How to Achieve Presentation Zen: A NeboWeb Book Club Summary

Bad habits are hard to break, and the practice of bad presentations is not only a nearly unbreakable habit but is sadly considered the norm. Ever heard the phrase “death by PowerPoint?” Most of us have, and we’ve all been forced to sit quietly, asking ourselves “when the heck is this presentation going to be over so I can get back to something important?”

Presentations don’t have to be terrible, they just mostly are. This month, you’ll be glad to find there is a better way.

The Beginning: Preparation

It starts with clearing your mind and letting go of all your preconceived notions of what a presentation should be like. Of course, we are all busy, and sometimes it’s hard to shut down your mind for long enough to focus on the task at hand. That’s why in Presentation Zen, this month’s book club choice, Garr Reynolds advocates going analog; stepping away from your computer, Blackberry, and other gadgets and using pencils or markers, paper, and your creativity to sketch out your presentation.

Now, you might feel silly to be sprawled out with markers and paper. In fact, you might even feel like a child who’s about to draw something for arts and crafts – that’s the point! In order to achieve greatness, you need to approach your presentation with a “child’s mind”. Remember when you would spend hours playing with crayons and construction paper? And you weren’t worried about what you were producing, or how people would perceive it? You were just happy to be hanging out and creating some art. That’s the first step in achieving “Presentation Zen”; approach your presentation with a child’s mind and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

So, you have your child’s mind, and your materials. Now you need to start thinking about what the point of your presentation is. What is the message of the story? You should have one solid point that you want people to learn and remember from your presentation. Everything you put into your presentation should support that point. Great presentations present information efficiently and gracefully by eliminating the non-essential. Anything that doesn’t support your point is not needed. Keep it simple, clear, and brief.

Everyone knows the point of this story:

moral

No one ever knew the point of this one:

Making it Pretty: The Design

Here’s where people get stressed. It’s easy to “prepare” your presentation, but not everyone is convinced of their design skills. Well, what happened to your child’s mind? You’re not afraid to make a mistake, remember! You don’t have to be a designer to create a great presentation. Continue on your path of efficiency and grace. In this case, design means making your main message as clear for the viewer as possible.

Some practical advice: focus on the essential and use visuals. You can always give a handout to explain the non-essential, and visuals are much easier to digest than bullet points. For example:

A thousand words:

vietnam-facts

A picture:

vietnam-pic

Don’t be afraid of empty space. Think “what can I subtract?” instead of “what else can I add?” Avoid clutter and use the graphic design principles of contrast, proximity, alignment and repetition to drive your message home.

Breathe Deep, It’s Time for: The Delivery

You’ve prepared, you’ve got your awesome design, and now comes the moment of truth: the delivery. There’s a reason public speaking is feared by more people than death; because, well, it can be scary. The way to make it not scary is to practice, practice, practice. The only way to build confidence in your presentation is to be fully prepared. Prepare like mad and you’ll be more at ease in delivery.

As you give your presentation, be fully in the moment. Give your audience your full and undivided attention. Be passionate about the subject! If you aren’t passionate, why should you expect the audience to be? Give your presentation, tell your story, and always leave the audience satisfied, but wanting more.

In Conclusion:

Presentations don’t have to be a dreaded thing; in fact, they can be fun and entertaining. This book has a ton of examples and more information which can be helpful to reference as you are creating your next presentation. The best way to learn is to get out there and do it. Go forth and create your own Presentation Zen!

Written by Kimm Lincoln on December 1, 2009

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Kimm Lincoln
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