Beyond Bullet Points

posted on 05/15/08 at 11:36:42 pm by Joel Ross

A while back, I read Beyond Bullet Points, a book about putting together presentations with Power Point, but without using bullet points, or in essence, not making boring presentations. There's a lot of ideas that I really, really like about their approach. I've never been one to put tons of text on my slides anyway, so the approach wasn't exactly unfamiliar. It does require a change in how you think as your putting together your slides. I don't think I would necessarily go through the whole process of writing out everything I planned to say in my presentation as the book suggests, but I do like the idea of using graphics in place of boring text.

As a result of reading the book and hearing about other's experiences going beyond bullet points in their own presentations, I decided to do the same with mine. I had an existing presentation that I decided to rework. It already had a video incorporated into one of my slides, so I was on my way. My talk is about 30 minutes (then another 30 minutes of demos), and I have ten slides, with three not really counting - an intro slide, a demo slide and a resources slide (Yes, I could have done better on those, I'm sure). The other seven slides all had their original text replaced with a just a headline and a picture.

Here's a couple of before and after examples to give you an idea of the changes. This is from my presentation at the West Michigan Day of .NET this past weekend.

First, my continuous integration tools slide.

CIToolsOld CIToolsNew
Before After

Next, my CI tasks slide. I think this one is my favorite.

CITasksOld CITasksNew
Before After

As you can see, the after ones look a lot cleaner. It also has the added benefit that your audience doesn't spend the first 30 seconds reading your slide instead of listening to you explain what you want them to know.

Oh - while I was sitting in the speaker's lounge, someone mentioned that you can't do a presentation without a picture of a kitten in your slide deck. I'd never heard that before, but luckily, I had that covered as well!


I haven't received the feedback from the presentation yet, but the feedback I sought beforehand was pretty much unanimous that the new approach was better than the old one. To be honest, the new way takes a lot more prep - you need to know your material front and back because your slides don't give you nearly the hints that the old method does. Of course, I still cheated and had my speaker notes there for me to fall back on.

If you've read the book, you might be thinking that I missed the whole point of the book - to create your presentation "Hollywood-style" and treat it like a screen play. That's partially true. I got that from the book, but this was an existing presentation that I'd done a couple of times in the past and had it be successful. I didn't want to rework the whole presentation - I just wanted to tweak it a bit. Once I decide on a topic for another presentation, I'll go through the whole process then. For now, this was good enough!

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