The "Lessig Method" of presentation
October 07, 2005
The "Lessig Method" of presentation is not an official method per se, but many people who know about the work of Stanford law professor, Lawrence Lessig, have been inspired by his presentation style and informally refer to his approach as something unique indeed.
Those who have seen Lessig present have been talking about his approach for a while. David Hornik at VentureBlog wrote a post entitled Putting the "Power" in Powerpoint over two years ago. In this post he heaps praise on the presentation style of Lessig. Hornik says Lessig's presentations "are a fantastic combination of content, art and brand...."
James MacLennan may have been the first to put a label on Lessig's presentation style, calling it the "Lessig Method" which he likens to the Takahashi Method in Japan because Lessig's slides often contain just a single word, short quote, or a photo. The Takahashi Method and Professor Lessig's approach do have similarities, though Lessig uses photos and other graphics, albeit sparingly. MacLennan does a good job of reviewing recent posts in the blogosphere concerning presentations and slideware.
Here is a good example of the "Lessig Method" of presentation. You can see the 243 slides and hear his narration along with them in Flash. Unfortunately you can not see the presenter himself at the same time. Still, judging from the live recording of the presentation, we can get a pretty good idea of the smooth way Lessig synchronized his visuals with his speaking, i.e., the story he was telling about his ideas on "free culture." You can even download the PowerPoint file (sans the Mickey video) on this resource page.
See Dick present "Lessig Style"
There are more videos of Lessig lecturing and presenting here. But there is even a better example available. Scott, a Presentation Zen reader, sent me a note on Monday pointing out the unique presentation style of Dick Hardt. Hardt gives credit to Lessig for inspiring the unique method he used in his presentation on Identity 2.0.
Hardt speaks for 15 minutes and synchronizes his talk quite smoothly to what must be several hundred slides. Most slides are no more than a word or two, a short quote, or a photo. Most slides are visible no more than a few seconds.
Hardt's presentation style is not applicable to every case, of course. Often we need to go much more slowly. But for this short kind of presentation, content, and audience, it worked well. For longer presentations it would be more appropriate to change pace — sometimes moving quickly, slowing way down at other times to explain a confusing point, for example. His introduction is excellent though and is a style many people may want to experiment with to grab the attention of the audience and make an impression, and then later slowing down a bit when needed as the presentation progresses. Also, I would like to see Hardt use a remote and move away from his PowerBook.
It's not the size of your deck that counts
I guarantee you there is no presentation book on the market that would recommend you use a few hundred slides, some visible for 1-2 seconds, for a 15-minute presentation. That's crazy talk, right? Yet, it works in this particular case for this particular audience and for the particular allotted time, a short 15-minutes. This is why I never recommend a specific number of slides, or even that a presenter must use slideware at all. It depends.
As we like to say in Japan, it all depends on TPO (Time, Place, Occasion). Who's to say what an appropriate number of slides should be? It depends on the content and the presenter as well. Guy Kawasaki is amazing with 10 slides in his PowerPoint deck at his popular speaking appearances. Tom Peters may wow a crowd with his content and enthusiasm with a deck of 100 PowerPoint slides (I don't suggest you copy Tom's PPT design style, by the way...more on that at another time). The number is not important. To be concerned with the number of slides shows that our head is in the wrong place. Because...it is the wrong question to ask.
LEFT: Complete deck from Kawasaki's presentation. RIGHT: Partial deck from Peter's PPT.
Watch Hardt's 15-minute presentation and Lessig's Flash presentation. Ask yourself how you can incorporate aspects of the "Lessig Method" that will help kick the quality of your presentations up a notch. How can you use these simple visual techniques in slides and yet still keep your message conversational and your connection with the audience strong?
I saw Dick's talk at OSCON this past summer and came away impressed. I remembered him saying he had stolen/adapted his style from Lessig, so when I gave a presentation in this style last week I encouraged my audience to steal it from me as well.
For those who are considering trying it, three things about this style and about Dick's presentation in particular:
First, as simple as they are, his slides have a very high level of polish. Nothing is more complex than it needs to be. Everything is easily readable and identifiable. Pay attention to this. It's the antithesis of crufty backgrounds and clip art.
Second, a key piece of this style IMO is the "refrain" -- certain elements are repeated periodically. These are often a sort of punchline, but they also offer a little pause in the otherwise relentless flow of images and words.
Third, if you decide to try this, and you generally give the type of presentation where you talk a couple minutes per slide, give yourself more preparation time than usual! There's the obvious challenge of more slides, and the more subtle challenge of making sure they mesh well and that the visuals work instantaneously. I gave my Hardt/Lessig-style talk eight times and in between each one I found something to tweak.
As suggested above, I used the presentation as an introduction to a longer (and slower-paced!) talk. It definitely drew people in.
Posted by: Paul | October 12, 2005 at 02:49 AM
I saw Dick Hardt's presenation when the blogosphere was buzzing about it in Oct/Nov. The large text size, simple screen contents and rapid-fire delivery seemed to lend itself well to mobile delivery. I'm an elearning developer, so what I then did was convert it to mp4, 176x144 for my mobile device (SE k750i). Over the holidays I showed it to several people to gauge their reaction to it as a format for mobile learning. The reaction was universally positive.
Posted by: Ron Lubensky | January 04, 2006 at 06:47 AM