[book] Presentation Zen

May 2, 2009

in Books, Presentations

Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds

Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds

Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds is a book but also a blog that deals with the art of making presentations that is inspired by Zen Buddhism and Reynolds’ life experience in Japan, where he currently lives. Presentation Zen is an approach, not a fail-proof list of rules, for better delivering your message independently of the slideware (PowerPoint, Keynote, etc) or other multimedia support that you might be using.

Often the weakest point of a conference is not the organizational or logistic aspects of it but the low quality of the speaker’s presentations. From the “death by PowerPoint” effect to poor public speaking abilities or lack of communication between speaker and audience.

According to Garr, a presentation should be like a Japanese Bento (the lunch box):

The bento is presented in a simple, beautiful, balanced way. Nothing lacking. Nothing superfluous. Not decorated, but wonderfully designed. A delicious, inspiring way to spend 20 minutes. When was the last time you could say the same about a presentation you saw?

The main idea is to save yours and the audience’s time by making a difference with your presentation, big or small.

I have compiled some of advice delivered throughout the book and I warmly suggest that you get it to improve your abilities (you can use my referral link on Amazon.com by clicking on the image above).


Start with the beginners mindset, a fresh and enthusiastic mind is open to all the possibilities, ideas and solutions that it finds on its path.

In the beginners mind a lot of possibilities exist. In that of the expert very few.

Shunryu Suzuki

Limits and constraints imposed to you are a great ally as they will stimulate your creativity.

When planning your presentation, better do it in an analogic way: pen & paper, whiteboard, post-it are great tools to start. Remember to relax and to be alone during this phase (meaning to avoid external disturbances). Brainstorming and creating a storyboard usually develop better far away from the computer. Only once you have drafted these on paper you can transfer them to your preferred software.

The next important step is asking yourself the right questions like:

How much time do I have for my presentation? Where will it take place? At what time? What kind of audience will I have? What’s their background? What do they expect from me? Whay do I want the others to do? Which visual instruments are more appropriate for this situation? Which is the goal of my speech? What’s the story? And most important of all: what is the absolutely central issue of my presentation? Keep this in mind when asking yourself the last question: if the audience could remember just ONE thing from your presentation, what should that be?

Another key issue is that you don’t have to give out a printed copy of the slides you are showing. They should be an aid for you and if they are self explanatory… well, what are you doing in front of the audience? The presentation should consist of three parts:

  1. The slides that you will show (they support your presentation)
  2. Notes only visible to you (just in case you forget something)
  3. a handout that you will give to the audience

The handout should be a brief but clear document containing the summary of your speech, complete with bibliography and links for further information. The handout allows you to keep the essential information on the slides. Remember to announce that you will give a handout with further details at the end of the presentation.


Garr suggests to concentrate on simplicity, that can be reached by reducing everything that is not essential. According to him good projects are full of empty space.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Leonardo Da Vinci

These are some of the main issues regarding design:

  • Signal-to-noise-ratio: the ratio between relevant and irrelevant elements of the presentation
  • Don’t use images/graphs with 3D effects, it reduces legibility
  • You don’t need to add your company’s logo on each slide. Taking it out increases empty space and simplifys the message you are trying to pass. Insert it only in the first and last slide
  • Use the superiority effect of images: images are easly remembered than words, in particular when people are casualy exposed to information and this exposition is limited in time. If you can express what you are representing with written words using an image, do so!
  • Inserting a quote occasionaly can reinforce your argument and give credibility to the story you’re telling
  • A correct use of empty space gives elegance and clarity besides of helping concentration in one single element
  • Contrast: create big differences between different elements
  • Avoid using bullet points or drastically reduce them
  • Use only high quality images (and try to avoid the defaul clipart)

A good source for images is iStockphoto and by using the address istockphoto.com/presentationzen you can get a bonus!


  • Be totally present! Don’t think at success or defeat but be present in the moment
  • Prepare yourself well. If you practice enough you won’t neet to think at what you are doing during the presentation
  • Be passionate of what you’re talking about
  • Connect with the audience
  • The duration of your presentation is important. Better to leave the audience hungry for more
  • Remember that logic is not enough, it is not just about informing and you should concentrate on telling a story
  • You should get into the others shoes to try to understand what they are feeling

For more presentation tips visit Garr Reynolds personal website and watch his speech at Google

Previous post:

Next post: