Presentation Zen

My temporary return to teaching has got me using PowerPoint again, now de rigeur in today’s law school classroom, and it’s reminded me of my like-hate relationship with that tool. I’m certain that if anyone with serious presentation chops looked at our academic slides they’d be horrified, because we probably make every mistake in the book. But doing it right two or three times a week for hours at a stretch isn’t easy; it’s the rare bird who can combine personal passion with restrained verbiage on the big screen and get the timing right as well.

I’m sure our readers face similar presentation problems from time to time, treating PowerPoint as more of a duty than a joy, and consequently serving up blurts and bullets to no real or clear purpose.

Presentation Zen might help. It’s the website of Garr Reynolds and his book of the same name. You’ll find there the usual ten tips for slides, tips for presentations, etc. And you can read his analyses of some of his favourite TED presentations, so that you have live examples to study. You might want to take a look at his blog, as well. If you gain nothing else from a tour of his site than a general urge to work harder for your next audience, the world will be a better place.

What I’d really like to see, though, is a moratorium on slide presentations and a return to the human speaker as the focus of attention. A year without PowerPoint (or Keynote) is all I ask. Too much even to hope for?


  1. Some of my law school profs use Powerpoint or slides; some don’t. With the exception of one whose slides are very creative, I find it much easier to concentrate on lectures when professors don’t use visual aids.

  2. Simon,

    Some of the lawyers’CLEs which are being webcast aren’t being video-streamed in full, just sound with the presenter’s PowerPoint. I’m presenting at one of those in June. I’ll have to curb my tendency to have too much in one slide.

    Still, when the material is all in the paper, if the summary points are worth having in a slide, then they should be in the paper, too. And, then, why does one need the onscreen slide if the lecture isn’t being broadcast, so that one’s audience is there and, supposedly, following along in the material?

    For those of us who are litigators, it’s worth remembering that most witnesses don’t testify with visual aids to explain their meaning, and judges certainly don’t talk with cartoon “speech balloons” when posing questions from the bench.

    On the other hand, my presentations tend to not be rehashes of the written paper but extensions and addition and explanation. So, the slides usually have the content of the new material, rather than merely recapitulating what’s in the written paper. That way, people who go (and pay attention) have a reason for going and paying attention. And, in many cases, paying more for the pleasure? of attending than just buying the CLE material, later.

    I don’t claim that it always works, and it makes more work for me, but it forces me to pay attention, too.


  3. I’d suggest following Cliff Atkinson’s “Beyond Bullet Points” approach for PowerPoints, which I’ve used several times to great effect.

    With BBP you strip your PowerPoints of ALL bullet points, apply a story structure, and emphasize visuals as you persuade your audience.