Beyond Bullet Points – a great book

I was reading Slacker Manager, and he mentioned this book, Beyond Bullet Points. BBP is intended to help people make Power Point presentations more interesting, by helping them to avoid the natural tendency to use bullet points. Since I had an upcoming presentation to do, I thought I would give it a try.

The presentation was today, and I got the book yesterday. Yes, I am a procrastinator, but I did actually have the old, lame, version of the presentation sitting in reserve. I opened the book, and started reading at about 10:30am (I actually skipped out to go buy it, because I read Bren’s post at about 9:30 or so). By noon I had my story pretty well mapped out, by 4pm I had most of the main graphics chosen, and by 6:30pm I had enough done (read: all of it) that when Power Point gave me a typical Microshaft error message when I tried to save, about how there’s an error, and I should save my stuff and reboot, that the ceiling tiles had their vocabulary expanded a bit.

I went home, utterly pissed off, and ready to throw in the towel – I had a few slides whose concepts defied my picture-finding abilities anyway, and now it was going to be a lot more work to get the thing finished. Note to self: Save the pictures you find as files – DO NOT just paste them into Power Point.

I came in this morning, and reconsidered. I went to work and reconstructed everything that had been lost – 6 graphics or so, plus various edits. I think I even improved it a bit.

I gave the presentation. People laughed where they were supposed to – it’s one heck of a lot easier to make people laugh with pictures than with bullet points – and if you can make ‘em laugh you’ve got them. They liked it. They asked good questions, and they were persuaded.

All in all, it was a frantic about-face I did yesterday, but I think it was a Good Thing.

Now about the book, and what it teaches:

The basic idea is that you must break down what you are presenting into the pieces used in a classical play. The situation, the protagonist, the imbalance, the balance and solution are the first 5 slides – the remainder are a very neatly organized and tied-together set of pieces designed to reinforce the main concepts. I’m really simplifying here – the book is worth buying, so buy it.

What is tricky is that the method is kind of based on needing to persuade. It doesn’t readily lend itself to the many mundane “overview” types of presentations we sometimes need to give, where there isn’t persuasion that needs to happen, just a bit of education. Sure, you can turn almost everything into persuasion – “Here’s why YOU need to believe this quarterly update YOU asked for” – but things tend to come out a bit overly dramatic. Still, a lot of the basic elements are gold.

And when you need to persuade, the whole thing is gold. I took my copy of the book home, because after today I think it would have developed legs. I think the hardest part is scripting the story in the first place. As an Engineer, I’m used to thinking in tasks, where the format and structure the author presents really requires cause and effect thinking, from the audience’s point of view. This had me stumped for a good hour, but when the dam broke, well, it broke 😉

There’s a free Word template you use to script the story. You automatically end up with 5 minute, 15 minute, and 45 minutes versions of the presentation if you fill everything in. Everything you write is a single sentence, and there are little tricks for making sure things are written to flow nicely. There are detailed instructions on how to create the slides, and how to manage them. Along the way there are numerous tricks and tips for dealing with Power Point in general.

One last thing: Google Images can be a great place to find a lot of photos to get your point across.

Highly recommended – give it a try.

Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft  PowerPoint  to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire (Bpg-Other)

One thought on “Beyond Bullet Points – a great book

  1. I don’t know how you write this stuff so fast, and so good. If I had to give a presentation I would buy the book. Great work.


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