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December 2011

Progress and the intentional selection of less

Zen_kyotoMany people today talk about presentation technology as if it were a panacea for boring lectures and ineffective presentations. Technologies such as our laptops, iPads, and cool software packages are wonderful tools that can, when used well, increase the quality of communication and engagement. This is especially true when we need to engage with people live on the other side of the planet via tools like video conferencing, webinars, Skype, and so on. However, while technology has evolved in dramatic ways over the last generation, our deep human need for visceral connections, and personal engagement has not changed. When it comes to technology as it relates to communication, then, what is often needed today is not more, but less. That is, an intentional selection of less.

Regress to progress
Eiji Han Shimizu is a Japanese filmaker and creator of the award-winning film "Happy." In his 2011 TEDxTokyo presentation Shimizu underscored the idea that it is not always "more" that makes us happy, but rather the intentional selection of less, an aesthetic that is at the heart of traditional Japanese culture.

"A blind march toward progress that's based on distraction, temptation, and consumption may not bring happiness." Eiji Han Shimizu

If we apply this sentiment to the modern age of presentation technology, it raises a question: are too many of us blindly marching to accept all that is shiny and new, in a spirit of what we may call "progress," proclaiming that the tools themselves increase engagement? Does this focus on the consumption of more and more ephemeral tools lead to a great distraction in many cases? Digital tools are an important part of our work. However, we must be very skeptical about claims of engagement—especially when they come from the very companies which make the tools. As more digital tools become available at a faster pace, it will be the intentional selection of less, the willingness to say no to more, and the thoughtful practice of restraint that leads to the clearest communication and best presentations. As we begin the new year, here are some questions to ponder for you (and your group).

Questions to consider
• How can you apply the "intentional selection of less" to your work?
• What elements or activities in your field serve more to distract than to engage?
• How can you remove the distractions?
• In what ways, in your field, is more actually less (and vice versa)?
• How can you increase clarity and impact by resisting the call to add more?

Related
Some questions that the simplicity of Zen can help address


Steve Jobs: "People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint"

HashingOne thing we need to constantly remind ourselves is that slides and other forms of projected visualization—no matter how "cool" they may be—are not appropriate for every context. Multimedia is great for presentations before large groups such as keynote addresses or conference presentations, but in meetings where you want to actively discuss issues or go over details in depth, slides—especially the snooze-inducing bulletpoint variety, which are never a good idea—are almost always counter productive. I stressed early on in the first version of Presentation Zen four years ago—and ad nauseam on this website long before that—that PowerPoint (and other forms of multimedia projected on a screen) are not appropriate for every kind of presentation, or even for most kinds of presentations. This was a point that was made too by Steve Jobs in several of his interviews with biographer Walter Isaacson in his book called simply Steve Jobs. (In the 2nd edition of Presentation Zen, which just started shipping, I expand a bit more on Steve Jobs's ideas concerning presentations).

Sj_quote2.098

"I wanted them to engage..."
Even when I first started working at Apple in 2001, I overheard someone in my department say that you should never show up to a meeting with Steve Jobs with a deck of slides. Jobs's aversion to people using slides in meetings was well known inside Apple. “I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking,” Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson when describing meetings upon his return to Apple in 1997. “People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.” Jobs preferred to use the whiteboard to explain his ideas and hash out things with people. Former Senior Vice President of the iPod Division at Apple Tony Fadell confirmed Jobs's disdain of slides. "Steve prefers to be in the moment, talking things through," Fadell says in Isaacson's book. "He once told me, ‘If you need slides, it shows you don’t know what you’re talking about.'"

There is a difference between a keynote and ballroom style presentations (and TED and TEDx talks, Ignite presentations, Pecha Kucha and similar events, etc.) and a meeting around a conference table. Most productive meetings are a time for discussion and working things out, not simply going through a bunch of slides. Each case is different, of course, but in general consider saving the multimedia for the larger presentations, and never resort to using slideware and other forms of computer-generated visuals simply out of habit.