How to Apply Garr Reynolds’ Three Zen Principles to Sales Presentations

Garr Reynolds' zen principles

Garr Reynolds uses principles drawn from the Zen art to increase the impact and effectiveness of PowerPoint presentations. You might wonder what the Zen arts have to do PowerPoint presentations. Zen principles can be used in many areas of life, particularly professional life. Practicing the Zen arts means working with constraints, obliging the practitioner to come up with more effective solutions.

For instance:
–    Haïku (俳句) is a highly codified form of poetry that involves formulating messages in three phrases and 17 moras (a mora is a sound unit up to three times smaller than a syllable!) while expressing both the detail and essence of a moment in time, and conveying a sense of season.
–    Bonzaï (盆栽) is the art of cultivating the tree under constraint in a pot, by restraining its roots. The goal is for it to resemble a full-size tree in every respect.
–    Sumi-e (墨絵, sumi-e) is a painting technique that uses a single color (wash or Indian ink) that is diluted to obtain several variations of tone.
–    And so on…
There is nothing easy about these arts, but once mastered, they all have the common characteristic of making things “gloriously simple”. And this is the link with PowerPoint presentations in general and sales presentations in particular: making sales simple. It all starts with the principal common to all Zen arts: restraint. Working with constraints applies mainly to the preparation stage: identify what is essential and have the courage to eliminate the rest.

Garr Reynolds advocates three Zen principles in particular for dramatically improving sales presentations.

Simplicity (Kanso)

Simplicity has nothing to do with “simplistic”. In the Kanso concept, beauty and visual elegance are achieved by elimination and omission.

This Zen principle applies above all to presentation design. It is the inverse of decoration: decoration means adding ornamentation. Simplicity in design is about subtraction. Simplicity requires setting aside that which is non-essential. Simplicity is not easy to achieve, but it is extremely powerful and amplifies the message. “Less is more”!

Naturalness (Shizen)

The aesthetic concept of naturalness requires restraint, by including only what is necessary. It is about suggestion rather than detail. This suggestive mode of expression is a key Zen aesthetic, because the Japanese believe that in expressing the whole the viewer’s interest is lost.

This principle applies to the design of your slides: it prohibits the use of elaborate designs and over refinement.

Above all, though, it applies to how to make your sales meetings natural and exciting: say only what is necessary to convey your message, and arrange to make sales pitch more like a conversation than a technical demonstration. This is where Steve Jobs excels, and is often held up as an example: even when he is talking to 5,000 people at MacWorld, it feels like a cosy fireside discussion. But anyone who has attended a presentation by Garr Reynolds will tell you that one of his strengths is that he is even better at this than Jobs.

Elegance (Shibumi)

Shibumi represents understated elegance. Shibumi relegates elaborate ornamentation and vivid color usage to the bottom of the taste levels. It moves beyond the use of brilliant colors and heavy ornamentation to a simple and subdued refinement that is beauty…

It applies above all to the design of your slides: less color, less ornamentation. Don’t put everything on your slides, don’t try to get every detail into your customers’ heads. It is more about suggestion that illustration. The combination of your words and visuals should stimulate your customers and stimulate their intelligence, to lead them to share your ideas, to a mental vision that goes well beyond what is shown on the fleeting slide in front of them… and remains memorable long after you have left.

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