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5 minute read - Book Reviews

Book Review: Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson

Mar 17, 2008

I have done a lot of public talks over the years (but never enough to consider myself ‘good’ at it). Over the years I have adopted numerous approaches to constructing the presentation and of constructing the slides. I wanted to see what Beyond Bullet Points (BBP) could help me do. I was pleased with the end results, even though I only partially implemented the system. Had I spent more time learning BBP I think they could have ended up far better. I have no hesitation in recommending BBP to anyone involved in constructing presentations.


Approaches I have taken before:

  1. Write a paper - convert the paper into slides
  2. Write a paper - ’talk the paper’ and write down notes on main points to convert to slides
  3. Write a paper - write some slides - write down what I wanted to say - amend the slides - practise talking to the slides

All of my previous approaches avoided the simple step of ‘who is the audience’ and ‘what do you want them to do with the information’.

I had never tried to adopt anything as structured or radical as the BBP approach until 2 weeks ago where I gave an internal presentation on test planning to Business Analysts and I thought I would try the experiment of radically amending my approach and slides.

Avoid the temptation of viewing BBP as an approach of ‘just putting up pictures’. The BBP main benefit comes from the structured approach it takes to building a presentation focused on the needs of the listener.

I faced a difficulty when I read BBP. I had a presentation to write and could not manage to get hold of the book in time to digest all its information. No matter, I created a ‘different enough’ presentation, despite only reading chapters 1 - 4. I saw the benefits of the approach, and the ‘difficulties’ that I experienced from not reading the whole system contributed to a deeper understanding of the points in the book when I eventually carried on reading it.

Before I read the book properly I had read the excerpt from the 1st edition, this provides a good overview of the approach but does not cover the nuances. These become all too apparent when you start to use the approach. (Chapters 2 and 3 from the new edition are available on line as well.)

When building a presentation I only had time to get up to chapter 4 so I had to make some mistakes, warned against by later sections in the book.

e.g. I felt that I had put too much into the presentation - Chapter 5 suggests that the approach “is equally important for the potential slides it leaves out of the presentation…you cannot present everything you know…guides you through a sometimes difficult but disciplined critical-thinking process that forces you to decide what to include in a presentation and what to leave out.”

Certainly having done one presentation, even with the inferior understanding of this approach that I adopted. I do not want to build another presentation with my old heavily bulleted approach.

The 2nd edition updates include more practical advice and detail of different ’types’ of presentation.

I found the approach made it faster to build up the slides and structure the presentation than it would have done otherwise. I also found that I didn’t ’trust’ the approach  - the 5 slide introduction felt like it took too long so I condensed it into one slide. But I think that contributed to my ‘cramming too much in’ instead of focusing on the needs of the ‘story’ I wanted to tell the audience.

BBP can act as a generic approach for structuring any ‘message’ that I intend to convey. So I can find more opportunities for practicing this structured approach to communication than waiting until I have to build another presentation.

So what difference did it make?

The above screen capture shows an ‘old’ presentation - with lots of bullets and lots of slides. I did try and make the slides interesting but the still had all the information packed on them.

Below shows a ’new’ presentation with no bullets and fewer slides. Upon review, the slides now seem busier than I wanted, and busier than BBP recommends, so next time I will cut them down to their basics.

The old slides always needed a separate paper to go with them. The new slides acted as their own ‘paper’ when printed out in ‘Notes’ format.

I feel much more confident about using the approach for my next set of slides - so next time around I want to:

  1. make the headings tighter
  • leave more slides out
  • simplify the slides even further
  • use more of the BBP approach rather than just chapters 1-4
  • put more trust into the BBP approach

And whatever happens - I will not go back to my old approach of presentation construction without a fight.

Ignore the fact that the book has the subtitle “Using Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007 to create presentations that inform, motivate, and inspire” Scrub out the first 6 words and you get what this book offers. "

create presentations that inform, motivate, and inspire"

I suspect that if you follow this approach, you can probably dump the presentation tool itself and work without the slides.

BBP has become the most useful book on constructing presentations in my collection.

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