Practical tips: Presentation techniques

ZenAt some point, every CI (and BI) practitioner has to present something. This can be a presentation about what you want to do, about what you’ve done, or about what you’ve found. No matter why or for whom you’re presenting, it is important to transfer your message loud and clear. In the modern world of today, you can’t imagine a professional presentation without some digital help, for instance a slideshow-presentation, or a short movie. In this blogpost, I would like to discuss some methods for using a slideshow-presentation.

There are many different slideshow presenting techniques. Some tell us to use no more than ten slides, others tell us to use no text on the slides, etc. Even though these techniques don’t always agree with each other, they all have the same base: don’t use too much text and too much time per slide. Your presentation should be interesting for your listeners, because your goal is to educate/inform them, right?

I would like to discuss the Zen aesthetics which come from Japan. These techniques focus on simplicity, which means creating maximum effect with minimal means (we, Western Europeans, like to call this efficiency). Besides the value of simplicity there are other aesthetic values that are characteristic of these Japanese techniques. In his blogpost “Gates, Jobs, & the Zen aesthetic” Garr Reynolds describes these values:

  • Subtlety
  • Elegance
  • Suggestive rather than the descriptive or obvious
  • Naturalness (i.e., nothing artificial or forced)
  • Empty space (or negative space)
  • Stillness, Tranquility
  • Eliminating the non-essential

For most presenters among us, including me, this means a whole different approach. Instead of just putting our ‘clear-cut’ information in bullets on a sheet, according to this aesthetic it’s necessary to think about how to put it there, and to decide which information is necessary. I think that the most difficult thing to do here is eliminating the non-essential information. Although it may be difficult to find the right balance, the overall guideline is clear: ‘less is more’.

While the ‘Zen aesthetic’ focuses primarily on the lay-out of the slides, there are other slideshow-techniques which focus on the use of slides. In his blogpost about how to get decision-makers to pay attention to intelligence, Jeroen refers to the 10-20-30 presentation rule by Guy Kawasaki. This rule is simple: 1) use no more than 10 slides; 2) use no more than 20 minutes; 3) use a font no smaller than 30 points. I think these rules are rough guidelines. A slideshow isn’t ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ if you use 11 slides. The main focus here is again simplicity. Don’t use too much sheets, too much time, and too much text.

The art of simplicity also applies to the use of bullets in a slideshow. When searching the internet, the sources which emphasize to avoid the use of bullets are numerous. Most of these people suggest that using bullets in a slideshow is boring. An alternative is the use of images and avoiding the use of text as much as possible. They maintain that the goal of a slideshow is to support your story. One disadvantage is that in that case a slideshow can’t serve as a hand-out because a hand-out with pictures isn’t useful.

One of the main conclusions from this blogpost is that simplicity plays an important role in slideshows. When preparing a slide show, keep in mind that simplicity should be your main focus. But don’t exaggerate, when you only have blank slides in your slideshow, you don’t need one at all!

Gates, Jobs, & the Zen aesthetic by Garr Reynolds
The 10/20/30 Rule of Powerpoint by Guy Kawasaki

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