Book Review: Presentation Zen

Presentation Zen99 percent of PowerPoint presentation sucks. So begins Presentation Zen with an introduction from Guy Kawasaki. Or I should say, the book opens with a presentation from Kawasaki. Before getting to business, author Garr Reynolds explains that Presentation Zen is an approach not a method.

Don’t count on getting step one, two, three from this book. That would fall under method. An approach provides guidelines and direction. Reynolds looks back at the history of PowerPoint along with experts’ slamming the software. People forget that PowerPoint is a tool not a method. The templates, however, may be partially at fault for the bad PowerPoint-based presentations we see today. Anyone using them to replace the templates’ words with their own has already killed the presentation.

So Reynolds says we can keep PowerPoint, but we need to dump the templates and their bulleted lists. Instead, presenters need to go for the right brain and left brain instead of leaning on one or the other.

The book splits into three parts: preparation, design, and delivery. Preparation explores creativity, limitations, and starting work on the presentation AWAY from the computer (“planning analogy” as Reynolds calls it) using pen and paper, sticky notes or whiteboards. Reynolds shows how stories and examples can help make your ideas sticky with your audience.

He also encourages practicing restraint. It’s too easy for us to fall into the trap of using clich├ęs — not just in words, but in visuals like two hands shaking in front of the globe. Don’t do it. Just don’t. It’s been done and no longer sticks with people. Here the book discusses the use of storyboards, and that’s where the Beyond Bullet Points approach comes in. Reynolds’ book gives you the how and why at a high-level while BBP gets down to the details.

In design, Reynolds takes the reader on a trip in achieving simplicity, which we know doesn’t come easy. Here, the Zen principles enter the book as Reynolds covers simplicity (kanso), naturalness (shizen) and elegance (shibumi). Rather than adding to the clutter, try removing things from a slide to simplify the message.

I love chapter six because it contains many example slides — before and after so you can see the power of changing slides from noisy to simple. I learn well from examples and this chapter covers every aspect including balance, empty space, repetition, contrast and more. I value this chapter because it provides a variety of examples covering different topics while chapter seven examples come from other people’s presentations — some you might recognize such as Shift Happens.

The rest of the book offers suggestions on the giving of the presentation. After all, the slides act as an accessory to the presentation. If they’re the presentation and contain the whole thing, then cancel it and send the slides to the attendees. Save them a trip and a boring presentation.

Presentation Zen as a whole combines many of the expertise we’ve seen or heard over the years from other experts. So it’s nice to get it in one little book. I’ve heard some of the ideas and comments, but I also pick up new ones (new to me).

The little book contains a neat little package that will help readers throughout the presentation process from beginning with an idea to ending with applause. It’ll serve well as a reference or a read from front to back and later referencing. It won’t work as the only tool as it only focuses on approach. Some folks need more than that to create a successful presentation.

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