Monday, June 01, 2009

Synopsis: Presentation Zen (Introduction)

Here's a weird bit of research: people find it more difficult to process information if it's delivered to them verbally and in writing at the same time. That means that most Powerpoint presentations (*) actively interfere with how people actually learn and communicate.

* The stereotypical 'speaker reciting from the bullet-pointed list on the slide right in front of them'.

This is one of the starting points for the book I'm reading; Presentation Zen is about making better presentations - ones that help you communicate more effectively (or at least not bore your audience). This is something I've been interested in for a while; it ties into one of the potential new things I'm going to do.

Designing a presentation is a creative act

A presentation involves transforming facts or opinions into a story. I haven't read very much of Presentation Zen yet, but I suspect this is going to be one of the fundamental principles of its approach.

And now I think about it, that transformation can be applied to a lot of things: advertising, editorialising, propaganda. Reflecting on it, I realise that makes me a little uneasy: communicating in order to share your insights is something I'm fine with; communicating in order to persuade the audience brings up memories of feeling manipulated. I guess presentations can have an ethical dimension to them.

The author, Garr Reynolds, suggests that the first thing to do when given the opportunity to create a presentation is to slow down. Take the opportunity to think about what is important and what isn't. This leads into ideas of:
  • Restraint (in preparation)
  • Simplicity (of design)
  • Naturalness (of presentation)
Reynolds suggests that applying these three principles will lead to greater clarity in your presentation. I'm about to reach the point in the book where he explores the first of these: restraint.


BubbaJay said...

Having spent too many hours of my life suffering 'Death by Powerpoint' the difference between a good presentation and a bad presentation is simply understanding how speak to your audience.

Related note, Saatchi and Saatchi hired a consultant a few years ago to improve workplace efficiency. The consultant recommended removing Powerpoint from every ones computers.

hix said...

Exactly the point the author ends up making.

hix said...

'Knowing how to speak to your audience', as opposed to 'Deleting Powerpoint'.

Although he also asks readers to seriously consider whether they need powerpoint to support their talk, or whether it would be stronger just coming straight from them.

Mashugenah said...

In terms of manipulation... I think that's inevitable, isn't it? Facts are always parsed through a subjective prism.

I've been to a lot of math-heavy technical presentations, as well as your garden-variety infotainment, and one thing I've noticed is that even when discussing abtruse mathematics, a story and a perspective creep into the best presentations.

I also tend to think that we, as a society, accept passive information transfer where we should be demanding that things be interrogated. When I listen to a speaker, I'm never just casually accepting what they say, but measuring it against my own experiences and knowledge. In that more critical mode, you can accept the story-creation as just "playing the game", without buying the story wholesale.

IMHO, this whole thing is one reason why most effective speakers use humour to some degree*. Not because humour is convincing, but because it causes an expected audience response - it transforms the experience from a passive information-parsing exercise into a dialogue.

(*) The same thing is probably true of political rallies where the crowd responds to rhetoric, or evangelical sermons. The crowd response is analogous to my experience of laughter.

Kara said...

Thank you for the excellent post on Garr and Presentation Zen.

I work for Peachpit Press and thought you and your readers might be interested in knowing that he just released his first online streaming video, Presentation Zen: The Video, where he expands on the ideas presented in his book and blog. More info can be found here: