Customer Reviews: Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery
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This is everything that I want my presentations to be when I'm up on stage... Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds. This will make you rethink everything you've known (and likely done) about how a presentation should be designed.

Introduction: Presenting in Today's World
Preparation: Creativity, Limitations, and Constraints; Planning Analog; Crafting the Story
Design: Simplicity - Why It Matters; Presentation Design - Principles and Techniques; Sample Slides
Delivery: The Art of Being Completely Present; Connecting With an Audience
The Next Step: The Journey Begins
Photo Credits; Index

There's so much good stuff here that it's hard to figure out where to begin. Reynolds advocates for a departure from the ordinary style of presentation involving PowerPoint. You've all sat through those (or given them)... Pages of slides, chock full of text, gratuitous use of special effects, etc. Presentation Zen is more about simplicity and storytelling. Your slides should support *you*, the speaker. If someone can get all the information from your slides, why do they need you? Your slides should not overwhelm the audience, but should draw their attention to the point that you are making in your talk. Couple this approach with the ability to tell stories rather than recite facts, and you can put together presentations that will be appreciated, remembered, and best of all, acted upon.

He also gets into how best to design appealing and arresting slides. Reynolds uses sites like iStockPhoto to avoid the overused and cheesy clipart that comes part and parcel with PowerPoint. And rather than just pasting a graphic on the screen under some text, the graphic *becomes* the slide, and the minimal text is positioned on the graphic in such a way that the slide becomes a work of art. Since I do technical presentations, my first objection was that this doesn't give the listener anything to take away in terms of content. But rather than make your slides the take-away, Reynolds suggests that you put together a separate "handout" document that can be given out after the talk (or downloaded). That document can contain the details and facts that you present, without overwhelming the listener during the actual talk. It's a simple concept, but not one that I've seen done often.

The bad thing about a book like this is it points out just how bad I actually am at presenting. The good thing is that it challenges me (as well as shows me) to get a whole lot better. This should be required reading for anyone before they start to put together anything in PowerPoint...
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on February 26, 2008
I found Presentation Zen disappointing. It seemed to violate in writing style many of the principles it seeks to correct in slide design, reading more like a meandering conversation over drinks than a well-laid-out, step-by-step primer. For example, the book was frustratingly repetitive, with even the simplest points restated through multiple chapters (really, how many times do you have to suggest using post-it notes?). Some central points came and went quietly in sidebars, and others completely lacked explanation or justification (i.e. the rule for using six words maximum per slide). Every time I thought I was about to discover a new and enlightening concrete principle of visual design with valid reasoning, it seemed the point from the previous chapter was repeated instead. Moreover, exceptions or alternate approaches also weren't considered, such as times when using a whopping seven words on a slide might be useful, or when more complex slide builds and transitions could help an audience grasp a concept. In addition, many of the points made in the book, such as the value of "taking risks," seemed obvious and trite.

Overall, like many tedious slide shows I've endured, I felt the book could have been half as long and made its points with the same clarity, and would have showed more respect for the reader's time. To its credit, it does offer some useful ideas on slide design, and some excellent graphic examples. It's also visually appealing, with beautiful slide reprints, tons of "good" and "bad" examples to learn from, and cleanly-designed pages. Still, I'd trade the appealing design for tighter, more solid, more useful content.
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on January 18, 2008
Like many others, I have grown (very) weary of the so-called "death by PowerPoint" culture which saturates the IT sector in which I work. I would gladly substitute every minute of mindless suffering sitting through too many presentations by sales persons and various "engineers" with 150% more time at the Dentist's. Much as I hate visiting my Dentist, at least I'll be healthier afterwards.

Also like many others, I wager, I found out about Presentation Zen the book from Presentation Zen the blog of which I am a fan. I am sorry to report that I am a bigger fan of the blog than I am of the book. First, the good.

The book itself is pleasing with good binding and great color. It's easy to read with clear type and an attractive layout. Chapter heading and sub-headings are clear and the flow of the book's content is harmonious. The reader can tell that good quality work went into the typesetting and publishing--kudos to New Riders.

