Thursday, 1 October 2009

Beyond PowerPoint by Cliff Atkinson (More BMW than Ferrari)

I started flicking through the book and read a few parts of it and I was overtaken by an awful sense of dread. A light went out forever for me, and it’s all Cliff’s fault. Beyond Bullet Points (BBP) is a REALLY GOOD BOOK.

In my mind, it was me who was going to write the most practical and readable book ever written on presentation skills, and here it was, already done by some gorgeous geek from the USA. I bought the bloody thing as an eternal reminder of my preference for putting off actually writing anything of my own until tomorrow, and took it home and read it some more.

That’s when I started to feel better. It’s still a great book but it’s a detailed, precise, structured testament to sameness. It’s a bible for the OCD generation. It’s brilliant but about as comfortable as a masochist's corset.

The book covers everything you’d want or expect in such a thing. Memory & retention principles, story structure, storyboarding, slide design, rehearsal & delivery techniques and much more is rounded up in interesting detail.  But Cliff is just so strict. I can see his house now, all straight lines and sharp edges. His desk will be an IKEA vision of order. His jim jams will be folded and ironed neatly with knife sharp creases all colour coded for the seasons of the year and the days of the week.  His book is the same. There’s no room to move and not one thing out of place in his straight-line mind, and it leaves me to wonder whether anyone who used the principles of the book, to the letter, could really be a great presenter in the real world.

Surely the great speakers of modern times, (Bill Clinton, Winston Churchill, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King Jr. Anyone?) had much more than just technical skill, they had a sense of love and empathy and respect for the people they spoke to and for. They had an ability to work at an emotional level too and it was empathy and emotional acuity that added power, weight and impact to their words.

So buy the book to improve your technical understanding of how to... and watch some of the people on to see what happens when joy and pain is added to great technique. That’s the new book I’m never going to write.

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