have seen is when it is used to build a slide as you talk to the points.  But no sound effects, not swooshing and swirling objects, it is very distracting and so juvenile. The book also turned me on to a great site,  Love the site, a wonderful source for low cost photos and artwork to compliment your presentation. 


Garr also suggest that when you are planning your presentation, you start with analog brainstorming; pen and paper.  Another concept that I fully support.  Designing your presentation before outlining or “storyboarding” your message is very difficult.  The concept of storyboarding has really enhanced my slide presentation process. Like before, I start with an outline, which can then be developed into a hand-out.  I storyboard the presentation.  This allows me to consider each of the main points of the presentation, hopefully less than 10, and then developing 1-2 slides for each main point.  This keeps the number of slides to a minimum.    Only after I have the outline and the analog storyboard do I open up PowerPoint.  The storyboard along with my new friends at iStockphoto allows me to create a beautiful presentation that compliments my message. [check out my presentation planning worksheet]


The book also provides a few great tips regarding the art of presenting.  There are definitely more books out there on this topic. [“Presenting to Win” by Jerry Weissman, and “The Articulate Executive” by Granville Toogood] Garr’s tips are important and further drive home the concept that the audience should be looking at you and not reading your slides. A few great ones are;

  • keep the lights on during your presentation – let them see you,
  • and invest in a wireless remote – so you can move out from behind the podium.

The book has created a mini-movement with me and a few colleagues, we keep our presentations as Zen as possible.  There are also the knowing glances as we see those overcrowded slides in other presentations. There’s a bit of competition to find the best photo to accompany the message.  Thanks Garr for adding a bit of creative spirit to my work day!


An absolute must-read for anyone creating presentations, join the movement and commit to never do a presentation with content overkill!


For extra inspiration, check out the Presentation Zen blog.



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