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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

Comments

Robert Hacker

This post on Frank Gehry"s style makes the same point, that design is as much about what one takes out. http://bit.ly/rqEWqI

John Zimmer

Great post, Garr. This is a theme which, although often repeated, cannot be overstated.

I tell my clients that they should approach their presentations the way in which Michelangelo approached the block of marble that would become "David". Yes, he brought vision and talent to the project, but what did he add to the marble? Nothing. It's what he removed that made it the masterpiece that it is.

Public speakers need to be masters of extraction. Thank you for being a consistent and compelling proponent of this approach.

All the best to you and your family for 2012.

John Zimmer
http://mannerofspeaking.org

Mike Sporer

The "less is better" mentality is a difficult theme for many people to grasp. But it applies well to presentations.

Marc Siegel

Part of the challenge that people face, in some environments, is the notion that slide decks have become 'proof of work'. In other words, the technology has become the primary object of the presentation, rather than the content of the discussion. In my view, that needs to be reversed.

Fred E. Miller

Thanks for the reminders, Garr.

My best editing on slides and writing is done by making everything Simpler:
Simpler to look at.
Simpler to read.
Simpler to understand.

Thanks for your wisdom and leadership in this field!

Mmcr

Love your work, Garr. My copy of Presentation Zen is my first stop when I'm helping faculty make better use of slideware in their teaching.

Several of the same floated through my mind recently when we offered a Prezi workshop at our university. After spending nearly three hours helping faculty and staff get to know this "PowerPoint alternative," I left feeling that despite the glitz, Prezi tends to lead to more of the same. I captured my thoughts here: http://bit.ly/v1bszi

--Matt Roberts (@mmcr)

Craig Hadden - remotepossibilities.wordpress.com

Good to see you posting again after a break!

You asked "How can you remove the distractions?" To do that, I use an approach called the FiRST framework, and the F in FiRST stands for "Focus attention". A key part of that is to minimse "blur" or noise on each slide. It includes tips like these:

• How to reliably tell whether any slide has too much content (by using a check you can do in just a few seconds)
• 2 quick ways to round numbers in Excel (so your slides say things like “$1.2 million”, not “$1,182,947”)

For an overview, see http://remotepossibilities.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/5-ways-to-be-a-top-presenter/ and for details, see http://remotepossibilities.wordpress.com/2011/12/31/minimise-blur-firstframework-part-1m/.

JayKlaphake

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." -Leonardo da Vinci

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