How about content? Well here a few shortcomings appear and although not enough to dismiss the book outright are enough to cause me wonder. At 230 odd pages, the first impression as I flipped through is how "light" it is, literally and metaphorically. There is a surprising amount of white space and while that's understandable from a design perspective, from a reader's however, it falls short of fulfilling the promise of content a similarly priced book should deliver on.

Focused reading reveals surprisingly little that is original. I stopped counting at 12 the number of books by other authors referenced and quoted from; and while that isn't a crime per se, it's certainly a shortcoming. At best, it looks like Reynolds did a great job of editing, creating a pastiche of content from other authors and the reader might as well do the same thing: amass a large enough library and perform the acquisition of knowledge himself. That, at least, comes with the advantage that reader will be getting it wholesale from the source instead of the Presentation Zen précis.

There is some practical and usable advice (start with analog brainstorming then proceed to the digital, keep the lights on, use a remote) but it's inadequately fleshed out. This information is better presented and with a heightened emphasis on practicality in other books--Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson comes to mind, one of the many cited as reference for further instruction.

A possible defense to the accusation of being light is that Reynolds' wrote the book, as the subtitle hints, as more of a philosophical treatise on presentation design. Fine, but even then, it's still light on those points as well. Reynolds is content to regurgitate some Japanese aphorisms and quotes from various personages that, while certainly inspirational, possess little value beyond that. The book ends up reading like a "pop psychology" cheer leading tome than what it means to be: a book instructing on presenting information to an audience.

Some of the subtext I noticed from reading is that Reynolds is a dye in the wool fan of Apple products with little if any regard for PC and PC software (from Windows to PowerPoint) including them as an afterthought, perhaps to sell more books. There is also a subtle but discernable thread of condescension toward American society--the number of "fat" Americans appearing in example slides started getting a little tired after a while. I don't know if this was purposeful and I doubt it, but nevertheless it's there.

The latter section of the book truly runs out of steam replete as it is with examples (with little to no analysis of them) filling page after page of slideware. It peters out with some feel-good advice from the author about creativity, etc. in what felt like padding.

In summary, Presentation Zen owes its existence (with apologies to Isaac Newton) to standing on the shoulders of giants on which it stands. Amazon has it for sale at a great price so definitely get it from here. Otherwise, there's no way I see of plunking down full price for this book at your local bookstore.
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VINE VOICEon August 23, 2009
I have to rain on the parade of Nancy's book and Garr Reynold's book (and other ones). This is based on the review I gave Duarte's "Slideology."

The message is "I'm one of the best slide designers in the world (which is true) and I'm going to show you WHY."

The message should be "I'm one of the best slide designers in the world and I'm going to show you HOW."

You'll see plenty to interest you, but unless you're a full-fledged graphic designer you'll never recreate these slides. Imagine putting this book (and Duarte's book) into a room with some of your worst slide creators, or even yourself. Would you see an improvement in their skills? I doubt it.

You might as well become a painter by reading books that have the world's greatest pictures in them. Even though there is explanatory text here it isn't enough to bridge the gap.

To see a book written for its audience, try the "Before and After" books by Jon McWade which deal with desktop publishing. Unfortunately John has not yet tackled slides, but you can see an page layout idea and make it yourself in minutes.

So, sorry about this, because both this and Duarte's book are "nice" books. The energy has gone into the book's design and production rather than the content. But that makes them coffee-table books, and unless you have a coffee table in your office I'd advise that you give both of them a miss.
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on February 8, 2008
There's a reason that none of the country's best presentation coaches and presenters want you to purchase this book: that's because it will put the former out of business, and make you as good as the latter. Seriously!

Garr Reynolds has done what everyone else (at least among the presentation cognoscente) has been talking about for years. He has created what is truly THE book that is an absolute, positive must-read for everyone who is even thinking about presenting. I coach hundreds of entrepreneurs and CEOs each year for their fundraising road shows, and Garr has written and illustrated with stunning clarity the essence of what I and others have been preaching for years: visual clarity, simplicity, presence, planning and more.

If you are even *thinking* about buying a book on presentation skills, this is it. After you devour it cover to cover, you can then go on to the two other books I recommend: "Presenting to Win" by Jerry Weissman, and "The Articulate Executive" by Granville Toogood (the top presentation coaches on their respective sides of the country.) But start here, heed the lessons in this instant classic, and your audiences will be guaranteed to be putty in your hands.

