Baby Steps towards Zen Presentation

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In a recent blog post, I referenced my less-than-engaging PowerPointless presentations that often include screenshots. I must admit that I was somewhat relieved to learn in perusing the blog posts of another COETAILer that I am not the only one who has relied on screenshots to convey a message. However, if my goal was “to convey a message,” I feel safe in saying that my message may have been lost in the sea of presentation boredom (the audience’s, as well as my own!).

I know full well why I (and so many others) have fallen into the trap of using the PowerPoint default bullet format,  including lots of text, and embedding screenshots. Here are what I see as my personal obstacles to quality presentations:

  • fear of public speaking: detailed slides act as a crutch to hold me up when in front of a group
  • undefined purpose: failing to ask the question, “What am I hoping to accomplish with this presentation?”
  • lack of preparation: not taking the beginning steps to “plan analog” and to begin away from the screen and really think through the intention of the presentation OR just sitting in front of the screen and throwing up all of the information onto a series of slides

The presentation below is really a series of screenshots of how to log in and get started in the Atlas curriculum mapping system. Not necessarily the most fascinating of subjects, but in hindsight I realize that I missed an opportunity. Yes, teachers need to know how to log in in order to begin to realize the potential of Atlas; however, this series of slides resulted in a missed opportunity for me to convey that message.

You won’t be missing anything if you skip out on scrolling through it. I won’t be offended.


This school year I have been working with the MYP Coordinator on the role of the MYP unit planner and Atlas. The presentation below was created after only a few readings of the COETAIL course 3 resources. In an attempt to go Presentation Zen, I opted for no bells and whistles and stayed away from using a prefab template. I feel that I started strong and true to the concepts of Zen design (slides 1 – 4). However, those insidious screenshots make an appearance and hang in there until the bitter end (slides 5 – 9). Below I have highlighted how each slide served to support my presentation (or not).

  1. TITLE: A guiding question helped to focus my thoughts in the development of this presentation. This slide also served a dual purpose in that it helped the audience to immediately focus on the purpose and begin to anticipate what to expect.
  2. PUZZLE PHOTO: Here I used a photo of a puzzle as a metaphor for all of the tools that work together to support collaborative planning and student learning in our school. The image was enough of a cue for me as a speaker to know what to say without having my message typed onto the slide.
  3. COLLABORATION PHOTO: Again, this image helped to remind me of the point I wanted to stress with my audience. I also followed my on-screen presentation using the DocsToGo app on my iPad where I could use cues in the Notes section. This is now my presentation crutch, which is only seen by me and not my audience. The notes that I have are short reminders that help to keep me on message both during the planning and the delivery of the presentation.
  4. TEXT and PHOTO: This slide was only to provide the audience with the URL so that they could browse their planners in Atlas on their iPads during the next slides.
  5. SCREENSHOT: I couldn’t quite end my relationship with the trusty screenshot.
  6. SCREENSHOT: This is another screenshot that I chose to use to emphasize the look of the MYP planner within the Atlas system. The three pieces of Stage One planning got red circles because those were a major focus of the training session.
  7. SCREENSHOTS: The next two screenshots were used to share two years of significant concepts for the same unit. The MYP Coordinator and I are working to support teachers in upgrading the quality and documentation of units. These were used to exemplify an upgrade in quality. In hindsight, I would rework these slides to only emphasize the significant concepts.
  8. (see #7)
  9. LAST SCREENSHOT: Honestly, I can’t even remember what my point was with this slide! This was another missed opportunity to remind my audience of the message. Sorry, dear colleagues!

5 thoughts on “Baby Steps towards Zen Presentation

    Jeff Layman said:
    October 11, 2012 at 8:20 am

    I love that you’re thinking about presentation design! I gave a very short lesson on this to some MS classes last week. Let me know if you ever want to talk about it 🙂

    Also, for the record, screenshots can be useful if you make them so.

    Also also, I’m convinced there are some things you HAVE to present that just can’t be made un-boring.

    Michelle Lawgun said:
    October 11, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    I think your new presentation is great. Without any audio instructions, I could still see where you were going with your presentation. I agree that screen shots are really boring, but they do have their uses. I hope your colleagues find your new slideshow useful. Good luck.

    Dan said:
    October 12, 2012 at 7:33 am

    Hi Chrsitina,

    Fantastic job! You have captured and captivated your audience even more with your new PowerPoint ‘Zen’ presentation…..not an easy thing to do with Atlas! I salute you. I really like your first few slides, especially the puzzle image. Yes, Atlas is very much like a puzzle in which you fit the pieces together. When they all fit, the overall end product is very useful.

    Sometimes there is no escaping screenshots, and I still incorporate them into my presentations. They are essential at times.

    Thanks for sharing,

    Marcello Mongardi said:
    October 13, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    You are pretty honest as well as tough on yourself here. You picked a beast of a presentation to try to go Zen on, full of specific content.
    I agree with Jeff, if the presentation contains a lot of content that you need to deliver first hand (a hand out won’t do it), it is tough to become minimalist and pare it down to an image and a couple of words.
    I very much identified with the “undefined purpose” issue that you wrote about. What am I trying to achieve with my presentation. Once I managed to settle on that, my path became much clearer.

    […] « Baby Steps towards Zen Presentation […]

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