It was about four years ago when I realized the power of effective presenting and presentation design, and that if I was going to create great presentations, I’d need to find resources to educate myself. Our educational system has never embraced presenting as something that needs to be taught, and for some strange reason we’re simply expected to know how to use PowerPoint and deliver a smooth presentation while within the corporate world.
I wasn’t born a good presenter or presentation designer, and both of those skills I work on to improve daily. However, there were influences in my life that have brought me to where I am currently, and I wanted to both share them with you and encourage you to share your influences, inspirations, and resources that have helped you become a better presenter and presentation designer.
1. People – Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte
Whenever I speak about effective presenting, I end my presentation by introducing the audience to Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte. They are two of the handful of people that blazed a trail for the rest of us presentation designers and rebelled against bad PowerPoint when everyone else accepted the norm. Originally from Oregon and has formerly worked at Apple, Garr now lives in Osaka, Japan and writes about the influences of the Japanese culture in design. Nancy is the co-founder and CEO of Duarte Design – the world’s most well-known presentation design firm.
I had the pleasure of meeting both Nancy and Garr at the Presentation Reboot workshop at the Duarte Design offices a few years ago. In a short but private conversation as Nancy and I walked down the hallway, she inspired me to pursue my passion for presentation design. If you want to become a better presenter, both Nancy and Garr need to be on your radar.
My first inclination when I knew I needed to start improving my presenting and presentation design skills was to go to Google it! (Isn’t that the answer to all our information problems nowadays?) The most popular and renowned blog about presentation design is Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. His approach to presentation design — one of simplicity, beauty, imagery, and restraint — set the stage for the presentation revolution we’re starting here, and was the inspiration for my own blog.
Since the success of the Presentation Zen blog, a number of blogs about presentation design (including this one) popped up. Check out the blog roll in the side bar to the right to find other presentation design blogs that have influenced me, including Six Minutes, Advance Your Slides (by Nick Smith), Phil Presents (by Phil Waknell), and Create Your Communications Experience (by Bert Decker & team) just to name a few.
While reading blogs gives you short, consumable tips for presenting and presentation design, in order to take it to the next level you really have to start reading books. Reading books allows you to take that narrow yet deep dive into specific topics relating to speaking, design, learning patters, and more. Some of my favorite books that have helped me improve are:
- Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds - What I call the bible of effective presentation design. Gives a simple overview to the core principles of presentation design.
- slide:ology by Nancy Duarte - Takes the deeper dive into the art and science behind creating great presentations.
- Resonate by Nancy Duarte – Helps readers understand the power of storytelling in presentation design. See my video review here.
- Brain Rules by Dr. John Medina – Explains the brain in ways us regular people can understand! Read my review here.
- The Effective Presenter by Timothy J. Koegel – A great breakdown of what it takes to be a great presenter. Read my review here.
- The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo – Pulls back the curtain and shows you exactly how Steve Jobs makes those keynotes look so darn good! Read my review here.
- 100 Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell – Fantastic book introducing you to 100 design concepts. Explains the concept on one page, shows the concept on the other.
Please note that all links to Amazon are affiliate links.
4. TED – Technology, Education, Design
TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Now it’s an annual conference in both the US and UK that I’m pretty sure you need to sacrifice your first born to attend, and satellite conferences (called TEDx) organized and run by passionate community members have popped up to bring TED to the masses. All TED presentations are limited to 17 minutes (give or take), which makes them much more easily consumable, and feature the most renowned and revered presenters from the technology, entertainment, and design disciplines.
What made TED so influential in my life is their website, which is choc full of free, high quality videos of the most popular TED presentations. I’ve spoken about a few of my favorites on the blog, but here are a few that may inspire you to become a better presenter.
- J.J. Abrams – The Mystery Box – (My post about it here)
- Sir Ken Robinson – Schools Kill Creativity
- David Pogue – Simplicity Sells (My post about it here)
- Barry Schwartz – The Paradox of Choice (Perfect application to PowerPoint slides!)
5. Volunteering to Speak
The only way you’ll improve as a speaker and help manage your fear of public speaking is…to speak! It’s the only way to get your “sea legs” and gain experience dealing with the unpredictabilities of a live presentation. It allows you to deal with all kinds of audiences — those that are positive and supportive and those that are negative (yes, it happens) and argumentative. There are numerous organizations that are looking for people to speak, including professional organizations, schools, and conferences. Even at your own company – if you’ve got valuable information that would help your colleagues, why not create a short presentation and offer a “lunch and learn” training session? I’ve volunteered to speak for a number of organizations and can’t stress enough how valuable it was (and still is) to become a better presenter.
What resources have helped you become a better presenter?