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27 May 2012

Beyond Bullet Points (3rd Edition) by Cliff Atkinson

Ever witnessed a slide presentation without bullet points? No? I can't remember one either. Yet, all too often this de facto standard of presentation acts as an aide-memoire for the presenter, rather than a compelling story for the audience.

The aim of Cliff Atkinson's book is to banish bullet points and text-dominated slides. His mission is to encourage you to create a very different kind of presentation. One that engages the audience with a well crafted, highly focussed, carefully ordered collection of headlines and images. A collection that delivers a story rather than a lecture. As the subtitle suggests he wants you to "create presentations that inform, motivate and inspire."

To compose a successful presentation the Beyond Bullet Points (BBP) approach takes cues from other mediums, namely stage plays, newspapers and movies. As with a stage play, a successful story flow will have three acts; a beginning, a middle and an end. Each slide has the kind of strong, memorable headline you'd find in a newspaper. And the complete slide collection is designed in a movie-style storyboard manner.

Fittingly, the book begins with a BBP success story, and by the end of chapter three you'll have acquired a solid overview of the steps required. At this point many readers may want to head off and apply their new found knowledge immediately. However tempting this might be, only by reading the rest of the book will you discover many valuable nuances, and learn how to avoid some of the more common mistakes.

Content organisation is excellent, with a smooth transition from chapter to chapter. More advanced information and reference material is relegated to one of the five appendixes, rather than clutter up the book's main flow. As you'd hope with a book focussed on presentation, the page layout and general styling is clear and effective. Nevertheless, with the PDF version there is an occasional problem with text contrast, the result of some poor colour choices; namely black-text-on-dark-grey and white-text-on-light-grey. Although no such problems on my Kobo Touch e-reader.

The book's website has a number of very useful downloadable resources, including toolkits and templates for a range of Microsoft Powerpoint products (2003 to 2010).

I believe this book will help anyone create better presentations. Whether you create them as part of your job, or as an ad hoc activity for work, clubs or social groups, I heartily recommend it.

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