By: Christine Lai
“Today, literacy is not only about reading and writing – which are necessary – but also about understanding visual communication. We need a higher degree of visual literacy and an understanding of the great power that imagery has for conveying important messages.” – Garr Reynolds
When I picked up Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds, I thought I’d be reading about how to design and deliver great presentations. Reynolds does readily relay his insight into the pillars of great presentations with amazing elegance and focus. However, his message of practicing the Zen mindset gives his writing a soul that sets it apart from the rest.
Presentation Zen is beautifully organized, as Reynolds advocates for all presentations. He breaks the book down to preparation, design, and delivery, with key points summarized at the end of each chapter. Examples of poorly design slides set next to brilliantly improved ones distinctly show how simple changes can make huge differences in your visuals. Colors, graphics, and quotes are strategically placed to break up text and clarify his points. Not only was it a pleasure to read, but it was art to admire as well.
I had many aha moments throughout the book. However, the three main messages that stuck with me are –
- Take an emotional approach. The common pitfall in presentations is the coldness of facts, statistics, and numbers on a slide. Humans are fundamentally emotional beings who love stories. We remember stories that carry emotion because they resonate with us. So make sure you use the PUNCH – make it personal, unexpected, novel, challenging, and humorous.
- Practice visual storytelling. Images are emotional. Choose simple yet impactful graphics in your presentation to complement your story. Images should fill up the entire screen with key words or quotes overlaid to emphasize the message. Remove extraneous headers and footers that detract from storytelling. In other words, you should be telling the story – the audience should not be reading off the slide.
- Always think about the audience. Presenters often recycle presentations. They don’t take the time to understand who the audience is. When you don’t, the audience stops listening. Not only are you wasting your time, but the hours of each individual falling asleep to your presentation. Presenters also make the mistake of making it about themselves. Remove irrelevant details and “fun facts.” They might make you feel better about yourself, but it’s not about you. It’s about the audience and what you can contribute – be it 10 minutes or 2 hours.
You could categorize Presentation Zen as a business self-help or how-to book. However, Reynolds distills a truth and wisdom that opens the door to a new lifestyle and philosophy. He inspires not only presentations of quality and clarity, but also self-reflection and contemplation of how you can create your own visual style. As Orson Welles said, “Let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.”
Publication Date: January 8, 2004; December 18, 2011 (second edition)
Over 200 reviews with 4.5 start ratings on Amazon.com.
Garr Reynolds is a highly sought after expert on design, branding, and effective corporate communications. Reynolds draws on extensive experience on visual design and presentations as former Manager of Worldwide User Group Relations at Apple Computer in the U.S. and Japan. With the success of Presentation Zen, Reynolds has published subsequent books and blogs on presentation best practices and tips.
- Presentation Zen (Website)
- The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures – Dan Roam (Book)
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die – Chip & Dan Heath (Book)