Zen and the Art of Powerpoint Maintenance
As is the case with each holiday season, I have lots of new books to read, and perhaps one or two of them to review here. It's also the season, in our field at least, for the ubiquitous and much dreaded campus visit, where finalists visit campuses in droves to vie for those elusive tenure-track positions. Most of those visits involve the "research talk," another of those genres for which we have no equivalent elsewhere in the field. Research talks are usually longer than a typical conference presentation, but shorter than a keynote, and our motivation in giving them is never having to give them ever again. Ever.
And so, in the interest of the intersection of these seasons, allow me to recommend to you Garr Reynolds's Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (Amazon). Loyal readers will recognize Reynolds from the blog of the same name, which I read regularly and recommend nearly as often. In fact, it's possible to glean most of what appears in the book from the blog, but it's also easier to pass around the book, and I've already started my copy on its path of local circulation.
So I'm working a bit from memory here. It's a quick read, and an engaging one, as the book itself is designed, both physically and discursively, according to the same principles that it advocates, but a few things stuck with me. First, it may not do so in quite these terms, but PZ emphasizes the fact that a good presentation is a combination of visuals, orals, and verbals (or slides, script, and handouts), and that each of these elements deserves full treatment. The most attention is paid in the book to PowerPoint, and Reynolds takes great pains to separate the idea of a visual presentation from the (often really poor) ways it is executed. The supplemental approach to PP (e.g. pasting a handful of visuals into a tired PP template and cramming em full of bullet points) is not his approach. At. All.
His approach is much more Zen-like, emphasizing simplicity, clarity, elegance, and a small handful of basic design principles, and the results are instructive. There are good examples, a number of interesting voices included, and the result is a very readable book that nonetheless registers some really important points about presentation. And believe me: there are very few academic presentations out there that wouldn't be improved mightily by the advice therein.
I'm sorry not to be more specific, but as I said, I've already started circulating my copy, less than a week after it came in the mail. Take that as a good sign.
That is all.