alcramer [Alfredo Cramerotti]

Presentation Zen Reloaded

Posted in Uncategorized by alcramer on March 5, 2010


this is a post by Mark McGuinness about the book ‘Presentation Zen’ orginallty posted here

How many of us can honestly say we look forward to another PowerPoint presentation? ‘Death by PowerPoint’ is so common it’s become a cliche, conjuring up images of endless slides full of bullet points in a font just too small to read – so the presenter spends eternity 30 minutes with his head craned backwards over his shoulder, reading the text to us in a monotone.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Would you believe me if I told you PowerPoint can be a very creative medium to work in? Or that I look forward using PowerPoint (or Keynote on my Mac) whenever I have a new presentation to put together?

How would you like to not only overcome any nervousness about presenting, but to enjoy using PowerPoint as an expression of your creativity — and an opportunity to wow your audience?

Here’s a book that will help you do just that.

Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds

As the name suggests, Presentation Zen is about presenting with simplicity, authenticity and presence. If I were a manager, I wouldn’t allow anyone to have PowerPoint installed on their computer until they had read this book. It’s that important.

The book and the fabulous Presentation Zen blog grew out of Garr Reynolds’ frustration with the ‘death by PowerPoint’ approach. Presentation Zen offers its solution in three stages:

  1. Preparation
  2. Design
  3. Presentation

1. Preparation

Moleskine notebook and penPhoto by Amir K

Garr makes the often-overlooked point that there is more to a presentation than PowerPoint slides — and we may not need them at all. The main reason most presentations are so mediocre is that we don’t stop to consider what we really want to say, and how we can best communicate it to our audience.

So instead of rushing to fire up PowerPoint and start typing bullets, Garr encourages us to leave the computer alone and start by Planning Analog – asking ourselves important questions and scribbling down the answers on paper or a whiteboard:

Who is the audience?
What’s their background?
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’s the story here?
What is my absolutely central point?

Once you have the answers to these questions, time to start Crafting the Story. Why is storytelling important?

Good presentations include stories. The best presenters today illustrate the points with stories, often personal ones. The easiest way to explain complicated ideas is through examples or by sharing a story that underscores the point. Stories are easier to recall for your audience.

I know exactly what Garr means. When I first started giving presentations, about 10 years ago, I realised pretty quickly that what my audience responded to most strongly was the stories I told. And it was no coincidence that as soon as I became immersed in telling a story, I became animated and full of enthusiasm.

Stories are engaging and memorable because they present ideas via a human situation — usually involving some kind of drama or struggle and its resolution. They arouse powerful emotions in the presenter and audience — which makes them motivating as well as memorable.

If I could only offer one piece of advice while coaching someone to be a better presenter, it would be: tell a story that means something to you. It could be from your own experience, but it doesn’t have to be. If a story resonates for you personally, that will come across when you tell it for your audience.

2. Design

If — and it’s a big ‘if’ — you’re going to use slides to accompany your presentation, you can stand out from the vast majority of presenters by adopting Garr’s radically simple approach to slide design.

Here’s a slide I made a few years ago:

Slide with text about intrinsic motivation in a boring font.

I trust that makes it clear I’m not a graphic designer. :-)

In my defence, the slide isn’t covered with an overwhelming amount of text – but Garr made me realise that slides like this were of more value to me than they were to my audience.

Here’s what I did with that slide when I talked about the same subject in a recent presentation:

Photo of Iggy Pop on stagePhoto by aleksey.const

It’s not perfect, but there’s no question which slide will make a bigger impression on an audience.

Notice how the words on the second slide have been reduced to the bare minimum. The image is the most important element – it should illustrate the presenter’s words in an engaging and memorable way. The second slide has more impact because of Garr’s principle of Amplification through Simplification(My note: this brings us back to the Simplicity post earleier in this blog)

As I say, I’m not a graphic designer but I’ve learned a huge amount about slide design from Garr, including:

  • why you should include as little text as possible
  • how to avoid using bullet points (on slides, not blog posts :-) )
  • the importance of empty space
  • enhancing design using contrast, alignment, repetition, and proximity

Since adopting these principles, I regularly see the words ‘Great slides!’ on feedback forms after my seminars. A trained graphic designer would obviously be able to improve on my efforts, but Garr and Seth Godin have shown me that producing attractive slides is within my reach. And if a wordsmith like me can do it, so can you.

Where can you find images to use in your presentations? Garr recommends, a website where you can license high-quality images for a few dollars/pounds each. I use iStockphoto a lot and second his recommendation — it offers a wide range of clean and clear images of just about anything you can imagine.

