An Age of Presentation: Styles, Trends, and Trendsetters

At Viget, part of our culture involves attending, participating in and sometimes speaking at events. It is not required, but is recognized as an important benefit to career growth and knowledge exchange. We don't take this idea lightly and we encourage presenting on a regular basis internally, whether presenting to the entire company or at a team level. Not only do we get to practice speaking in front of a familiar audience, but we all get to learn something new together. It's one of the practices that originally attracted me to Viget and now I'm happy to be a participant.

Recently, I've become aware of some emerging trends regarding presentation styles and have recognized some individuals who seem to be at the forefront of these trends.  Stylistically, these trends often involve rapid, compact presentations spoken over carefully chosen words and imagery to punctuate the points being made. These 'cut the crap' style presentations can be surprisingly informational and quite entertaining if delivered well. It's something that personally gets me motivated to attend events and makes me hopeful for the future of visual storytelling.

As humankind has evolved from telling stories on cave walls to seeing world leaders use PowerPoint (for better or worse) we've also evolved how narrative takes place. Here are some emerging trends I've been able to identify:

New Ideas & Trends

Pecha Kucha Night

Started by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein-Dytham Architecture (KDa) in Tokyo in 2003, Pecha Kucha started as a way for designers to network and share work with one another. The format consists of a slideshow of 20 slides set to cycle at 20 seconds each resulting in a total presentation time of 6 minutes and 40 seconds. The 20x20 trend has moved beyond the design community and now can be found in the business world and academia. Pecha Kucha Nights have popped up in cities spanning the globe.

Ignite

Simlar to Pecha Kucha, the Ignite series was cooked up to support 20 slides automated at 15 seconds each for a 5 minute total presentation. Whereas Pecha Kucha grew out of sharing work, Ignite finds its theme in the sharing of ideas. Essentially, you have 5 minutes to make your point, "Go!". The first Ignite event took place in Seattle, WA in 2006. From time to time the events will include contests. For instance, at an Ignite NYC event, participants decorated cupcakes.

20x2

An even more abbreviated variation of lightning presentations is the 20x2 event. Here a group of 20 speakers is given 1 question prior to the event to answer in their own unique way within 2 minutes at the event. This has been a recurring event at recent SXSW Interactive conferences. Presentations have come in the form of talks, videos or live performances.

TED Conference

TED stands for 'Technology, Entertainment, Design' but is really much more. Since its foundation by Richard Saul Wurman and Harry Marks in 1984 and becoming an annual event in 1990, the TED Conference has been chock full of world renowned speakers such as Bill Clinton, Stephen Hawking, and Bono. Aside from the high profile speakers, what makes this conference compelling is that the presenters are challenged to keep their presentations to 18 minutes in length. That can't be easy for some that have spoken for hours at a time in their careers. Additionally, you can find many of these presentations available online.

<head> Conference

Another emerging concept is that of the virtual conference. Picture this: a conference that features dozens of your favorite web developers and creatives, takes place over the course of a few days, and can be watched from the comfort of your living room. That's exactly what the <head> Conference set out to do by being one of the first global, virtual conferences. Attendees are able to fire up the presentations from their computers and watch via Flash video and interact via live chat rooms. Even better, the sessions are archived and available after the fact for any latecomers that want to check them out.

The Trendsetters

There are some that are so good at what they do and so widely imitated that they become "the trendsetters".

Guy Kawasaki

Kawasaki recommends no more than 10 slides in your presentation because that's all that people can generally absorb. He also suggests you keep your slide presentation to under less than 20 minutes and to use a 30 point font size at minimum so that your slides are highly readable. Or as he more humorously says, "find out who the oldest person in the room is and divide his or her age by two" to get your optimal font size. Using a large font size also helps to reduce the amount of information you can pack onto a slide. This has been referred to as the "10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint".

Masayoshi Takahashi

Known for his minimalist approach to slide presenations, Takahashi makes slides with as few words possible in as large a font as possible. His slides are recognizable in that they are usually black text on a white background with the occasional use of red for emphasis. He didn't set out to make a style but he certainly became a trendsetter. His style is the result of trying to keep the audience from reading his slides and instead pay attention to his words, which appear like Japanese newspaper headlines. As a result, not only do people listen and understand what he has to say but his presentations become memorable without overt stylization. For fun, someone cooked up a Takahashi Method Generator.

