Monday, October 19, 2009

Presentation Zen testballoon - post-game analysis

After reading Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds I was quite intrigued by the concept, and decided to battle-test the approach for an invited talk I gave this last Friday. I spent quite a lot more time preparing the slides in order to have them as clean and uncluttered as possible, trying to make sure that I avoided the data dump syndrome. The lab template also took a hike, save for the first and last slides, in order to allow for more empty space. My "Dakara Nani" or "so what" was highlighted very early in the presentation. Moreover, I was definitely the only one at this symposium using the Presentation Zen approach.

So how'd it go?

One thing's for sure - the Presentation Zen approach requires total control over the slide content and sequence, as there are hardly any visual clues beyond what's absolutely necessary to provide a backdrop for your narrative. All meta-content must be thought through well before your name is announced. There is still opportunity to tune the detail bandwidth for each slide or section, but unless you're absolutely familiar with every slide you're screwed. This actually suits me well, because the slides kind of help me stand out, rather than there being any conflict whatsoever with regard to the focus of attention. MUCH more work, though. Next time I'll see if I can get away with even less detail on my slides.

As for my actual presentation skills, I feel I was at about 85%, as I had a few things working against me:
  • I had a cold, and my voice kept coming and going during the morning, so I was somewhat unsure as to how that was gonna pan out. Luckily it held up during my talk and subsequent Q&A.
  • My freakin' remote control/laser pointer totally went south the day before, and I was not familiar enough with the new one. Different positioning of functions and altered response time pretty much meant that I needed to look at the remote almost every time I introduced some animation.
  • Not enough space between the front rows and the lectern/screen meant I had less room to move around than what's my preference.
  • I was last in a sequence of speakers and the guy before me ran more than 10 minutes over. Rather than extend the session too much, I shortened my talk by ~5 minutes. In retrospect, I could've done a better job selecting which ornamental details to skip, although I hardly think the audience noticed.
  • As I was introduced and the chair mentioned the lab I work at, some guy in the audience snickered and shook his head. As he apparently scanned the full author list on the intro slide, he repeated this behavior. I have to admit that this puzzled me greatly - I'm not used to being heckled within the realms of academia - not like this anyways. Having been in a cover band there was always some drunk dude who wanted us to play something different, but this was a strange experience. The same guy also tried to "get" me during the Q&A session, but failed both at provoking me and at asking "difficult" questions. I'm pretty well prepared when I present my work, and I'm actually quite good at what I do, so the combination of heckling and failed attempts at asking "hard" questions only made him look bad. For sure I'd have looked like a loser if I lost my cool, which is apparently all the rage among the more chardonnay- and Absinthe-inclined part of the population.

I later found out who the guy was, and everything became clear to me. Although I've never met the guy in my life, he has strong heat not only with the head of the division where I work, but also with one of my co-authors.

Outside of this, things went very well, and I got plenty positive, unsolicited feedback. I'm going to continue using the Presentation Zen approach, but get better at it.


Garr Reynolds said...


Well done. Great job with "the heckler." You did it just the way you should have. Thanks for sharing your experience. Excellent post. All the best,


Wilhelm said...


Thanks a lot - much appreciated.

I've really learned a lot from your book - and now also from your blog. Your book is now recommended reading material in my research group.

Good of you to stop by,


Anders said...

I'm sure your performance was great. Since your normal way of presenting is already of a pretty high standard, it can only be improved by your presentation zen modifications. And good job on the heckler.

Wilhelm said...

Thanks, brah

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