#BookReview: Ten Steps On The Road To ‘Presentation Zen’

Powerpoint/Excel Template

This is a repost of an article that originally appeared on the MKCREATIVE blog in May, 2010.

The business/education/PR presentation got a boost in the ’90s when Microsoft PowerPoint gave us the opportunity to turn the staid lecture (from Lectio, ‘to read’) into a multi-media extravaganza of bullet points and pie charts and popping 15-point stars. And many of us have been suffering through them ever since. Perhaps the greatest problem with Powerpoint or Apple’s Keynote is just how easy it is to bring something together that seems pretty catchy to the person who has to give the presentation. Ease-of-use is hardly a drawback to software, but it can be a drawback to those in your audience 15 rows back who does not share the same enthusiasm for the small yellow print on the blue background.

To be sure, some presenters are masters of the technology – which is to say, masters as presenting their materials, with Keynote or Powerpoint adding enough to keep the mind focused, not flogged. And watching some great presenters is a wonderful way to pick up the skills required to prepare your own materials (Please Note: I have yet to say ‘prepare your Powerpoint/Keynote’). Though, as at least one cheeky academic posted, sometimes seeing the greats present their materials makes us mere mortals too ‘stupid’ to deal with the less-than-stellar business report or academic paper.

Fortunately, resources abound about how to hone your presentation skills, and how to bring in Powerpoint/Keynote as a spice to your recipe, not the overpowering sauce. A great book and blog on this subject is Gar Reynold’s Presentation Zen, where – again – the emphasis is on content creation and organization, not software. Indeed, Reynolds offers plenty of examples of the cart going before the horse (or the Powerpoint being opened before the ideas were).

The works of Reynolds or Nancy Duarte are really for the experienced, if not professional, presenter. Many of us must prepare the occasional presentation for work, school, or interview. Though we want to do a great job, we honestly can not afford the time to learn the epistemological theories of visual and aural learning, as well as the best practices for the software we choose to use. Fortunately, the HubSpot Blog has recently posted a Top Ten list of considerations to make a great presentation. We can say from experience that these ten are part of just about every professional presenter’s syllabus.

You can review the list, but a couple we wanted to call special attention to: First, the presentation begins with paper and pencil, not Powerpoint. Free associate, draw mind maps, make notes, erase, make more notes. Repeat as necessary. Once the the thesis is fleshed out and the materials that support it drawn together, then (and only then) should you turn to the computer.

Also, NO bullet points and NO ‘Chart Junk.’ Both are useful tools. Both have their place, but neither have their place in a public oral presentation. Too often, when a presenter feels unsure of the vitality of his or her idea, she or he turns to a tide of facts and figures. An audience can not keep up with all that in an oral presentation. Bullet points and charts become so much ‘noise’ that only masks the bigger picture the audience came to understand.

Finally, and the most humane of the points, tell a story. “The first nine rules all support this one. As a presenter, your job is to tell a story. Make sure your presentations — both slides and speech — work together to tell a clear story. It should consist of essential story elements like conflict and humor.” Such stories keep the audience engaged, and the facts you wanted to convey will be absorbed along the way.

Consider this great Top Ten list, then, if so inspired, turn to the heavy hitters noted above. And finally, keep to the simple stuff once Powerpoint tempts you with all its bells and whistles.

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