What does Zen have to do with PowerPoint? Simplicity, according to Garr Reynolds in Presentation Zen, an engaging guide to removing the noise from your presentations. While some would have you believe that PowerPoint (or Keynote for Mac stalwarts) is inherently evil, that’s not the case. But it’s close.
The problem, which was raised for many in the public and non-profit sectors in Andy Goodman’s Why Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes, is that the default settings in popular presentation products lead to bad habits. PowerPoint’s design templates point users to create slides that are a) full of overstimulating graphics or b) a dull drumbeat of text bullets.
We have all grown used to using presentation software not so much to present but to outline what we are planning to present. The problem is that as PowerPoint got popular, we all overlooked the fact that an outline makes a boring and ineffective presentation.
Reynolds calls on presenters to go further in preparation and create visuals that complement the words being presented. He provides easy-to-follow principles that help us non-designers work more like designers. The example slides that he uses (some created for the book and some culled from strong presentation decks) are beautiful and terribly simple. Images fill as much of the slide as possible, and text is used very sparingly. The text can be transmitted in handouts or links provided to the audience at the end. Lines and lines of big text on a wall do not communicate very clearly.
Colin Chapman, founder of the Lotus automobile company stressed lightness in his vehicles. He famously exhorted designers and engineers to “Simplicate, then add lightness.” Reynolds preaches a similar doctrine for presentations: Simplicate, then add minimalism, one might say. Here’s the first presentation that I created after reading Presentation Zen. What can you do to simplicate your next presentation?