Teaching and presentations

August 31, 2010

Watching the video of the talk given by Garr Reynolds at Duarte Design recently, I picked up on a couple of side comments he made about teaching

  • using a whiteboard rather than slides when teaching
  • good teaching is where the teacher talks less

These are good points and I’ve reflected on similar lines here, here and here.

Teaching shouldn’t just be about talking to learners – they should be engaged. I’ve felt for a long time that a good teacher or trainer will draw his learners into a conversation rather than lecture at them and although classes should be properly planned and prepared the best teachers are flexible in their approach and don’t simply put up lists of points they’ve prepared in advance. That’s why I too, often prefer to use the old-fashioned approach of developing points on a flipchart or whiteboard as a discussion develops.

However, slides do have their uses. There are different teaching situations and what visual aids are appropriate depend on the context. Giving a lecture to a large group of students is not that much different to making a business presentation, and the use of well designed slides is usually a good approach.  With small groups in the classroom, slides still have a role but should be used carefully.


Garr Reynolds is one of the leading advocates of designing simple visual presentation slides avoiding bullet points. His book “Presentation Zen” is one of my favourites on the presentation design and I’m a regular reader of his blog. He visited London recently, but only gave one public talk, so although I’d have like to hear him speak, it wasn’t feasible. However, he recently gave a presentation at Duarte Design who have put a video of his talk online. Garr lives in Japan and is influenced by their culture. In his talk he uses the Japanese bathhouse and associated rituals as a metaphor for preparing and  making a presentation – a different way of looking at things!

Garr Reynolds at Duarte Aug ’10 from Duarte Design on Vimeo.

The key points can also be viewed on his blog.

It’s interesting to see how Garr puts his ideas into practice. His slides are certainly very visual with minimal words (in most cases). Your attention is focused on him and what he’s saying rather than loads of words written on the screen (which many of the audience would end up transcribing instead of listening). So he does practice what he preaches.

One thing I wasn’t so keen on was that on a few slides he had some lengthy quotations which he read out verbatim. I think this jars a little with his message on good presentation design. I think that if a speaker wants to use quotations, it’s better to let the audience read it for themselves with the speaker bringing out the key point afterwards. Alternatively leave the quotation off the slide.

As someone who writes about making presentation, there is always a danger that he could get “shot down” when he speak by not practising what he preaches. But I think he does a pretty good job in this talk.