David S. Rose (Described by BusinessWeek as "The Pitch Coach")
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on January 7, 2009
I had high expectations on this book. And I found it interesting only for beginners. Too much text saying basically the same, and few visuals. I would had expected more, considering that it's a book on presentations.
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on July 12, 2009
I like the design principles and process tools that are provided in Presentation Zen: those are definitely usable and useful, and if I were rating on the book only on the learnings I came away with, I'd give it higher marks.

But I felt I really had to dock marks because of my experience with the book: I found it quite ironic that, for me, the book really failed in the very goals the author says we should have for our presentations: content that is engaging and is clear.

I was quite surprised to find this book non-engaging: for me, it has been a slog to work through. Typically I can read only part of a chapter before I wanted to put it down. I don't normally read like that, and I can usually get through a book like this within a few days, but it has taken me weeks to endure just the first half!

At first, that left me puzzled: The book has visual appeal; the chapters aren't overly long and there are only ten of them; why can't just get through them? The probable reason came to me in reading the chapter "Simplicity: Why it matters": the author really fails at his own ideals of simplicity. Not in the visual design; the visual design of the book is good in this respect. Rather, he fails to keep the written content simple. That very chapter on simplicity made this apparent to me. Let me explain.

He starts with two pages introducing the topic: simplicity really means clarity: getting the essense of the message and presenting that in a way that's clear for the intended audience -- and a key to that is eliminating the non-essential (simplicity). So far, so good.

Then he spends two pages using a comparison of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as illustration. Now, I'm not convinced that the stereotypes of these two are fully valid, and maybe that was a factor, but overall these two pages really added nothing to my understanding of the author's message. In other words, for me that was two pages of non-essential content that only distracted and detracted from the author's message.

The next sub-section is six pages long. The last page is well done and simply has a quotation that is relevant to the author's message: "By stripping an image to essential meaning, the artist can amplify that meaning..." (Scott McCloud). But that was preceded by five redundant and somewhat-tedious pages:

The sub-section starts with a discussion of three Japanese concepts: kanso (simplicity), shizen (naturalness) and shibumi (elegance). But the discussion of shizen really just re-iterates the need for simplicity: the recurring theme in that portion is restraint; naturalness is never mentioned after the opening sentence. (Along the way, he introduces another Japanese term "miegakure" without explaining it -- more distracting content that added nothing meaningful for me.) After that is a full-page discussion of elegance, and that was just more elaboration on simplicity (good taste can be attained in restraint). Then there are two more pages ("Wabi-Sabi Simplicity") in which the author further reiterates the less-is-more idea.

That's followed by a page with a side-bar anecdote that I found pretty silly: it leads to a nonsensical conclusion that a fish shop doesn't need any sign to advertise and identify itself. (More useful would have been a discussion of pros and cons for different signs.)

So, six pages on "kanso", "shizen" and "shibumi" that I found highly redundant with many paragraphs of text that added nothing new to the message. I think that has been typical of my experience in the book so far, and the reason I've found it a slog: there's been a lot of content that adds nothing to the message.

Like the bullets of text on slides that the author wants to steer us away from.

How ironic!

In part, I think the author's obvious interest in Zen and in Japanese culture may be contributing to this problem in the book. He wants to include elements of Zen and Japanese throughout the book because they interest his and because they relate to _his_ understanding of simplicity, clarity and elegance. But it seems to me that he failed to apply his own recommendations of going through a process to understand the audience and to tailor the presentation in a way that will get across his core message to them -- including elminating non-essentials. His core message is not about Zen or about Japanese culture (and if those are topics you want to read about, you can find much better books than this). His core message is about something else, and excessive incorporation of these other themes is, at least for me, a distraction.

