Book Review | Presentation Zen

Title: Presentation Zen – Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery
Author: Garr Reynolds
Year: 2008
Publisher: New Riders
Pages: 221
Topic Covered: Communications, Presentation Design & Delivery

I picked up Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds because my communication’s mentor, Dr. Nick Morgan, recommended it to me when I interviewed him for my blog. I also heard of the book through various podcasts, books and online articles regarding presentation design and delivery. If you are obsessed like I am about learning how to create and deliver a presentation that people will pay attention to and care about, you need to read this book. One of the most important things you can do for your career is to master the art of storytelling. Allow this book to teach you how to do that.

What I Learned

Presentation Zen is split into 3 essential components: Preparation, Design and Delivery. One of the core themes that is a thread throughout the entire book is the power of ‘Simplicity’. Keeping things simple is the key ingredient to a great presentation. Steve Jobs mastered this and not only is it important in creating your slides but also in your delivery.

But before you begin creating slides, Garr recommends walking away from your computer and starting with a pen and paper or with sticky notes and a pencil. It is best to first plan and draw out the story of your presentation. Taking the analog approach simplifies the process of getting to the root of your message and how you want your story to flow. I love the idea of using sticky-notes because if you can’t fit everything you want to say on it, you’re probably saying too much on that slide to begin with.  The process of creating your story is:

  1. Brainstorming: Step back and look at the big picture; identify themes
  2. Grouping and Identifying the Core: Find the ‘So What?’; the central theme that will be the thread connecting everything
  3. Storyboarding: Sketch out your story
  4. Storyboarding in Slide Sorter: Transfer your sketch and notes to PowerPoint and start building the digital presentation

There are 3 parts of a presentation:

  1. Slides the audience will see – these need to be simple, with limited words and lots of pictures
  2. Notes only you will see – these are the detailed points you probably wanted to put on your slides but it just would have made them too cluttered
  3. Handout to be taken away – this document is a very detailed document about your presentation that a reader can take away and review later.

There were a couple of books that Garr mentions throughout his book that I wanted to pick-up afterwards to read:

Why You Should Read This Book

If your PowerPoint slides are filled with text or if just want to stop creating boring presentations, read this book. Garr pleads for you to stop what you’ve learned in the era of PowerPoint and cookie-cutter design and delivery and to attack it from a new perspective. Tap into your creative mind and approach it with a fresh perspective.

Favourite Quotes

  • “If the audience could remember only one thing (and you’ll be lucky if they do), what do you want it to be?”
  • “Good presentations are about conversing, sharing, and connecting at an intellectual and emotional level in an honest and sincere way.”

Final Thoughts

Read this book, apply its principles, and deliver a presentation that you will be proud of.

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