On Presentation Zen

I just finished reading Presentation Zen – Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery – by Garr Reynolds.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “If we desire to communicate with more clarity, integrity, beauty, and intelligence, then we must move beyond what is considered to be  “normal” to something different and far more effective. The principles I am most mindful of through every step of the presentation process are restraint, simplicity, and naturalness: Restraint in preparation. Simplicity in design. Naturalness in delivery. All of which, in the end, lead to greater clarity for us and for our audience.”

2- “Not all presentation situations are appropriate for using multimedia. For example, if you have a small audience and data-intensive materials to discuss, a handout of the materials with a give-and-take discussion is usually more appropriate. There are many situations when a whiteboard or flipcharts or a paper with detailed figures make for better support. Each case is different. The discussions in this book, however, center among those presentations when multimedia is a good fit with your unique situation.”

3- “Design. Story. Symphony. Empathy. Play. Meaning. Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind gives us the context of the new world we’re living in and why “high touch” talents—and that includes exceptional presentation skills—are so important today. Professionals today around the globe need to understand how and why the so-called right-brain aptitudes of design, story, symphony, empathy, play. and meaning are more important than ever. The best presentations of our generation will be created by professionals—engineers as well as CEOs and “creatives”—who have strong “whole mind” aptitudes and talents. These are not the only aptitudes needed by the modern presenter, but mastering these talents along with other important abilities such as strong analytical skills will take you far as a communicator in the “conceptual age.””

4- “You can wreck a communication process with lousy logic or unsupported facts, but you can’t complete it without emotion. Logic is not enough. Communication is the transfer of emotion.”

5- “Once you realize that the preparation of a presentation is an act requiring creativity, not merely the assembling of facts and data in a linear fashion, you’ll see that preparing a presentation is a “whole-minded” activity that requires as much right-brain thinking as it does left-brain thinking. In fact, while your research and background work may have required much logical analysis, calculation, and careful evidence gathering or so-called left-brain thinking, the transformation of your content into presentation form will require that you exercise much more of your so-called right brain.”

6- “Life is about living with limitations and constraints of one type or another but constraints are not necessarily bad, in fact they are helpful, even inspiring as they challenge us to think differently and more creatively about a particular problem. While problems such as a sudden request to give a 20-minute sales pitch or a 45-minute overview of our research findings have built-in limitations—such as time, tools, and budget—we can increase our effectiveness by stepping back, thinking long and hard, and determining ways we can set our own parameters and constraints as we set out to prepare and design our next presentation with greater clarity, focus, balance, and purpose.”

7- “One of the most important things you can do in the initial stage of preparing for your presentation is to get away from your computer. A fundamental mistake people make is spending almost the entire time thinking about their talk and preparing their content while sitting in front of a computer screen. Before you design vour presentation, you need to see the big picture and Identify your core messages-or the single core message. This can be difficult unless you create a stillness of  mind for yourself, something which is hard to do while puttering around in slideware.”

8- “Questions We Should Be Asking…• How much time do I have? • What’s the venue like? • ^hat time of the day? • Who is the audience? • What’s their background? What do they expect of me (us) Why was I asked to speak? What do I want them to do? What visual medium is most appropriate for this particular situation and audience? What is the fundamental purpose of my talk? What’s the story here? • And this is the most fundamental question of all. Stripped down to its essential core: What is my absolutely central point? Or put it this way: If the audience could remember only one thing (and you’ll be lucky if they do), what do you want it to be?”

9- “Two Questions: What’s Your Point? Why Does It Matter?”

10- “If you remember that there are three components to your presentation—the slides, your notes, and the handout—then you will not feel the need to place so much information (text, data, etc.) in your slides. Instead, you can place that information in your notes (for the purpose of rehearsing or as a backup “just in case”) or in the handout.”

11- “Here’s a quick summary of the six principles from Made to Stick that you should keep in mind when crystallizing your ideas and crafting your messages for speeches, presentations, or any other form of communication.

