Presenting your message in a compelling way is an art. Doing this in a lengthy (20 minutes or more) presentation, without boring your audience to death is even more challenging. Driving without a drivers license is a crime, and so is wasting the time, motivation and energy of your audience. Therefore I propose a compulsory training with Garr Reynolds, writer of Presentation Zen and The Naked Presenter, for all speakers. Or at least have them study his work with a test afterwards. Oooh, how ‘bout a Presenters License?
It’s impossible to get bored during a presentation of Reynolds, as he of course masters the technique of entertaining while informing. Growing up in Japan, he experienced the way their culture connects with nature first hand. He had a chance to learn about zen arts, which are about simplicity, and how hard it is to achieve simplicity. It’s about respecting empty spaces, resisting the urge to fill up every one of them.
The Japanese have a great culture of storytelling. A good example is Kamishibai, a centuries old form of storytelling where the storyteller uses a set of paintings or drawings on paper to illustrate his story. He knows that the people in the back of the audience must also be able to see the images, so the drawings must be simple, bold and not too detailed. They may bleed of the edge and elements may even be hidden, because the brain is perfectly capable of filling in the blanks.
Finally, the Japanese understand the joy of fine food. Reynold’s picture of a bento box (opened-closed-opened-closed) made our mouth water. In a bento box is a nice variety of foods, which make a great ensemble and a satisfying meal.
So let’s take these elements and use them to improve the way we create and present our presentations, shall we.
Strip down your talk and decide what your ultimate message will be. It’s not only about the ‘what’, but just as much about the ‘so what’. Skim off all the excess info to make your ultimate message as clear as possible. Use this in what you tell verbally, but also in your slides. Respect those empty spaces! You must aim for simplicity, which is a very complex thing in itself. Simplicity is not simple. Or as the Japanese say: Shinpuru ni suru koto wa, shinpuru de wa nai.
Everytime you make a cluttered slide, a bonsai tree dies. But still way too often people present slides that are filled with too much information. They didn’t make a selection of the most interesting info for you, but instead just throw every detail in your face. Your brain will try to figure out where to look at on those cluttered slides for the first seconds, before deciding it’s hopeless. The presenter just killed the audience, which can now collectively slide off into a nice day nap.
Lesson learned: So save the bonsai trees and your audience, kill off all excess info and keep your slides as simple as possible. Force yourself to use a big font, so the fewer text will fit on them. Use images or even graphics to strengthen your message, but keep it clean and simple.
Use the elements that make messages stick and stories be great. These are:
- story in which people feel involved
As said before, attending a presentation by Reynolds can’t be boring. He constantly engages the audience in his presentation. During his one hour presentation he got us to speak Japanese (even in a Yoda voice), talk to our neighbor about ourselves and what we liked and disliked in presentations, and even draw each other. His presentation is an experience in itself, which makes a great vehicle for getting his message across – and it sticks too.