To Power Point, And Beyond!

I've been reading Cliff Atkinson's blog Beyond Bullets since his first post and have been trying out his techniques for turning those boring bullet point-filled presentations (i.e., just about every one you've ever seen) into engaging discussions that get results. Blogs are great, and I've learned lots from Cliff's, but they're not the same as a book you can pick up and haul around and underline and highlight and throw at people to make a point. So when I heard that Cliff was writing a book I put it at the top of my To Buy list.

And waited. And waited. And waited. One bad thing about blogs is you find out about books waaaay before they're published!

Last week my wait was finally over: there in my mailbox was my [full disclosure: free review copy] copy of Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft PowerPoint to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire [Microsoft Press]. A week of bus rides turned out to be just right for a thorough read-thru. The short version: If you think you'll ever have to give a presentation, you need this book! (If you think you'll ever have to listen to a presentation, you need it too...if only so you'll know what the presenter is doing wrong. <g/>)

The main point of the book is that presentations should be a conversation between the presenter and the audience, not a one-way dialog. Cliff points out that the audience is really the protagonist of the story, since they're the ones who will be making a decision, and the presenter is really just a supporting character. Pulling your audience into the story by making them the main character keeps them interested and engaged - A Good Thing.

Cliff's ideas make a lot of sense to me. I can tell my presentations are getting better as I learn how to apply his techniques for crafting and then presenting a story that makes use of PowerPoint's strengths (such as ease of working with images and other multimedia) while avoiding death knells like endless bulleted lists. Even though I've read all of Cliff's blog posts, reading through the book and following along as Cliff transforms a presentation helped me better understand his suggestions and methods. The key insight for me (as someone who has been trying to apply his blog to my own work) is that while he calls his technique "Beyond Bullets" this by no means the bullets are gone. Rather, they become the title on their own slides. There's a lot more to it than this, however!

A few minor quibbles: Some of the graphics were hard to read, especially the fuzzy blue "Remember" that flags key points and the white-text-on-blue-background sidebars. This is somewhat bizarre for a book that's all about good design. Also, the at-times-endless pushing of Microsoft products gets old fast. (But then I guess it *is* a Microsoft Press book, after all.) But these are very minor issues in what is overall a very good book.

Highly recommended!

*** Comments, questions, feedback? Want a fun job on a great team? I need a tester! Send two coding samples and an explanation of why you chose them, and of course your resume, to me at michhu at microsoft dot com. Great coding skills required.

Comments (2)

  1. Mark Eichin says:

    For every positive mention of powerpoint, there’s an equal and opposite Edward Tufte discourse. Do pick up a copy of "the cognitive style of powerpoint" some time – "It’s not just the bullets – it’s the bandwidth".

  2. I have read and agree with Tufte’s opinion of the standard PowerPoint presentation. I’ll bet that Cliff Atkinson would too – his whole point is that standard PowerPoints are horrid but that a few simple changes can make them actually useful.

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