I’ve read the first four chapters of Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. This was loaned to me by Craig Taylor and he’s asked me to share my thoughts…
I like that the use of the “Zen” part so far at a high level – this isn’t a book on Zen in any depth whatsoever. This takes the principles of Zen and uses a light touch to help us to pause, breathe, think and then move forward.
On a purely personal (and narcissistic?) note, I love the use of the lightbulbs to summarise Dan Pink’s ideas about the “conceptual age” as it is used for design. Lightbulb moments should be in abundance for all!
So far the chapters are good to read for an introduction to the importance of audience, key messages and story telling.
I’m feeling the lack of some really good before and after examples for the high level overviews that Garr draws from his contemporaries and am beyond the novelty of his oriental experience, examples and terminology.
Emotion and story
Garr highlights the importance of telling an “emotional story” and this resonated with my own work. A few years ago I was offering presentation support to a senior member of the IPC magazine company in London, who had to present research to the senior decision makers at IPC about the way forward and the opportunities from the competition and of technology.
After much hard work, the first draft was certainly accomplished, but terrible. I had a vested interest in IPC doing well, as it was part of the TimeWarner group of companies, for whom I worked. I also originally trained as a journalist, so my interest was piqued. That was, until my colleague started his presentation.
Even though I was note taking to provide feedback, I struggled as it just felt bland and boring. During discussion though, his face would light up when he would explain the research, the possibilities and his experiences. Suddenly I was engaged in his topic and with his credibility. It was one of a few key things he changed about his presentation, for the better.
Balancing on the tightrope of creativity
Garr writes on page 39 about “how restrictive conditions put on creative projects can lead to inventive solutions”. We can sometimes be wistful in our thinking about what if we didn’t have restriction X or Y. However, this can sometimes be important as necessity is the mother of invention!
Garr goes on with “self-imposed constraints can help you formulate clearer messages”. I found this years ago when I was designing websites. For my clients I found it an easy thing to understand their business, their audiences, define their key messages and design messages in their websites around that.
However when it came to my own website, I found the almost infinite possibilities open to me was just too much. In the end, I had to do as Garr suggested and treat myself as per any other client. Only then, inside those self-imposed restrictions, was I able to come up with something.
I shared this with people attending my website design classes some time later, with the slide I designed to get the point across: the tightrope walk between freedom and discipline.
We all have to walk that tightrope every day – it’s up to us weather to master and enjoy it or not.