Presentation Reboot

Post written by Chris Spagnuolo. Follow Chris on Twitter 1 comment

Yesterday, I had the chance to spend eight great hours with two of the best people in the presentation design business: Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte. I attended their very first Presentation Reboot workshop and came away filled with a wealth of new ideas and approaches for creating and delivering killer presentations. I’ve been a long time fan of Garr’s and Nancy’s and was so glad when they announced a joint-effort to put on the Presentation Reboot workshops this week. The workshop was held at Duarte Design’s offices in Mountain View, California and the class was filled with about 30 very interesting and diverse people from as far away as Japan.

The coolest thing about this workshop was that there was not a computer in sight. The workshop didn’t focus on how to do things in PowerPoint or Keynote. It was not about the tools. It was about learning how to design an effective presentation. In fact, every exercise we did in the workshop was done in analog mode. Garr and Nancy did an amazing job of making people stop and think about the design and content decisions that they make even before they fire up PowerPoint. Garr kicked the workshop off by helping us to understand how to think like designers. His main point was that we are all creative, we are all designers…we just don’t know it. He talked about the beautiful Zen idea of beginner’s mind and how we can use it to unleash our creativity. And by the way, if you’ve never heard Garr’s impression of Yoda, it’s spot on. Here are Garr’s top ten tips on how to think like a designer:

  1. It’s not about tools
  2. Start in analog mode
  3. Lose the fear and take a risk
  4. Look for the story
  5. Put yourself in their shoes
  6. Show restraint
  7. Vision trumps all other senses
  8. Aim for a high signal-to-noise ratio
  9. Embrace empty space
  10. Learn to see the lessons all around you

Nancy took over the next session and talked about the value of stories in your presentation and how they connect you with your audience. She emphasized that presentations are about creating ideas, not creating slides. The best takeaway from this session was the Presentation Slidemap. It’s a very simple tool designed to make you think about who your audience is and who you, as the speaker, are to them. The tool also helps you to map out how to best reach your audience before, during, and after your presentation. But my favorite part of this tool is the section of it that deals with the Big Idea…the story and call to action. It makes you think about where you want to move your from to where you want to move them to. It’s the story arc of your presentation. The other cool thing this tool helps you do is identify where in your presentation and slide deck you have your analytical information, your emotional spots, and your S.T.A.R. Moment (Something They’ll Always Remember). This really helps you understand the flow of emotion and information during your presentation and helps you arrange your analytic and emotional components for the most impact on your audience. Between Duarte’s Presentation Slidemap and the Decker Grid that I learned about last year, you can’t go wrong in your presentations.

After a nice lunch with some other workshop participants, I took a walk around Duarte Design’s building to see how they worked. It’s an awesome collaborative workspace and you could easily see teams of designers working closely together. Someday, I’ll have to ask Nancy to if she’ll do an interview on the use of collaborative spaces in building successful businesses and designs, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

In the next session, Nancy dove head first into how to display data, how to use diagrams, and just some general design goodness. One of my favorite exercises in this session was a wordstorming exercise. The class was divided in two and each half was given a typical slide cliche…our group had the water ripple cliche. The idea of the exercise was to have our group use a whiteboard and pen to write down words in a free association manner that led us away from the cliche. Very cool exercise. Some of the words made no sense but you just throw them up them and try to get away from the obvious cliche. What this does is help you stop, step away from the computer, and really put some energy into thinking about your design decisions. It’s helps you get out that box of stereotypes and into the creative solution. And when you do that, you really stand out from the crowd when you’re speaking.

Garr wrapped up the day talking about the actual delivery of your presentation. In addition to all of his great stories, he also showed quite a few of my favorite TED videos to demonstrate how the best-of-the-best present. What I love about Garr, and Nancy for that matter, is that neither of them ever said “This is good” or “That is bad”, they simply presented a framework or structure to work within that really creates the freedom to explore your ideas. There were no formulas, no processes to follow, but instead they presented an approach for how think about your ideas and presentations from a different point of view.

It was really a great workshop and both Nancy and Garr are very engaging presenters as well as excellent teachers. They’re both extremely knowledgeable about their subject area, but both also have a great sense of humor and calmness that really helped them connect with the class. Nancy and Duarte Design have ongoing 1-day Slide:ology workshops throughout 2009 and I would highly recommend that if you missed Presentation Reboot, you try to attend one of Duarte’s workshops this year, you won’t regret it.

Here are some interesting resources that I found about during the workshop from Nancy, Garr and my classmates:


Presentation Zen: Garr’s blog

Slide:ology: Nancy’s blog Great resource for professional stock photos User submitted graphs and data. John Medina’s awesome blog and website about his 12 principles for thriving at work, home and school.

Kuler: An awesome place to pick up some great color palettes A great tool for collaborative and distributed teams

The Best Job in the World: Check out the shortlisted applicants


Of course, Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds and Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte

Show Me the Numbers by Stephen Few

Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath

The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda (one of my favs)

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  1. Christophe said,

    Thanks Chris for sharing!

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