Japanese Design Principles Applied to Presentations

Japanese Design Principles Applied to Presentations

Most people do not equate design with presentations, other than which bullets to use and what clip-art to place on a slide.  This is one of the reasons presentations have developed such a horrible reputation.  The majority of presenters are focused on what text to display, and not how to create a compelling, engaging experience for the audience.

The principles of oriental design (Feng Shui) have long been applied to architectural, home, office, and environmental design.  These same principles can easily be applied by you to ensure that your next presentation is embraced by your target audience.


Kanso: Simplicity

It’s tempting to have lots of information on your slides, so your audience gets all the important points of your presentation.  However, the fact is, they will not remember much of what you say regardless. The point is to have them pay attention to you and to allow them to get your main points easily and quickly. Put yourself in the seats of your audience, and ask yourself, “What would make me enjoy listening to this presentation?  What would make me want to know more?”  Leonardo Da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the greatest art form.”  He must have had some oriental ancestry.


Fukinsei: Balance

You can use this concept for choosing photos or images you’ll use as your content, as well as their placement.  By filling a slide with a single image,  and then applying minimal text in a balanced manner over the image, you can achieve a sense of symmetry and flow.  A balanced slide creates an appealing message to the brain.  It allows your audience to “get it” and return their attention to you.


Shibui: Understating 

Most people focus on the “what” when delivering a presentation.  People are much more interested in the “why”.  Decision-making is centered on answering the why, not the what (see this TED talk).

Presenting a subtle message about why you do what you do, or why your message is important, is much more powerful and memorable than talking about what you do or the process behind it. Why inspires. What simply informs.  


Shizen: Naturalness

 There is a tendency to have things like logos, slide numbers, and presentation dates on every slide.  Your audience knows who you are, and what day it is.  They don’t need to be reminded with cluttered nonsense on each slide.  Developing a style that focuses on the natural appearance of the information and background makes for more visually appealing talk.  

The same goes for your images.  Placing an image, especially one that seems random and not related to the information, in the corner of the slide results in an unnatural setting to the eye…and the mind.  


Yugen: Symbolic

Use stories, metaphors, and analogies to describe your message.  Give people something to relate to vs. simply “telling” them the information.  Couple that with symbolic images that relate directly to the message.  An example would be, if talking about the loss of firefighters in the line of duty, rather than show a burning building or a funeral, show a Dalmatian dog looking at a firehouse.  Tug on their emotions if you want results.


Datsuzoki: Surprise

The human brain craves “different”.  It reacts to it, it responds to it.  Surprise your audience with a grabber opener, or with music or objects.  Forget the traditional (and tired) “thank you, I appreciate the opportunity…blah, blah, blah”.  Make them think right off the bat.  Or…don’t use slides at all.  Sketch something, or walk into the audience and talk from there.  Be unique. 

No one remembers “sameness”.


Wa: Harmony 

Providing a harmonious presentation means having something of value for everyone involved.  One way to achieve this is by telling great stories which weave all aspects of a problem/solution together. This allows all stakeholders to be able to place themselves and their situations in the story.  Many times presentations focus on the decision-makers, and leave the “influencers” to the side.  Of course, we know how their influence ends up.


Ma: Silence 

Don’t be afraid of silence.  There is power in strategic pauses to let an important point simmer.  It can also allow an uninterrupted thought to develop, by you or someone in the group.  There is also visual silence.  By using space and fighting the temptation to fill up every slide, you create silence around your main points.


Yohaku-No-Bi: the Beauty of What is Unexpressed

 Leave them wanting more.  Presenters often feel they have to answer all the questions and provide all the information in a presentation.  It is very powerful to have them wanting more from you.  By providing just enough to make them take the next step, you can create a dynamic engagement.  And…once you have closed…stop selling!


Take some time to think about the design of your message.   Not simply the words you choose, but the images, flow, and emotions which enhance your message.  This is what propels presenters from merely pretty good to compelling!


By: John Lowe, Executive Faculty

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