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TECH TALK: Good Books: Better Presentations (Part 2)

May 6th, 2005 · No Comments

Dennis Kennedy writes about Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson:

Beyond Bullet Points emphasizes some of the most important things I’ve learned while presenting over the years (take your audience from point A to point B, understand what your audience wants to learn, keep the focus on your message, not your slides, and the like), but it also sets out a disciplined system that makes it highly likely that you will achieve these goals.

And it gives you practical lessons and tools, including a heavy emphasis on the “rule of threes” to turn your presentations and your slides into a coherent whole that works for both you and your audience.

The organizing thread of the book is a real-world challenge can you create a great PowerPoint presentation without using all the boring bullet points? Atkinson’s efforts show that the answer is a resounding “YES!!!”

In fact, he shows you several ways to do so. For me, the most impressive is a set of slides that have two words on each slide. Astonishing!

In the course of the book, however, he also demonstrates that telling a story, especially telling the story that makes sense for your audience, is the necessary foundation. Technique helps you tell a great story, but technique won’t save a poor story.

The key lesson, then, is to look beyond the great techniques and work on your story.

Cliff Atkinson said in an interview with Management Consulting News:

When we start talking about text on a slide, its important to begin by affirming the research: presenting text that is identical to narration actually harms the ability of the audience to understand. Removing the text from the screen improves the ability of the audience to retain the information by 28%, and improves their ability to apply the information by 79%.

Keeping in mind the imperative to minimize text on the screen, the bulk of writing text for a PowerPoint presentation should be in the headlines that form your story structure. Then you write the narrative explanation of each of those headlines in Notes Page view.

Because the words have already been captured in the form of the headlines and notes, the screen is much less dependent on text to convey information and more dependent on you to communicate it with your spoken words and expressions. With this approach, the PowerPoint screen becomes a much more creative and interesting tool that can hold a few words, or no words at all.

Dave Pollard has an excellent analysis of the process:

What this book does is provide a process to supply the pictures to go along with the story, so your presentation becomes “a blend of movie and live performance”.

The process has three steps: Writing a script to focus your ideas, storyboarding the script to clarify the ideas, and producing the script to engage the audience. My previous posts have told you about the art of crafting a good story. The storyboard for a movie script is actually sketches of visuals, but for purposes of this book it’s merely parsing of the critical parts of the story onto successive slides. Then you use graphics — and few words — to reinforce the key points of the story with memorable images.

So, get a copy of Atkinsons book and start using his ideas for your future presentations!


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