This is one of the first books that piqued my interest in design and thinking about how information is presented. Particularly in presentations.
At the time this book was published, the first edition was in 2008, there was this saying going around “death by PowerPoint” or “presentation coma.” Of course, people were not just referring to PowerPoint, Apple’s Keynote was part of this conversation as well.
Where this idea of Presentation Zen began was when he was living in Japan and watching people use bento boxes for their lunch boxes – simple and fitting nicely together. The book is organized into five sections: Introduction; Preparation; Design; Delivery; and The next step.
Overview of the Book
Section One: Introduction
In the introduction, Garr Reynolds talks about presenting in today’s world and why we’ve come to state of overly formal, text-packed slide presentations. One of the reasons he discusses are the options presentation software provides for slide layout.
They are heavily geared towards bullets, text, and complex charts. This structured led to the notion of a standard what a standard slide deck should look like and what content should be included in it.
In this section, he also introduces what he calls the Presentation Approach. He is very clear that is an approach and not specific or structured method. Reynolds understands that how you designed a slide deck is dependent on the content and the audience you are presenting to.
The approach encompasses aspects like design, storytelling, creating meaning, being playful, and having empathy with your audience.
“Live talks today must tell a story enhanced by imagery and other forms of appropriate multimedia.”
- Garr Reynolds -
Section Two: Preparation
In the next section, Preparation, there are three chapters entitled Creativity, limitations and constraints; Planning analog; and Crafting the story.
In the first chapter, he centers on the idea that developing a presentation is an act of creativity and as part of this creation one should focus on simplicity, clarity, and brevity. To not view these as the enemy of creation but in fact an ally.
In the second chapter, he encourages the reader at this stage to step away from the computer and use pen and paper or marker and white board to brainstorm ideas.
The last chapter of this section concentrates on creating the story you will tell. Here again he mentions keeping things simple and to not over complicate the story. He suggests using examples and short stories, tapping into people’s emotions, and to remember that a presentation is never just about the facts.
Here he suggests taking your brainstorm of ideas and to cluster them together to identify an overall theme or message. Once you have your clusters, he then recommends using a storyboard to identify the order and flow of the ideas and ultimately your story.
“What is your main (core) point? Why does it matter? and If you audience remembers only one thing, what should it be?”
- Garr Reynolds -
Section Three: Design
Design is the next section and includes chapters titled: Simplicity: why it matters; Presentation design: principles and techniques; and Sample slides. This section starts bringing together the overall theory and planning into the actual creation of the slides.
A message throughout the book, the first chapter in the section is about simplicity. Here he goes into more detail about why it is important. While it “is powerful and leads to greater clarity…it is neither simple or easy to achieve.”
He reiterates that achieve simplicity is about removing content that isn’t essential and it helps to focus on the concepts of subtlety, grace, and understated elegance. This will help you find that balance between being too simple and too complex.
The next chapter gets into the heart of design and defines for the reader what empty space is and principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. He reiterates that visuals are better than bullet point but to not view them as decoration but as a way to more easily communicate your message.
The last chapter in this section is all about example of slide decks that use the principles discussed so far in the book. The slide decks shown provides a variety of ways content can be shown on a slide and how to create a theme and consistency throughout the entire deck.
“[While simplicity] “is powerful and leads to greater clarity…it is neither simple or easy to achieve.”
- Garr Reynolds -
Section Four: Delivery
In the section called Delivery, the two chapters center on being present or in the moment and connecting with your audience.
Up to the point of actually presenting you’ve been planning and even practicing but want to make sure you are not overly scripted. Being in the moment allows you to flexible, aware, and open to the dynamics of you and your audience.
The other chapter provides techniques on how to connect with the audience, which include have thing lights on (if in a large room), removing physical barriers like podiums, and using a wireless remote and microphone to allow yourself the ability move around.
Section Five: The next step
The last section and chapter, The next step: the journey begins, is encouragement to think of this a journey and learning experience. Every time you create a presentation in this way it will get easier and you will start feeling more comfortable. Best of all, your audiences will appreciate the time, effort, and most of all, the story.