Most people begin drafting a presentation by opening up PowerPoint and typing out their ideas in bullet point form across multiple slides. They look to their slides to both guide the process of building a presentation as well as be the medium they use to convey their message. Garr Reynolds has proposed applying the philosophy of Zen to building presentations. Zen is the Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism emphasizing the value of meditation and intuition rather than ritual worship or study of scriptures.
"The principles I am most mindful of through every step of the presentation process are restraint, simplicity, and naturalness: Restraint in preparation. Simplicity in design. Naturalness in delivery."
When preparing a presentation, a common mistake is removing opportunity for creativity in the design of a presentation. The first step to designing more creative presentations is storyboarding your message. Most people unnecessarily constrain themselves by trying to do this in PowerPoint. Going analog during the preparation process is extremely beneficial. Being analog during the presentation process requires you to not sit in front of computer screen and to actively plan and draw out your ideas. You can do this by using whiteboards, post-its and notepads to map out your presentation. Make a storyboard of your ideas, write lists, sketch images and brainstorm. These techniques allow you to have a spontaneous flow of new ideas. By using a whiteboard you are able to step back and visualize the flow of your future presentation. This helps you assemble an outline and structure on where you want your presentation to eventually go. By going analog you are creating a path for yourself on how you eventually want your presentation to go.
After you complete your analog phase use PowerPoint or Keynote to put your design into a solid visual structure. Remember simplicity is important in a presentation, but prepare a detailed handout that your audience can take away and remember.
When designing, simplicity is very difficult to achieve. Simple design is a great medium to powerfully communicate a clear and impactful message. However, creating a simple design can only be done through an intentional process to include only the most essential elements and iteratively reviewing the presentation to remove any "fluff". Successfully designing a simple presentation takes more time and attention than the effort that is normally devoted to presentation design.
Design is about making communication as clear as possible for the audience. Visuals will resonate with your viewers much more than bullet points on a slide. Keep visuals to a minimum to reduce clutter and stray away from 3D effects. Learn to use white space effectively to enforce clarity, organization and interest. Use high quality photos that can be seen and understood by the audience. Don't be afraid to use repetition, this will promote unity and a common theme throughout your presentation. Use the principle of contrast to exemplify a strong dynamic of differences amongst various elements. The principle of alignment will help visually connect elements on a slide, by doing this your slide will look clean and organized. By using the principle of proximity this will help group related items within your presentation that belong in the same category.
Create visual designs that catch the viewer's attention. Try to stray away from the overused software templates, instead make something unique for a visual theme. Limit the use of bullet points and instead build complex graphics that will go along with your narrative. Implement the mindset of "maximum effect with minimum means".
Beauty through restraint
You can find your presentation Zen by clearly outlining your message and boiling it down to its essence. Remember excess words and visual clutter will dilute your message and add background noise to distract your audience from your message. Remember "Restraint in preparation. Simplicity in design."