Saturday, May 29, 2010

Two books present useful thoughts on presentations

Presentation Zen Design: Simple Design Principles and Techniques to Enhance Your Presentations 

The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever 

Smart design and the power of crosstalk and snark can help persuade and engage.


Presentation Zen Design: Simple Design Principles and Techniques to Enhance Your Presentations. Garr Reynolds. New Riders. 252 pages.

I really liked Garr Reynolds' Presentation Zen, which provided a very smart way of thinking about PowerPoint and other ways that we convey information to persuade, inform and inspire groups and individuals. Unfortunately, we still encounter too many people who didn't get the memo. The presentations and "decks'' are dense, wordy, convoluted and soulless.

Reynolds' understanding of the need to establish an emotion connection between the audience and the subject, and not throw piles of stultifying data and glitzy images at them, was refreshing. But the author — a corporate veteran — has a powerful sense of whimsy and valued creativity in all its manifestations. This new book is a really worthwhile continuation of the Presentation Zen theme.

While just about every biped with a computer these days thinks they're a designer, the smart folks still leave the dangerous stuff to the professionals. Yet Reynolds boldly goes, regardless, and attempts to teach the principles of design to the PowerPoint crowd. This is fairly audacious, but because he's such a knowledgeable guy, deft designer and all-around brilliant person, he actually pulls it off. Of course, being a great presenter helps quite a bit, and he pulls out all the stops in telling and showing just how it's done, with plenty of great examples. Type, white space, images, contrast, humor, metaphor and just about every element of design are at least touched upon or delved into.

Throughout, Reynolds' personality and philosophy shine through, adding an extra layer of goodness to the proceedings.

The question, as always, is whether or not those who need this book — the ones who stand the most to gain from it — will buy it and actually read and follow its instructions.

The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever. Cliff Atkinson. New Riders. 222 pages.

If you remember passing notes in class during boring lectures and lessons, you'll easily understand how audiences armed with laptops, BlackBerries and iPhones now Tweet, post and e-mail back and forth during presentations and events. This poses some extraordinary obstacles, but it also opens up some new opportunities for all involved. Atkinson, who, like Reynolds, wrote an earlier book on PowerPoint, shows how savvy presenters, hosts and participants can use this crosstalk, chatter and snark to extend and expand their own presentations into full-blown participatory multimedia experiences.

There are some painfully hilarious instances of the use and misuse of these channels -- backchannels, as Atkinson calls 'em — along with examples that they either trashed the presentation along with the presenters' credibility and reputations, or turned hostile audiences into engaged and delighted participants.

Some of the material herein is pretty basic, since it's necessary to establish and define terms, conditions and technologies, but once past that, The Backchannel is a very helpful and smart resource — quite entertaining, too!

originally published in The Miami Herald

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