I don't remember how or when I first came across Garr Reynolds' Presentation Zen method of doing presentations. I do know, however, that I was reading the Presentation Zen blog even before the first book came out, since I remember pre-ordering it. So it's been a while and I do hope that if you ever saw one of my own presentations, that the influence is apparent.
Since Garr is living in Japan, chances of getting to see him live over here in Europe are rare. So when the Presentation Zen Seminar in Paris was announced, I only hesitated briefly to consider the technicalities (of getting some days off from work, and of getting to Paris) before I booked it.
I apologize in advance if this post is getting a bit fanboy-ish ;-) but to summarize, I had a great time in and around this seminar.
The seminar itself was scheduled for Tuesday, December 7. There was an informal get-together (aka tweetup) on the evening before, i.e. Monday. This meetup was open for everyone, so we ended up being about 15 people, including Garr, Phil Waknell and Pierre Morsa (the organizers), and a mix of people who booked the seminar and other Garr fans.
The tweetup was held in a fancy new place called Un Dimanche à Paris, which is a shop that makes its own chocolate with attached lounge (where the meetup happened) and restaurant. After some coming and going, nine people stayed for dinner. And of course every dish on the menu included chocolate in one form or another. Tasty!
Culinary arts aside, the meetup was very relaxed and enjoyable and pretty much set the tone for the next day. Garr is both a good and patient listener as well as an entertaining host. Topics ranged from presentations (of course) to taxis (and lost women's heels) to more pythonesque things like talking handbags ...
The actual seminar was hosted by Microsoft at their Paris campus. The venue (a large meeting room) was open an hour before the start of the seminar, which allowed us to get a snack and chat with Garr and other participants. This relaxed atmosphere really helped make this feel more like a meetup with friends than any form of business.
For anyone familiar with Garr's work and philosophy, there wasn't really a lot of new information in this seminar. But that doesn't mean that it was boring - au contraire! It was more like a 5-hour entertaining tour de force through all aspects of The Presentation Zen Way, interspersed with short group exercises. It was great to see the "Master" in action, bringing across his vision of how to create better presentations with a fantastic mix of entertaining and enlightening slides.
Some key points I took away:
- Your presentation should be about the audience, the speaker (i.e. you), and the content - in that order! Too many speakers don't really think about what's in it for their audience.
- Ask yourself: So what? What's the point you're trying to make?
- About preparation: You need to stop "juggling the balls" for a while and sit down in order to be creative (and come up with a great presentation).
- Exercise restraint and aim for simplicity. Get rid of the non-essentials. Don't try to cram too much information into your presentation. Remember the Pareto principle or Hara hachi bu.
- Simplicity means achievement of maximum effect with minimal effort.
The event was organized by Phil and Pierre of Ideas on Stage and they really did a great job. They kept us informed at all times before and during the two days and always made sure that everybody was feeling fine and welcome. With some help from Pearson, they surprised everyone (including Garr) by not only handing out a Bento Box for every participant but also copies of Garr's latest book, The Naked Presenter, which isn't even available in Europe yet and only started shipping this week. I've already pre-ordered the book, but it probably won't make it over here before January, so that was a welcome surprise. It also allowed me to get an autograph from Garr, since I forgot to bring one of his other books with me.
In closing, I'd like to thank Garr, Phil and Pierre, Microsoft and Pearson, and everybody who came to the tweetup and the seminar for making this such an enjoyable and enlightening event. Incidentally, I just got note that my proposal for a presentation at next year's ACCU Conference has been accepted. This is one of my favourite conferences, and I will try to apply what I have learned during those two days in Paris for that presentation. Thanks, Garr, and I'll hope to see you again some time.