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What I’ve Read Lately: Presentation Zen
What I’ve Read Lately: Presentation Zen

What I’ve Read Lately: Presentation Zen

by Garr Reynolds
ISBN-13: 978-0-321-52565-9
ISBN-10: 0-321-52565-5

Can you relate to this? You’re attending a meeting, having spent a half-day getting there, its mid-to-late afternoon, and the presentation starts. The first slide features a blue background, too-small black font, and a slide counter in the corner promising you 143 slides. You groan. 5 slides into the presentation, you’re enjoying a slide with two columns of bullets, corporate logo(s), and you’re magically at slide 14/143.

Unfortunately, I’ve encountered this scenario more times than once. One time, my own boss was the offender. Doing my best to be kind, I pointed out his colors and font selection were terrible, I was simply met with, ‘…what’s wrong? I think it looks great!’

From my experience, some of the most common experiences include:

  • A presenter relying on the slides to tell the story
  • Festooned with too many bullets
  • Text you cannot (or do not want to) read
  • A page counter
  • Poor color selections
  • Graphics use with abandon, too-busy
  • A set of slides clearly from ‘another’ day’s presentation

To be honest, especially earlier in my career, I must confess to having been guilty of probably every one of these, and more. When page counters first came out—it was Cool! 3-D graphics making eye-popping charts! Way Cool! And, animations (sure, I can make it have ‘something’ to do with my prezo), just plain awesome!

Over time, I attended a professional presentation course, or two. They pointed out a slide should only have 5-7 bullets; never smaller than a 14pt font size; certain colors to never/ever use; and so on. I also started paying closer attention to how different presentations were built, delivered, received.

It was with great pleasure I stumbled across the book presentationzen, by Garr Reynolds. In presentationzen, Reynolds has created the best book I have ever read or studied on the topic of giving presentations.

Reynolds is an American living in Japan. The book is a real pleasure to read, mixing quality of life (Zen) perspectives, with case studies of failing and successful presentations. Along the way, he provides excellent examples of original slides, how they can be improved upon (and does so), while also explaining the reasoning. It’s an excellent practitioner’s book letting you immediately apply the principles discussed.

Boiling the 228 page book down: Use the slides for impact, rely more on imagery (he uses lots of pictures), and a whole lot less on bullets, text, and whiz-bang stuff. If you present for a living, you owe it to yourself to get this book, read it, and seriously consider at least starting to adopt some of Reynold’s suggestions!

So, I’m curious, what are the worst offenses you’ve experienced?


  1. By far the worst have been scientists that try to present a math analysis story with all the equations in tiny font. Only once in my entire career did I see an effective presentation using equations and mathematical arguments. The presenter was young but effective. He led his audience clearly through his story and sold a $100 million program that hinged on his work.

    1. JT

      Hello Joe,

      That’s one I hadn’t thought about. I’ve been fortunate not to sit through a deep scientific presentation. My wife had been a formulating research chemist and some of her comments mirrored yours.


  2. Supriya

    I come from a management consulting background. We are trained from day on in Management school regarding the do’s and don’t of presentation – this includes written part, slides do’s and don’ts as well as verbal communication. The entire idea is to “Engage” the audience. The standard way is usually to boring so the more team activities that you involve along with the “looks” the better response you have from the audience.

    Some of the most terrible client presentations I’ve seen in the past were – the colors were too painful on a human eye! For example: Dark blue color and black text! Another color combination that was painful to sit through was a client showed slides in bright red with dark green text or Red background with yellow text! (these combinations can be quite painful to a human eye from heuristics standpoint). Slides should be kept simple.

    1. JT

      Hello Supriya,

      Good comments, thanks for sharing. While the manner of execution may differ, I certainly agree with your need to engage the audience. Given how there are so many of the same, bad, ‘shared’ experiences, it’s amazing it’s allowed to continue.


      J. T. Pedersen

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