Five tips for zentastic presentations

If you frequently make presentations and/or use power point often, this blog entry is for you! I recently facilitated several classes on Garr Reynolds book, Presentation Zen. His ideas are surprisingly simple and compelling, though rarely practiced in business today. Once I learned and applied the concepts, it is hard to imagine ever creating a presentation any other way. Garr brings a scientific and aesthetic discipline to a business tool we have long abused.

So, what’s the problem in the way we use power point, you might ask?  We are asking power point presentations to serve too many roles–to be visual support for key messages, to include our actual talking points and also be reference take-away documents for our audience.  Garr coins this problematic format, the “slidument.”  It’s part presentation and part document.

An April 26th, 2010 article in the New York Times, entitled  ”We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Power Point”  discusses the limitations and over-reliance on power point in the military and business in general. A great piece!

Below, I have provided a very high level overview of key points I took away from the book.

Five Tips on Your Way to Giving Zentastic Presentations

1. Get Offline – While it’s tempting to remain connected and responsive at all times, give yourself the gift of unplugging, whether it be in your commute to work, a walk around the block at lunch time or merely a fresh environment for thinking about an upcoming presentation, such as a library, coffee shop or even a conference room away from your computer.  In addition, keeping up with a hobby, whether it be playing music, practicing yoga or photography can also be a space for recharging and thinking more creatively in preparing for your talk.

2. Get Back to Basics.  Before you get too far ahead of your audience as an expert in your subject matter, it’s important to review basic, but all too often neglected questions, such as (e.g.,  Why is this topic important to my audience?,” “What is realistic in the time frame?” What is the most important message I want to convey?”)

2. Storyboard – Go analog on paper or a whiteboard.  First, allow yourself to brainstorm ideas; group similar ideas with one anothe; identify themes and  key messages as well as potential visuals and metaphors that could unify your presentation — all away from your power point application.  Find your own unique way to storyboard with pen and paper — it could be in the form of mind mapping, doodling or actually printing out blank power point slides with the notes section to visually draft your talk.

3. Create Balanced, Visual Slides. Our brains are wired to retain visual cues and consequently, your slides should contain modern, clean photos and graphics that merely supplement your talking points, which should only exist in the notes section of power point.  The book discusses a number of sources for high quality, free images. My favorite is morgue file (a morbid name, but a great source!)

4. Show RestraintOften, we include more words on a slide than is required.  Go back through your slides and eliminate all extra words and data that are not critical to your message.  Your presentation is not intended to be a stand alone document, and if it is created as such, then you are working yourself out of a job!  Should you want to provide your audience with more detailed information and data, create a separate handout or report like document, as a close out to your presentation.

5. Be in the Zone – At the end of the day, YOU are giving the presentation and your level of preparation, your stories and your passion are the most important ingredients for a successful presentation.  All the previous strategies are merely smarts steps for preparation.  All too often, we think we should be able to present off the cuff or with little preparation. However, just like a professional athlete who puts in countless hours to be in the zone, giving powerful presentations is an art form that requires a great deal of investment and a lot of practice.

If you are interested to further expose yourself to the specific design principles in this books, check out Garr’s blog and instructional design videos, Presentation Zen.