Monday, 5 July 2010

Design, and why it matters to me

Despite several mentions of my excitement about going to see Garr Reynolds speak, I managed to totally forget to blog about the actual event. Because thats how I roll. Having now finished Presentation Zen and a good chunk of his second book on design, I feel like its time to make brief mention of these and related matters.

Garr Reynolds writes the Presentation Zen blog, which has slowly risen in my daily reads until it's found its way firmly into the top 10, sitting between (fantastic) Zen Pundit and (always entertaining) io9. He covers a strangely broad range of topics, considering that at its heart, the blog is about one thing, how to present.

He is a huge advocate of something dear to my own heart, that we should use programmes for the purpose they were intended, rather than trying to force Powerpoint to do 'decks', Word to do spreadsheets, and Excel to do databases.

His idea is that we should take a more, in essence, artistic approach to presentation, and seperate it out from our desire to include huge reams of text in slides.

Considering that we all have to sit through goddawful presentations at least a weekly basis, it staggers me that there isnt more consensus on this issue. I've now got to the stage that I wont do a presentation which includes significant text on the slides, and I think I'm a better presenter for it. I speak more confidently, I'm more likely to bring the audience with me, and it ironically means that I'm better prepared to do presentations without any slideware support if I need to.

The problem is that most of us arent taught to do presentations, or prepare them. At best we learn by doing, from inadequate teachers, who are themselves bad presenters.

There is also a huge issue in that people put togeather Powerpoint presentations as something which serves the dual purpose of speaking to, and giving out to the audience. Frankly, if your presentation can be handed out and makes sense in this form, whats the point in you? You're a pointless entity, you have become your tool's tool.

Consider the fantastic example which the New York Times publicised recently. Its a monsterous thing, and serves no purpose, apart from an arbitary desire to present things in the format demanded of the presenter. Look at the slide, can it possibly mean anything? Really? If this is a topic which interests you, check out Colonel X Hammes article, avaliable here, which savages the use of Powerpoint in the military.

I wholly agree with Garr when he says that we need to seperate these things out. Producing a handout for the audience if needs be, or a leave behind, leaving us free to design a presentation which actually works with the way we speak.

I'm also incresaingly a fan of doing work 'offline'. I recently did a bit of work on a website and found the best way to get my thoughts in order was to grab a scetch pad, and draw the site out. Then draw the site as I thought it could be. It took a while, but it made me far more effective when I got down to the business of writing it up.

I'm not sure if its spending too mcuh time watching presentations on the TED website (If you're not watching at least 1 talk a day you're not living life to the full), but I wonder if there isnt a place for a type of kareoke for public speaking. Toastmasters offers a formal version of this, however I'm not a fan of this sort of approach, and I think it can be quite intimidating for people to stand up blind in front of a critical audience.

I wonder if there are a few people who would be up for getting togeather on a monthly or bi monthly basis, and just speaking for around 5 minutes on a topic they care about. Bring your friends along, and it becomes a networking event for all concerned.

I genuinely think this could be good fun, 45 minutes of speeches, maybe allow 15 minutes for people to do improv speeches, or responses to what they've seen on stage, then an hour for a traditional networking style chat afterwards.

If nothing else, it'll give people confidence speaking to an audience, allow for the sharing of passions amongst a group, and it might just be a good time.

Whos with me?
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