Book Review: The Presentation Lab by Simon Morton

The Presentation Lab makes very clear upfront that readers will not learn how to create more visually appealing or better designed slides. And while this is one of the more illustrated business books I’ve read in a while, it just isn’t about the visual side of effective presentations, but rather what needs to go into a presentation’s intent, structure and story creation.

After busting some presentation myths (such as the 10/20/30 rule), the book launches into a discussion of storytelling for the sake of your audience and stresses the fact that a presentation must be about the audience first, foremost and always. Okay, audience-focused presentation is nothing new, but what The Presentation Lab brings to the table is what I think is the most solid of nuggets in the book: The Audience Heat Map. Morton identifies three essential audience types (which are not mutually exclusive) and then shows how to craft a presentation specific to a unique audience. Examples and case studies are used to show how to appeal to audiences that may be factual, visionary and/or emotional. Even if you put the book down at this point and began incorporating this thinking, you’ll find yourself creating better presentations.

The book then moves onto story flow, although I do wish there continued to be more examples and case studies of this topic as there were with audience identification. There is a valuable discussion of simplicity and some wonderful simple arguments for the same: is you message simple enough to be shared with others?

The book reads quickly, and is witty (“rumor has it Churchill was rubbish at PowerPoint”), but being more of a system (though thankfully a well-thought out and simplified one), it’s harder to skim or to jump around. What Morton makes clear throughout, however—and really brings home with some appropriate client stories and case studies from his firm Eyeful Presentations—is that this disciplined approach is not for the careless or extremely time-crunched presenter. A deliberate approach to creating a successful presentation doesn’t have to mean endless hours of storyboarding, sticky notes and outlining, but it does require attention to one’s audience and one’s goals. If you’re willing to meet the Presentation Lab halfway there, I think this is an excellent book that has the potential to dramatically improve the effectiveness of one’s presentations. If you are like many of Eyeful’s clients, and are genuinely serious improving your presentation and not just making pretty pictures, give it a careful read. If you just want pretty slides, look elsewhere.

What do I think is missing? I would have loved to have seen more examples of what Morton considers successful slides. For example, in declaring the Presentation Zen style a busted myth, it would have been great to have seen some actual visual counter-examples. And while certain one-off topics do seem on-topic, the very brief discussions of data, infographics and stock imagery still struck me as not quite part of the organic whole. But that’s just me quibbling.

I had been looking forward to the book for quite some time, and I was not disappointed. I think it’s a valuable addition to the bookshelf of any serious presenter and presentation creator.

Buy it here!

Categories: Books, Simplicity, Storytelling.
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