In summary, then, I found the book to have some really useful ideas on creating presentations, but that they are presented in a way that really misses the mark in the very goals it strives for. I can readily imagine that Reynolds does live presentations on the same topic that are excellent and highly effective, but for me this written presentation is neither of those things. I'd give a buy rating for the usefulness of the ideas but with this strong caveat for the written presentation. (It's the first book on the topic I've read, so I don't have better alternate suggestions.)
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Long before there was PowerPoint, most presentations contained more columns of numbers and bullet points than pictures. PowerPoint seemed designed to capture the essence of those transparencies and make it faster to create them . . . while adding color. Compared to those ugly transparencies, PowerPoint seemed like an improvement.

By comparison, my dentist has always covered his walls with beautiful bleed images of gorgeous places combined with intriguing sayings about life. Those posters are the only uplifting thing about my trips to the dentist's office. He doesn't tell me any entertaining stories.

In presentationzen, Garr Reynolds shares with us that today's audiences like a standard PowerPoint presentation about as much as I like going to the dentist (I doubt if you are surprised by that). His prescription is to turn the typical presentation into a series of stories aided by exhibits that remind me of those dental posters while being very responsive (present . . . in his terminology) to the audience.

The book's main strength, and one that makes it well worth reading and following, is in describing a process that can be used to create a presentation that will be compelling. Even when I see a presentation that I like, I don't learn much from the example because the presenter doesn't share the process behind the result.

The examples almost all showed someone in a black turtle neck, black pants, and black shoes who looked like a Steve Jobs acolyte. As a result, there's an Apple versus Microsoft tone to the book that didn't match any environment where I ever see or give presentations (usually board rooms and senior corporate conference rooms).

Most presentations should be much shorter, should have a lot less material, and should be much easier to grasp. This book will help you if that's the way you want to go. Beware, however, that you don't go over the edge into becoming an "artiste" in your presentations. This book will probably push you a little too far in that direction.

For those who cannot imagine how an image might fit into a presentation, this book will be a great breath of fresh air. To those who want to copy the advice closely, keep your audience in mind. You might try to take them places where they don't want to go.

In my 30-plus years of presentation experience, I find that the story is the key to success. One good story will more than carry the day. You can draw on a chalk board with your fingernails for graphics and a good story will still work just fine. To me, the weakness of this book is that it doesn't pay enough to the story telling aspect of successful presentations.

I recommend Stephen Denning's books on story telling to help you with that aspect of presentations.
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on February 17, 2009
I was really disappointed with this book, perhaps because of the expectations I built after reading the positive reviews. The book lacks originality as many of the key concepts are based on other books.

The author assumes that slides in a presentation should remain very simple with one chart perhaps and/or very few bullet points in each, which I agree is more elegant in the case of live presentations. Often however, business reports come in "power point" formats and are meant to be read without the presence of a presenter, and therefore have to be more comprehensive.

The samples of slides displayed in the book are very well designed and inspiring, which I thought was perhaps the strong point of this book.
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on December 1, 2008
Since presentations have become a larger (and more important) part of my professional life and given that they are now targeted at the highest level of my organization, I decided to re-evaluate my skills as well as my approach.

This book has proven to be exactly had I hoped for: a fresh change of perspective.
While it does not contain any new found wisdom, it certainly provides something equally important: simple ideas that make you better, more confident AND that stick to your mind. (Well for some presenters, it might even prove to be a new found wisdom, judging by the dozens of lousy presentations that I have attended in my career).

I should stress though that while simplicity is the core idea in this book, this does not mean that it is targeted to those looking for "quick & dirty" productivity tips.

On the contrary, I have found that I now devote more time in the preparation of a presentation. Because it is now clear to me that editing is the most demanding part of the process.
The book has helped me understand what is important to communicate and what is not.
How to extract the essence of complex ideas and present them in a simple, informative manner that engage the audience, not bore them to death.
If I had to write just a one line comment, this would be that it has made me regard each presentation as an enjoyable creative challenge and not as a mundane task.

It was certainly a joy to read and I really feel that I benefited, not only as a professional but also as a person, since most of us are also expected to convince, to educate and to inspire others, outside the realm of our professional lives.

One final note apart from the content but regarding the book itself: while I have always found Amazon's service to be uber professional and top notch, I was quite disappointed that this particular book arrived at less than perfect condition. Given that the packaging was almost bulletproof (and it contained two other books), this leads me to assume that the cosmetic damages were there prior to its dispatch.
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