Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Presentation zen?

I'm trying to carve out some time each week to look at my skills base. Tonight it's the humble presentation. A skill I've honestly worked hard at over the years. When I got my first job in publishing, I was terrified of even speaking in a meeting. I forced myself to practice, taking every opportunity to present internally and then externally. Now, even if I still get nervous, I can stand up and deliver a good presentation. I blogged about a really great event I went to last year, which has some great tips on good delivery. But tonight I'm reading all about the practice of 'presentation zen'.

Garr Reynolds, who is behind this particular learning phenomenon presents the case for the approach in a really attractive (appropriately) book published 2008 by New Riders (details on his website).

He refers to research from the University of South Wales which showed people can't read and listen at the same time. In other words, suggesting that powerpoint - with words up on the screen - wasn't a useful aide. Moreover Reynolds points to the bad habits people have fallen into with Powerpoint use.

The Zen presentation reflects balance, grace, beauty. It targets both side of our brains, with visual stimulation that forces a reaction from those viewing it. Importantly it stresses the need to break away from the series of bulleted text on every single slide. It begs us to think about our creative side. Tells us to get away from the computer and explore the shape of our narrative with flipcharts, or sticky notes, or just a notepad.

What that technique aims to do is refocus us away from the technology or tools, and move us back to the narrative we are trying to create. Clearing the clutter, if you will. It's about starting with the goal, and then figuring out how to get people there. Like any planning cycle, Zen presentations want you to step back and examine the big picture, decide what it is that is important, then focus on a clear and concise way to explain that through a well thought-out narrative.

I'm not going to summarise the whole book - otherwise you'd have no reason to visit Garr's website or read it yourself. But in short, the key take aways are

  • Simplicity: both message and design
  • Emotion: make both sides of the brain work hard
  • Storytelling: focus on the narrative.