Lawrence Lessig

Lessig, a Stanford Law School professor and founding board member of Creative Commons, has been known in recent times as a game changer when it comes to presentation style. Referred to as the "Lessig Method", this style features a rapid firing of words, phrases and imagery synchronized to the verbalization of his presentation. Nearly everything is center aligned and is only slightly more visual in comparison to Takahashi in that more thought and care are put into the selection of typeface, color and imagery. Additionally, Lessig relies quite heavily on animation to punctuate his storytelling. Most importantly, his convincing argument is what makes Lawrence Lessig so effective and incontrovertible. It is now common for other presenters, such as Dick Hardt of Sxip, to imitate and credit Lessig for his unique style of presentation.

Seth Godin

As the Mac of marketing presentations, Seth Godin adds a little "bam" to the Lessig Method through a heavy use of imagery and visuals to make his point. On top of that, Godin mixes in a whole lot of passion in his delivery to inspire his audiences. Heck, Seth Godin could pitch you oceanfront property in Arizona and you'd be interested. Like Lessig and Takahashi but unlike Kawasaki, he has no limit to the number of slides used to tell a story or make a point.

The Educator

Garr Reynolds

Author of the book Presentation Zen, Garr Reynolds is not known as much for his presentation style as he is the book and companion web site covering presentation tips of all sorts. That being said, Reynolds himself is quite a speaker and follows a mixture of styles similar to Lessig and Godin that is largely photographic and typographic.

The Epic

Al Gore

We loved Al Gore when we picked him to be President of the United States (popular vote) and many love him even more since he delivered his epic An Inconvenient Truth to the silver screen. Good ol' Uncle Al was awarded for sharing his Duarte Design presentation through cinema and video with an Academy Award and Nobel Peace Prize. You can't get much bigger than that with a slide presentation.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is known for many things, including co-founding Apple and Pixar. Yet he is perhaps most well-known for resurrecting Apple into the most mind blowing computer company alive today. He's become so popular that his Apple Keynote speeches are talked about for weeks in advance, and you're lucky to get sufficient bandwidth to watch the streaming video the day of the presentation. Is there anyone who doesn't sit around waiting for his famous "oh, there's one more thing…" line? Like Al Gore, Jobs solicits help from the amazing slideologists at Duarte Design, but the sizzle is divided among the products and his delivery.

The Organizer

Merlin Mann

Known primarily for his work with 43 Folders a time management and productivity web site for the digital age, Merlin Mann is also a frequent podcast host and event presenter. His delivery is similar to Seth Godin's in that he'll spend some time setting up the message verbally, and then punctuate it with a clever visual image. What makes his talks particularly interesting are the references to pop culture and humorous use of imagery. It could be that I'm just a big fan of his "Time and Attention" presentation that I include him in this list. Mann is an entertaining presenter none-the-less.

The Funny

Ze Frank

In 2006, Ze Frank started video podcasting through a daily video blog known as "The Show With Zefrank". His podcasts were known for their humorously critical view of everyday life, especially as it pertains to web culture. A large following soon emerged and Frank students and imitators began adding to the popularity of the video blogosphere. Frank has also been seen twice as a TED presenter and appears from time to time at other events including SXSW and RailsConf. Chances are that if you read our Inspire blog, you're already familiar with Ze Frank. If not, do yourself a favor and kill a few hours.

The Naked, er… The Slideless

Gary Vaynerchuck

Like Ze Frank, Gary Vaynerchuk got noticed by hosting a daily webcast about wine called Wine Library TV. More than anything, he was able to connect with a new generation of wine connosiuers and is responsible for creating a whole new breed of wine snobs. Gary "Vee" is also known for his passionate presentations at recent conferences like the the Web 2.0 Expo. His slideless rants have inspired young entreprenuers everywhere.

Jason Fried

Like Gary Vee, Jason Fried is also known to present sans slides. He's responsible for co-founding 37signals in 1999, the company that created the popular web application series Basecamp, Backpack, Campfire, etc., a series that many web devs and creatives have adopted pervasively in recent years. While Fried may not be as animated a presenter as Vaynerchuck, he's equally inspiring with his tales of how to be successful in today's business world.

Final Thoughts

These are just a few of the trends and trendsetters in the presentation space that have recently caught my attention. Events like Pecha Kucha, Ignite and 20x2 have inspired me to think of new ways to organize multiple speaker events without interfering with work days to participate. I usually hit the threshold for taking in useful information by lunchtime at an all day event, making compact events far more appealing.

This has also caused me to think more about my own style and how it is best to follow a style that matches your own unique personality. While I admire how these folks deliver their presentations, I don't think I could pull it off quite like they do. Am I better delivering a max 10 slides presentation like Guy Kawasaki? Or a journey of images and text like Seth Godin?

You probably have your own set of influences and motivation. Tell us about them.

References

Tom is vice president of design and works in our Falls Church, VA, HQ. He has over two decades of experience as a designer and team coach, and works with clients such as the University of Pennsylvania and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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