Presentation Zen - Review Based on a True Story

"Presentation Zen - Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery" by Garr Reynolds is no longer a new book. Launched back in 2008, a hit since day one, this book promised to change the way people create and deliver presentations in today's business world. I read it shortly after its launch, been charmed by it and did my best to follow its principles. Want to know if the book held its promise and actually delivered better presentation skills for its readers? Read this review based on my true story.

Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication

As soon as you take the book in your hands, you will not help but notice it’s simplicity. While browsing through it for the first time, you get the feeling that you are about to read the book you’ve always waited for. Simplicity is everywhere in this book: the covers, layout of pages, the white space spread through its pages, ideas shared, examples, principles, etc. Simplicity is everywhere!

This makes it elegant, very easy to understand, a joy to read and easy to follow when creating and delivering your own presentations.

Presentation Zen

The Search for Zen in Your Presentations

Garr Reynolds makes a lot of references to Zen tradition and practice. According to him ”the essence or the spirit of many of the principles found in Zen concerning aesthetics, mindfulness, connectedness, and so on can be applied to our daily activities, including presentations.”

While reading the book, you will find those references to be natural, not only because they are accompanied by the right visuals but because they make a lot of sense. All the ideas presented in the book are mostly common sense which we gracefully ignore every day. Garr manages to put all principles together in a structure which makes a lot of sense, accompanied by the right examples, quotes and recommendations.

The ideas about presentation design and delivery are structured into three stages: preparation, design and delivery.

The preparation chapter is all about making you think about what you want to achieve with your presentations. It makes you think about objectives, points that matter, your audience, limitations, constraints and the story you are about to tell. Also, it spends a lot of time encouraging its readers to plan analog. It emphasisez the importance of solitude during the first stages of preparation and the use of simple analog tools such as: pen and paper, post its or whiteboards.

The design chapter is not about teaching you how to use Microsoft Office Powerpoint or any other tool. It’s about sharing simple principles anyone can use with little effort. It talks about things such as: signal vs. noise ratio, 2D vs. 3D graphics, logo overload, use of pictures, empty space, balance, the rule of thirds, contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity. Then it ends with examples of mindful design.

In the delivery chapter, Garr Reynolds talks a lot about the art of being completely present, detaching yourself from daily worries and possible distractions and just being there for your audience. It emphasises the importance of practice and shares helpful concepts from unusual places, such as the art of judo.

The power of examples

To enhance his ideas, Garr shares many „before and after” examples. The „before” examples are actual real-life samples of butchered slides we meet everyday. The „after” examples are so effective and simple, everyone can make them. You get to see how exchanging lines of text with an image and a big idea actually improves the way you communicate with your audience. And you don’t have to be a designer or a Powerpoint guru to do it. Everyone can, with a minimum of technical knowledge about the tools used to create presentations.

He goes even further by having luminaries such as Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin or Nancy Duarte enforcing his recommendations, just to make sure everyone gets it.

Verdict – Buy for you & Buy for others

This is a book which you should not only buy for yourself, but consider helping others by buying it for them. I’ve read it soon after its 2008 launch and it turned out to be the book which had the biggest impact on my professional life so far. No other management, business or project management book managed to have this much of an impact in my life. It helped me turn my presentations from boring & common to unexpected, simple and effective. I’ve noticed people not only understanding my ideas but spreading them for me. Communication with my project teams and board members improved greatly and it made it easier for me to be a successful project manager. Also, this book inspired me to create and share a small framework about making presentations, which makes parallels to the world of project management: Ideas On How To Create Powerful Presentations.

Another amazing thing happened once I started to share this book and my new way of making presentations with colleagues: the overall quality of the presentations we make in our department has improved. People are now more mindful of the way they communicate through presentations and overloaded slides are not that common anymore. We just deliver better presentations as a group (each person with his/her own degree of improvement, of course).

It doesn’t matter what job you have, if you make presentations on a regular basis, buy this book. It will help you become a better professional.

Purchasing Options

If you want to purchase "Presentation Zen", you can find it on Amazon US (for North American readers) or Amazon UK (for European readers). If you purchase it using these links, we will also receive a small commission from your purchase. Therefore, thanks a lot for that.

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The book sounds great and I will get a copy. There is no doubt that in the most powerful presentations less is more. There is a great tendency to develop hugely complex presentation materials and forget the materials are just the support - they are not the main event. The main event is an interaction between you as a presenter and your audience. It is this that needs to be thought about most of all. Thanks for the recommendation

You are very welcome Richard! Hope you will find it as useful as I did.

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