My only criticism of iStockphoto is that the images can be a bit corporate and antiseptic — if you want something a little edgier (and free) then read Skellie’s fantastic tutorial on using Creative Commons images from Flickr. Once you’ve got the hang of that, I recommend Compfight, an excellent way to search for Creative Commons licensed images.

3. Delivery


Counterintuitively, the section on presentation delivery is the shortest in Presentation Zen — with good reason. If you’ve done a good job of preparing a presentation on designing your slides, most of the problems associated with presenting will have melted away.

The principles that will make your presentation memorable to an audience will also make it easy for you to remember it — so you won’t need the crutch of having all your notes crammed onto your slides in bullet points. As soon as you see the image on each slide, it will trigger the stories and ideas associated with it. And if you’ve chosen good stories to tell, you’ll be brimming with enthusiasm and ready to share them with your audience — transforming your stage nerves into excited anticipation.

So Garr focuses on the two things that are absolutely essential when you take the stage:

  1. Being in the Moment. It doesn’t matter if you fluff your lines or forget one of your examples. It doesn’t matter if the slides down look quite right on the projector, or your video doesn’t work. But it does matter if you spend your precious time on stage worrying about these things instead of being present in the moment. When you are present, easy to be yourself, to be relaxed and spontaneous — and if necessary, to improvise. Presence is what brings the real magic into your performance.
  2. Connecting with the Audience. You are not there to transfer information to your audience. You could do that via e-mail. You are there to connect with them on an emotional level and inspire them with the importance of what you are telling them. More than that — to prompt them to go away and do something about it. Otherwise why bother turning up?

I’ve screwed up all kinds of things during presentations — forgetting key points, tripping over cables, pressing the wrong button and causing the slideshow to vanish. I’ve even turned up to discover that the topic I’d been briefed on and had diligently prepared was completely irrelevant to the people in front of me. My experience is that an audience will forgive all of these things as long as you are fully present and sincerely committed to giving them something of value.

So prepare thoroughly — but be prepared to tear up your scripts and improvise a completely new presentation from scratch. I’ve done this, and it was surprisingly well-received — not because it was a perfect presentation (far from it) but because the audience could see me making an effort to help them with their real needs. They joined in and helped me out — and I found I wasn’t giving a presentation to an audience, it was something we were creating together.

Follow the principles in Presentation Zen, and you can expect to make a similar connection with your audience. The best part? You’ll all be having a lot more fun while you learn.

Thanks  Mark,  Thanks Garr.  Grateful for this. A :-)

On Project Making

Posted in Tools.Coaching by alcramer on November 12, 2007

I’ll try here to outline a few basic facts for setting a creative project, like an exhibition, a research, or a writing piece. Being just only an outline, each single point has to be developed, broadened and deepened as much as you can, and linked with your attitude and experience in dealing with the subject. Let’s start:

1. Take upon only ONE project at the time. You might have many brilliant ideas, but make an effort in asking yourself which are the more urgent and important for you, and which, for instance, can bring you a financial fee, or a further step in a commission.

2. Once you have chosen the subject and the form your project will have, compare and couple your expectations with A) your budget and B) your deadline. Reverse your idea: money and time constraints are not limits, rather possibilities. They are powerful tools to get you focused.

3. To structure your project, you must go from the simplicity of the original idea (probably just an intuition, or a single-line image), to a whole complexity of inputs: lateral thoughts, external links, people feedback, practical and intellectual consequences, additional researches, etc. This process – to be contained in your time-frame – will make you relatively confident of your knowledge, and will give you different perspectives on the subject. After that, you have to re-compress your material into one, single, high-impact simplicity of expression, in which your work re-gain a goal within a system.

4. Execute your project to a completion, including details, feedback and final evaluation, within the reasonable time-set you planned in advance.

5. In your execution:

– Use simple words, in a direct way. No jargon.

– Be synthetic in your communication to partners and public. Attention requires brevity.

– Make an effort to TELL something, not just to present it. Be sure the structure of your project is clear and follows a logical course, or give the tools to understand if it’s illogical. No concepts or displays understandable only to their creators.

– Do not underestimate your public. Give them a topic which is valid and open to the dialogue, with you and among them. Offer great value for the audience’s time and interest. They could easily not come back if you are delivering poor content and/or form, and you’ll never get them again.

– Offer the audience something to bring home with them. It doesn’t have to be expensive, or cutting-edge: even a well-design leaflet, a postcard, an Internet address, a printed title on a string of paper. A bit of marketing doesn’t harm anybody, without exaggeration.

6. When you approach the next project, understand it as a whole body of knowledge, and not as a task, or assignment you have to make. This is fundamental also for activity like administration, fund-raising, or preparatory work.

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