Phil Waknell on Presentation Zen


Phil Waknell has tremendous advice on Presentation Zen:

It’s at those times when you may think this approach is least appropriate that, on the contrary, it can make the most difference.


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As much as I possibly can, I try to spread the gospel of Presentation Zen.  The text and accompanying video were my very first introduction to visual presentation that works, visual presentation that isn’t death-by-bulletpoint, visual presentation that connects.  The approach changed my entire life.  Like Oprah says, I had an “Ah Ha!” moment of clarity, and it is my goal in my life to make as many other people as I can feel the same way.

More often than not, people protest.  They don’t want to change!  It’s so easy to grab a template and to quickly type in all of your information into a bulleted list.  It takes 10 minutes to create a terrible PowerPoint that, in turn, will make your audience fall asleep in 10 minutes.  People protest.  Here are the three most common protests I’ve heard:

“My audience loves my visual presentation!  I don’t need to change anything.”

A co-worker of mine actually spoke those words to me.  I bit my tongue out of common courtesy, but here’s what I was thinking, “Actually, sir, your students complained so loudly about your presentations in my class that it took about 30 minutes out of lecture time to calm them down.”  During your presentation, count the number of people on their laptops, texting on their telephones, or sleeping.  Your goal is to have that number be 0 and to have everyone in the audience engaged, awake, and excited to learn.

“My material is too technical.  My audience just needs to know the information.”  

Instead of bombarding students with slide after slide of text in bullet point format, why not give them a handout containing all of the detailed, step-by-step, technical information?  Your visual presentation could then be visual!  Your slides could contain images of the equipment.  As human beings, we must hear something seven times before we retain that information.  If you are using a handout, speaking your content to your audience, and showing a visual aid that is actually visual, you can reach more learners more quickly and in a more engaging way.

As Phil Waknell points out, “Coming back to the software explanation example, you might use screen captures, or videos, or a live demo, or you might get the audience to learn hands-on with their own computers. Any of those would be more effective than throwing out dozens of bullet points over a two-hour monologue and hoping some of it sticks” (Source).

I don’t have time to make pretty slides.”

If you think the Presentation Zen approach is just about making slides pretty, you definitely missed the point.  And that’s okay!  I would definitely ask people with the above mindset to try watching the PZ DVD if reading the text didn’t work… or vice versa.  Sometimes changing the medium can help deliver the message more effectively.  Again, because it takes us hearing a new idea or process seven times before we really understand it, trying again to get it is always recommended.

Garr Reynolds himself explains it best by tying presentation to Star Wars.  Death-by-PowerPoint is a Darth Vader approach, and a strong visual presentation is a Yoda approach.  Intrigued?  Read Reynolds’ thoughts here.


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