1) Simplicity. If everything is important, then nothing is important. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. You must be ruthless in your efforts to simplify—not dumb down—your message to its absolute core…

2) Unexpectedness. You can get people’s interest by violating their expectations. Surprise people. Surprise will get their interest. But to sustain their interest, you have to stimulate their curiosity. The best way to do that is to pose questions or open holes in people’s knowledge and then fill those holes…

3) Concreteness. Use natural speech and give real examples with real tilings, not abstractions. Speak of concrete images, not of vague notions. Proverbs are good, say the Heath brothers, at reducing abstract concepts to concrete, simple, but powerful (and memorable) language…

4) Credibility. If you are famous in your field, you may have built-in credibility (but even that does not go as far as it used to). Most of us, however, do not have that kind of credibility, so we reach for numbers and cold hard data to support our claims as market leaders and so on…

5) Emotions. People are emotional beings. It is not enough to take people a laundry list of talking points and information on your slides—you must make them feel something…

6) Stories. We tell stories ail day long. It’s how humans have always communicated. We tell stories with our words and even with our art and music. We express ourselves through the stories we share. We teach, we learn, and we grow through stories…”

12- “What made this CEO’s presentation so compelling and memorable was that it was, above all, authentic. His stories were from his heart and from his gut. not from a memorized script. We do not tell a story from memory alone; we do not need to memorize a story that has meaning to us. If it is real, then it is in us. Based on our I research, knowledge, and experience, we can’ tell it from our gut. Internalize your story, but do I not memorize it line by line. You can’t fake it. I you do not, no amount of hyped-up, superficial enthusiasm or conviction will ever make your time with an audience meaningful. If you do not believe it, do not know it to be true, how can you J connect and convince others with your words in story form? Your words will be just hollow words.”

13- “Below is the four-step approach I usually take…Step 1 Brainstorming. Step back, go analog, get away from the computer, tap into the right brain and brainstorm ideas. do not edit ideas much here: the aim is to just let it flow. I explore. It may be messy. That’s OK. What I’m tying to do—whether I am working alone or leading a group—is to see the issue from all sides. But to do that, you have to take a step back and see the big picture…Step 2 Grouping & identifying the core. In this step, I look to identify the one key idea that is central (and memorable) from the point of view of the audience. What is the “it” that I want them to get? I use “chunking” to group similar ideas while looking for a unifying theme. The presentation may be organized into three parts, so first I look for the central theme that will be the thread running through the presentation. There is no rule that says your presentation should have three sections or three “acts” from the world of drama. However, three is a good number to aim for because it is a manageable constraint and generally provides a memorable structure…Step 3 Storyboarding off the computer. 1 take the ideas sketched out on paper in Step 2 and lay them out with Post-it notes. The advantage of this method (compared to the Slide Sorter view in PowerPoint or the Light Table view in Keynote) is that i can easily add content by writing on an additional Post-it and sticking  it under the appropriate section without ever losing sight of the structure and flow…Step 4 storyboarding in Slide Sorter/Light Table view. If you have a clear sense of your structure, you can skip Step 3 and start building the flow of your presentation directly in slideware.”

14- “When I use the word simple (or simplicity), 1 am referring to the term as being essentially synonymous with clarity, directness, subtlety, essentialness and minimalism. Designers, such as interaction designers, for example, are constantly looking for the simplest solution to complex problems. The simple solutions are not necessarily easiest for them, but the results may end up being the “easiest” to use for the end user. The best visuals are often ones designed with an eye toward simplicity. Yet, this says nothing about the specifics of a visual presentation. That will depend on the content and context.”

