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February 2005

January 2005

PowerPoint abuse in Japan: we can learn a lot from the Japanese bento

One of the greatest things about living in Japan (at least for me) is coming back from Tokyo on the Shinkansen ("bullet train"). Successful meetings in Tokyo behind me, I boarded the super-fast 6:03pm Nozomi bound for Osaka complete with my "Ekiben" ("bentos" sold at the station, or "eki") and can of Asahi Super Dry (that's beer). Sure, there are trains in many countries, but few things seem such a quintessential "Japan experience" as zipping trough the Japan countryside aboard cutting-edge technology while sampling Japanese delicacies, sipping Japanese beer and catching glimpses of temples, shrines, and even Mount Fuji out the spacious side window.

While in the midst of eating the contents of my bento, I glanced to my right across the aisle to see a "salary man" reviewing a printed version of his PowerPoint slides. Two slides per page, one page after another filled with slide boxes crammed with Japanese text. No white space. No graphics. Just slide after slide of Japanese text. Were these slides used in a stand-up presentation? If so, I sympathize with the audience. Or, were they merely a document printed in PowerPoint? If so, I pity both the author and the reader: PowerPoint is not a tool for document creation.

What a contrast in the presentation of great content: the beautifully efficient, well designed "ekiben" which contains nothing superfluous, and the poorly designed, ugly, difficult-to-understand PowerPoint slides across the aisle. Hmmm, should the design of your slides be more like the Japanese bentos sold on the bullet train? Yes. An "ekiben" contains great content which is arranged in the most efficient, graceful manner. The bento is presented in a simple, beautiful, balanced way. Nothing lacking. Nothing superfluous. Not decorated, but wonderfully designed. A delicious, inspiring way to spend 20 minutes. When was the last time you could say the same about a presentation you saw?Bento_2

Being "in the moment"

Attorney, Jiri Mestecky, gave a great talk to Design Matters on Intellectual Property law as it relates to file sharing and the downloading of music this week. Some people may say that this is a boring issue and that it would be impossible to give an interesting talk on this legal issue (or legal issues in general). Personally, I do not believe there are too many issues that can not be presented in a compelling, interesting manner. What was great about Jiri's talk is that he was (1) qualified to speak on the issue, (2) demonstrably interested in — even passionate about — his topic, and (3) he was clearly happy to be there. He was clearly "in the moment," in other words. Always good to listen to someone who is passionate about their subject.


Presentations fail for many reasons. One reason is that the presenter lacks a passion or deep interest in the subject (or at least gave that impression). You do not need to flap your arms wildly or turn in to something you are not. Be yourself, of course. But never be afraid to show your commitment to or passion about your subject. Your audience will pick up on this and it will help you tremendously. On the other hand, if you "phone it in," failure is virtually certain regardless of the content.

Presentation Zen: Beginnings

Welcome to day one of my blog at With this blog I hope to share my thoughts on virtually a daily basis concerning the issue of presentation design and delivery. My topics may range from multimedia, cross-cultural communication, graphic design, story telling and how embracing the concepts of simplicity, harmony, beauty, integrity can help you to be a far better presenter and an improved communicator in general.


Why PresentationZen?

Because something has to be done. The current state of business presentations is a disaster of mind-numbing ineffectiveness. I do not have to tell you this. PowerPoint, for example, lends its self to be misused and abused and most presenters fall into its trap. But multimedia or slideware (Powerpoint included) is not the problem. The problem is us. Many experts are trying to do something about this (Tufte at Yale, Cliff Atkinson at Sociablemedia, etc.). Please allow me to be another voice of reason.

Much more to come later. I am director of Design Matters, an Osaka-based design group and I need to attend that meeting tonight in the Apple Store. Also have a trip to Tokyo this week for some meetings. It is a busy time. But each week I aim to add insights and share tips (and even secrets) on how to look like, sound like — and ultimately be — a more professional presenter. — G