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Creating Successful Leaders

I talked about the importance of telling a story with your presentation a few weeks back.

This week I came across a book that adds more insight to this topic: Presentation Zen, by Garr Reynolds. Using the principles of Zen, Reynolds calls for an approach that covers the entire process of making a presentation, from preparation to delivery.

Most presentations are neither exciting nor inspiring. “The dull, text-filled slide approach is common and normal, but it is not effective,” says Reynolds. And I think he’s right. I can’t tell you how many presentations I’ve sat through where I had no idea what the main points were even a few days after the fact.

Presentation Zen is a more basic approach to giving presentations, i.e., less is more. Your slides aren’t giving the presentation for you, but serve as a visual reference for you to keep the talk in context and to entice the audience. The moment you begin relying on your slides to inform the audience with content is the moment you can be sure you’ve put your audience to sleep.

Reynolds thinks we should take on a minimal design for our presentation slides. Don’t clutter your slides with colors and pictures and “fun” moving images. All of this just makes visual noise and takes away from the main points. Instead, slides should point back to you, the speaker, for insight and clarification.

Sure, there are some cases where you’ll need to put statistics and data on your slides. But do so in a way that points back to you, the story-teller, the informer, otherwise the audience isn’t bound to remember why your pie chart was that important.

Reynolds three main points in the book are:

Restraint in preparation 

We tend to go overboard in the research and scope of our presentations. Hold back, focus the discussion, and trust the process.

Simplicity in design

Pictures and text are suggestions and visual cues to the main point of the presentation: what you have to say.

Naturalness in delivery

This part takes practice. It has to do with public speaking, with teaching, with telling a story. None of these things come naturally. Yet with practice, you can become comfortable being yourself before others.

Reynolds, Garr. “Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery.” Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2012.


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