15- “General Design Principles:

1) The Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) is a principle borrowed from more technical fields such as radio communications and electronic communication in general, but the principle itself is applicable to design and communication problems in virtually any field. For our purposes, the SNR is the ratio of relevant to irrelevant elements or information in a slide or other display. The goal is to have the highest signal-to-noise ratio possible in your slides…

2) The picture superiority effect says that pictures are remembered better than words, especially when people are casually exposed to the information and the exposure is for a very limited time…

3) Empty space (also called negative space or white space) is a concept that is supremely simple, yet the most difficult for people to apply. Whether people are designing a document or a slide, the urge to fill empty areas with more elements is just too great. One of the biggest mistakes that typical business people make with presentation slides (and documents as well) is going out of their way to seemingly use every centimeter of space on a page, filling it up nth text, boxes, clip art, charts, footers, and the ubiquitous company logo. Empty space implies elegance and clarity. This is true with graphic design. but you can see the importance of space (both visual and physical) in the context of, say, interior design as well. High-end brand shops are always designed to create as much open space as possible. Empty space can convey a feeling of high quality, sophistication, and importance…

4) Contrast simply means difference. And for whatever reason—perhaps our brains think they are still back in the savannah scanning for wild predators—we are all wired to notice differences. We are not conscious of it, but we are scanning and looking for similarities and differences all the time. Contrast is what we notice, and it’s what gives a design its energy. So you should make elements that are not the same clearly different, not just slightly different…

5) The principle of repetition simply means the reusing of the same or similar elements throughout your design. Repetition of certain design elements in a slide or among a deck of slides will bring a clear sense of unity, consistency, and cohesiveness. Where contrast is about showing differences, repetition is about subtly using elements to make sure the design is viewed as being part of a larger whole.

6) The whole point of the alignment principle is that nothing in your slide design should look as if it were placed there randomly. Every element is connected visually via an invisible line. Where repetition is more concerned with elements cross a deck of slides, alignment is about obtaining unity among elements of a single slide.

7) The principle of proximity is about moving things closer or farther apart to achieve a more organized look. The principle says that related items should be grouped together so that they will be viewed as a group, rather than as several unrelated elements. Audiences will assume that items that are not near each other in a design are not closely related. Audiences will naturally tend to group similar items that are near to each other into a single unit.”

16) “Technical training is important, but technical training is something acquired and will always have the feel of artificiality unless one has the proper state of mind. “Unless the mind which avails itself of the technical skill somehow attunes itself to a state of the utmost fluidity or mobility,” says Suzuki, “anything acquired or superimposed lacks spontaneity of natural growth.” In this sense, I think instructors and books can help us become better at presenting well, but ultimately, like many other performance arts, it must grow within us.”

17) “These precepts offer good advice for delivering effective presentations: (1) Carefully observe oneself and one’s situation, carefully observe others, and carefully observe one’s environment. (2) Seize the initiative in whatever you undertake. (3) Consider fully, act decisively. (4) Know when to stop. (5) Keep to the middle. These are wise words indeed, but these are not “effective presentation principles” at all, they are Jigoro Kano’s Five Principles of Judo as outlined by John Stevens in Budo Secrets (Shambhala; New Ed edition).”

18) “Professional entertainers know that you want to end on a high note and leave the audience yearning for just a bit more from you. We want to leave our audiences satisfied (motivated, inspired, more knowledgeable, etc.), but not feeling that they could have done with just a little less. We can apply this spirit to the length and amount of material we put into a presentation as well. Give them high quality—the highest you can—but do not give them so much quantity that you leave them with their heads spinning and guts aching.”

19) “The first step down the road to becoming a great presenter is simply seeing—really seeing- that that which passes for normal and ordinary and good enough is off-kilter with how we learn, understand, remember, and engage. No matter what your starting point is today, you can become much better. In fact, you can become extraordinary. I know this is true because I have seen it many times before. I have worked with professionals—young and old—who believed that they were not particularly creative, charismatic, or dynamic, and yet with a little help they were able to transform themselves into extremely creative, highly articulate, engaging presenters once they realized that that person—that remarkable presenter—was in them already. Once they opened their eyes and made the commitment to learn and leave the past behind, it was just a matter of time before great progress was visible. Interestingly, as their confidence grew and they became more effective presenters, their newly found confidence and perspective had a remarkable impact on other aspects of their personal and professional lives.”

Regards,

Omar Halabieh

Presentation Zen

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