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TECH TALK: Good Books: Better Presentations

May 5th, 2005 · No Comments

I make presentations quite often. Most of these presentations are filled with slide after slide of bullet points. So, it was with great interest that I read Cliff Atkinsons blog when it first launched. The blog was a collection of fascinating insights in how to improve presentations using PowerPoint (or in my case, OpenOffice Impress). Atkinson has now written a book Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft PowerPoint to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire.

Here is one of Atkinsons blog posts entitled Center of Gravity:

Whenever I look at a PowerPoint presentation for the first time, I go to Slide Sorter view to get the lay of the land: Can I see a clear story across the entire experience? Then I’ll shift to Notes Page view: Are the projected visuals and spoken words planned together? And last I’ll go to Normal view: Can I easily understand the main idea of this slide?

It’s usually the case that the answer is No to all three questions. More often than not, the presentations are very difficult to understand, packed with more text and data than anyone’s cognitive ability can process; and little if any narrative structure.

What I commonly find is that any single presentation is actually multiple presentations that are yearning to be liberated. Where we might try to load up the slides to save time by creating a one-size-fits-all presentation, we actually end up with a situation where one-size-confuses-all.

One solution to the problem is the discipline of completing Act I of your story template..When you write the statements that form the headlines of the first five slides, you are making purposeful decisions that will sort, distill and structure information in a way that makes sense to your specific audience.

Franz Dill of IFTF Future Now writes: Atkinson’s approach is very nicely tailored for important, complex presentations. His model is that of telling a story … storyboard it, use minimal text (no bullets), engage the audience. He picks a board presentation scenario and goes through it in some detail. Very thoughtfully done. I also like the fact that he covers other parts of the process … how you present the slides, pacing, and how to tailor it for later emailing to people that could not attend, now a very common situation. I have been saving presentations for reference for some time, and am often amazed at how incomprehensible a slideshow can become. In fact the latter situation has often made me use more text and slide detail than I would otherwise.

Lars Bergstrom adds in a review on Amazon: I believe that the book’s greater contribution is pointing out that most people structure presentations as a dump of data rather than taking into account their audience and the goal of their presentation — why are people there? What do you want them to do or believe after you’re done presenting? Even if you disagree with Cliff’s convincing points on removing bullets from your decks, you should take to heart his framework for developing concepts and decks.

Tomorrow: Better Presentations (continued)


TECH TALK Good Books+T

Tags: Tech Talk

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