Presentation Zen in Paris: 10 top take-aways
We all know PowerPoint presentations can be boringly inefficient and mind-numbing, but did you know that PowerPoint doomed the Columbia Space Shuttle? The threat assessment report was not a written technical document, just a set of slides, with a cover sheet slapped on top.
Is Presentation Zen the cure for “Death by PowerPoint”? Perhaps, changing the world one slide at a time.
Distilling the top 10 take-aways from this intense and energetic 5-hour seminar is a challenge. I’ll give it a shot.
- Leverage the advances in brain science to make your presentations the memorable learning opportunities they can be. Garr referred several time to John Medina’s book Brain Rules, which I’d written about a few months ago here. It’s a must-read.
- Consider multimedia learning theory approaches, such as Richard Mayer’s work on dual-channel research that shows individuals learn better with a combined use of words and images than when using words alone. Meaningful learning comes from appropriate transfer and retention; these are cognitive functions, not behavioral ones as with rote learning.
- In preparing a presentation, the audience comes first. That sounds terribly obvious. Yet if more presenters applied that basic rule, many of us would not have had the luxury of unscheduled naps during our careers.
- In preparing a presentation, the presenter comes second. This too sounds obvious, yet how many times has great content failed to hit home because there was no rapport built and the delivery was so abysmal?
- Respecting the two rules above would be particularly useful to presenters who, trained in educational systems such as France’s, perpetually feel as if in an exam situation and two inches away from failure if they do not cram all their knowledge in a few slides and a 20 minute talk. How quickly they forget the Pareto Principle (aka, the 80/20 rule or, in Japanese “hara hachi bu” – eat until 80% full). With stress levels so high, there is no space left to consider the audience, its needs and the relationship that must be built.
- Before anything else, answer one question: “So what?” What is the importance of your content to your audience? And its corollary – do you aim for scope or depth? No, you can’t have both unless you wish to lose your audience quickly.
- Zen in presentation design associates simplicity, restraint, and naturalness. Get rid of what is not essential, prepare with specificity, and be yourself.
- Presenting – sharing your knowledge with others – is an opportunity to connect, not one to dump information. You need to resonate with your audience and connect with participants through the senses. That is key to your developing a presence, communicating your passion, adapting your pace, and inviting play.
- In France, achieving simplicity is probably the biggest hurdle (see above). It is too often equated with ‘dumbing down’ or ‘simplistic’. Yet it is more difficult to distill a complex idea and its assorted data into a crisp and clear paragraph than to launch into a full essay (or speech). My PhD committee chair used to tell me that the day I could summarize my topic in two sentences was the day I would have mastered it fully.
- Presentations aim to support change. You are getting an audience to move from A towards B – regardless of your topic. Garr calls it the presentation arc; parallels can be made with NLP and its “away from/towards” motivation strategies.
- Key messages in presentations stick when you have story, simplicity, novelty, concreteness, credibility, and emotion. If you are missing one ingredient, the soufflé will fall.
The seminar and tweet-up the night before were a lot of fun. It was good to meet the human behind the books and the blog, amusing to discover our Hawai’i connections and to cross paths in France with a fellow kama’aina. (Malama pono, Garr!)
Last but far from least, kudos and heartfelt thanks to Phil Waknell and Pierre Morsa, the duo behind Ideas on Stage, for their welcome, generosity, spirit, and skill at organizing this top-flight professional event.