Monday , February 26 2024
Presentation Zen is simple, clear, and more often than not presents by showing as opposed to telling.

Book Review: Presentation Zen – Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds

You would have thought that after 20 years, the quality of PowerPoint presentations would have become refined and polished. That the flow of a presentation would be efficient and informative to the audience, when in fact the use of the product has instead led to the coining of the term "Death by PowerPoint."

According to marketing guru Seth Godin, "PowerPoint could be the most powerful tool on your computer, but it's not, it's actually a dismal failure." Although millions of presentations are given each day, most are mind-numbingly dull, something that must be endured by both presenter and audience alike.

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery was written to challenge you and the way that you think about creating presentations with PowerPoint. Author Garr Reynolds encourages you to think differently and more creatively about the preparation, design, and delivery of your presentation. Presentation Zen is 240 pages containing 10 chapters and is segmented into 5 sections.


Chapter 1, "Presenting in Today's World," begins with the concept of communication and seeing presentations in a way that is more in tune with our times. To make a change, the first thing that one must experience is what is wrong, or "off-kilter" with what passes for normal in today's world. This chapter presents arguments about the problems with most presentations that are done today.


Chapter 2, "Creativity, Limitations, and Constraints," is about being creative, something that is seldom thought about when creating a PowerPoint presentation. You may not be a designer, or a writer, but even if you are an engineer, or a mathematician, you are still creative. The development of presentation content is a creative act, and with a little open-mindedness, you can find your own variation of creativity.

Chapter 3, "Planning Analog," requires you to step away from the digital and identify your core message. Getting back to basic pen and paper will free your mind to explore the options that are available to you. Try something different even if it a stick in the sand. You will have plenty of time in front of the computer.

Chapter 4, "Crafting the Story," is for after you have a clearer picture of the presentation content and focus. It doesn't matter if you have all of the details worked out as yet. Now is the time to build a logical structure around your core and supporting messages. If your goal is to create a memorable presentation, then you must craft a story that will resonate with your audience.


Chapter 5 covers "Simplicity: Why it Matters" and why you should let go of the adage "when in doubt, add more." Simplicity is not the act of being simple – rather it is the act of getting to the essence of what you are trying to say, and finding the ability to say it as clearly as possible. Here you will explore the realm of simplicity.

Chapter 6, "Presentation Design: Principles and Techniques," discusses some of the general guidelines that strong slide designs share. There are a few fundamental concepts that, if understood, can help the average individual create effective presentation visuals. Chapter 7, "Sample Slides" shows you sample slides from real world presenters. Here you see samples that are engaging and easy to understand quickly, and attractive.


Chapter 8, "The Art of Being Completely Present," is about being fully committed to the moment. If you are not, then to the audience you appear like the person with whom one has a conversation and they are somewhere else, preoccupied with other concerns and not really there. You cannot give a good presentation without being in attendance.

Chapter 9, "Connecting with the Audience," is not about how good the performance is, rather it is how the performer draws his or her audience in to the performance. It is about conversing, sharing, and connecting with those to whom you are presenting to.

The Next Step

Chapter 10, "The Journey Begins" explores the next steps. While many people look for the quick fix, the road to quality goes ever on. As your confidence grows, so should your drive to improve. This is the foundation that greatness is built upon. Lessons are all around you just waiting to be learned.

While Presentation Zen is about creating presentations with respect to slideshow products such as PowerPoint, it contains aspects that transcend into all aspects of life. It is about reflection, analyzation, and realization. It is about creating a better product.

Presentation Zen is not going to teach you PowerPoint – it is going to teach you how not to do PowerPoint badly. If you have a basic understanding of the product, this book will show you how to create presentations that are not overdone and overwhelming.

There is a little repetitiveness in Presentation Zen and a little scattered wandering that takes some getting used to, but the overall goal of showing you what works and what doesn't work is attained. It is simple, clear, and more often than not presents by showing as opposed to telling. This book is well recommended.

About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.

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