Zen-ification of a PowerPoint Presentation

Looking through my Power Points from last year (and this) I realize that on many occasions I organized them more for me than my students. I wanted to make sure my students could see and hear the information they need to know. And I want to remember what I’m supposed to talk about 🙂 But after reading suggestions from Garr Reynolds about Presentation Zen, I now realize my good intentions of providing ‘visual’ information (in the form of text) may have actually been overloading my students. Garr Reynolds uses cognitive research to support his belief that less text is better. In his document Presentation Zen: How to Design & Deliver Presentations Like a Pro, Mr. Reynolds summarizes key findings of cognitive scientists regarding the ‘multimedia learning theory’ as

Multimedia Effect. Narration with pictures (visuals) is better than narration alone.
Modality Principle. People learn better when words are presented as narration rather than text.
Redundancy Principle. People learn better from narration & graphics rather than narration, graphics, & text.
Coherence Principle. People learn better when extraneous visual material is excluded.

Now, I am assuming (and hoping) that this applies as well to the middle school students I work with and that by following Mr. Reynolds advice, I can increase the engagement of my students with information that I present to them by changing the format and style of my presentations.

Although a lot of Mr. Reynolds information regarding Presentation Zen seems to be aimed at business professionals, I instantly saw the applications to education. His tips for organization and preparation, slides, and delivery really helped me reflect on what I have been doing and what I need to change. Over the last year I have seen many well done Zen-style presentations both live (Learn2Talks at Learning 2.012 conference in Beijing) and online (TED Talks) and have a good grasp of what they should look and sound like. So I wanted to focus on organization and preparation. I decided I wanted to revamp a text/information heavy PowerPoint about Literature Circles I created for my class last year. The Presentation Zen tip that stood out most to me was “Start with the End in Mind”.

What was the purpose of the presentation? Most of the information was going to be on a handout I would give the students and the other part of presentation was instructions for practicing the roles they would be doing in the literature circles. Did that all have to be in the presentation?

My New Purpose: to promote inquiry and discussion about the purpose of literature circles. And I had to keep in mind the purpose of the literature circles. I want to students to engage in conversations about the book. To get deep into the book and then go outward with their thinking.

I decided to go simple with three questions:

1. What is the purpose of a literature circle?
2. What are our responsibilities (roles) in literature circle?
3. What kind of questions will we need to promote discussion?

With this in mind I started looking for quotes and images that would support these ideas. I wanted to find images that would encourage thinking and discussion. My presentation was not going to be a presentation of information but I tool for discussion as we prepared for literature circles.

Of course, I was multitasking and found a SlideShare Presentation Skills for Teachers (based on Presentation Zen) by Simon Jones that reinforced the direction I was taking in Zen-ifying my presentation.

  • We are hardwired to understand images. Going visual improves communication.
  • Use your image to draw out your students’ high order thinking skills
  • A good images allows students to think, wonder and reflect on an issue

This gave me confidence that I was on the right track. I quickly found three quotes that I could use and then I entered the critical phase of finding images. I was already using compfight.com to find images so I was familiar with the trial and error (of keywords) of finding the ‘right’ photographs. I was even able to reuse an image of an iceberg from a previous lesson on culture. I thought this would be a great way to make a connection to something familiar and the concept we used with culture (visible and hidden aspects of culture) worked perfectly with the concept of deep and shallow questions.

I found the handout regarding the roles of Literature Circles and decided it would be given to students after the presentation. Information on Deep and Shallow questions would be developed as a class in an activity in follow up sessions.

After all the reflection and simplification and reorganization, here are the results of the transformation.

Original Literature Circles PowerPoint

Zen-ified Literature Circles Presentation

Lit Circle Roles (handout)

Garr Reynolds summarizes the combination of Zen and effective presentations (with a very Zen perspective) saying,

PowerPoint culture causes both audiences and presenters to suffer. And content suffers too. The root of the suffering is attachment to old PowerPoint habits and misunderstandings about how best to connect to an audience. Lose your attachment to the “normal” way PowerPoint is used and lose poor presentation habits to move to a higher level of effectiveness.

By creating my own Zen presentation I not only produced a better visual communication tool to use with my students but I’ve also readjusted my view on what I need to do to connect with my audience (my students). I need to engage them with visuals (not text) and conversation. Keep it simple, beautiful and balanced.

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5 Responses to Zen-ification of a PowerPoint Presentation

  1. Jeff Utecht says:

    Well done! I can just imagine the looks on the students faces when they are watching and talking about the new presentation. Kids love visuals. Heck…we all like visuals! The conversation is the most important part and giving students an image to focus on and tie to that information is just good teaching. Well done!

  2. I love that you show the before and after. It’s easy to see which one is more interesting. I still get nervous when I do Zen style (What if the miss something?!), but I know it’s better. And I can’t ask my kids to do Zen style if I’m not doing it myself. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Kayo Ozawa says:

    I searched the COETAIL site for blogs related to literature teaching since I teach literature to returnee students at ICU High School in Japan, and this is the link I got to. The before and after slides show are really awesome and self-explanatory. Thank you also for introducing the link to “Presentation Skills for Teachers”. I think before I show students Garr Reynolds’ websites or “Death after Powerpoint”, we teachers need to think about our own presentation skills. Reynold’s ideas for organization and preparation, slides and delivery also seem very helpful. Have you introduced Reynolds’ links to the students or have you shortened it, using the Zen principle?
    Anyway, your blogpost was very helpful, and I know have to change my mindset when I start teaching presentations in one of my classes next year (2014). Thanks!

    • Thank you for your reply. It is always encouraging to hear (read) that someone has found my thoughts and suggestions useful. With students, I have not formally introduced Garr Reynolds or Presentation Zen but we discussed quality presentations. We looked at good and bad examples of visual media (prsentations, info graphics, etc.) I try to embed this into projects. I think students can benefit by ‘zen-ifying’ their presentations in the final stages of production. I feel they need to be confident in the content and then they are more comfortable re-working the presentation. I also think there is great value in having students generate what makes a quality presentation (both content-wise and visually) just a good discussion about those points is a great place to start.

  4. Dear Diana,

    I am currently taking the Coetail course 3, and I was looking for some examples of presentation zen when I stumbled across your blog from 2 years ago. Your thoughts are clear and well organized and helped me to reflect on this new style of presentation. I love the visuals and quotes you used for your new presentation and I was really inspired to create one myself. So I just wanted to say thank you!

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