Kanso: Simplicity for Maximum Impact

June 12, 2007

The past couple of weeks, as I worked on my focus areas for DotNetNuke Open Force ’07, I have been thinking a lot about presentations and presentation techniques. In the past couple of days, Guy Kawasaki made two very interesting posts — today on Speaking as a Performing Art and yesterday on Steve Jobs’ WWDC presentation. The latter got my attention. In it, Guy links to this amazing post by Garr Reynolds comparing Bill Gates and Jobs’ presentation styles. Even though it’s an old post, if you speak in public, this is a must-read. What Reynolds describes as the “Microsoft Method” of presentation he nails it. I know exactly what he’s talking about.

At the MVP summit in Seattle earlier this year, while sitting through Bill Gates’ keynote, I couldn’t help noting the utterly boring presentation style of the world’s most successful technology entrepreneur. It was probably the fifth or sixth time I have been to a Gates keynote and each time, no matter how exciting the announcements, the presentation was unfailingly underwhelming.

The contrast to Jobs’ simpler and minimalist presentations is stark. He could be talking about something totally mundane, but still somehow get the audience to listen with rapt attention. Reynolds’ post makes it all clear — Jobs uses the Zen aesthetic of kanso or simplicity. 

“Simplicity means the achievement of maximum effect with minimum means.”
                                 — Dr. Koichi Kawana

He emphasizes how PowerPoint encourages you to visually spell everything out in bullet points, when what you should be doing is the exact opposite — have less on the slides and arouse the audience’s imagination. This is a very simple concept, but thinking back on past presentations, I know that it is very difficult in practice. Nevertheless, now that I know about kanso I am determined to see if it will work for me.