Media Tools

Beyond Bullet Points


How to give good slides

A great PowerPoint presentation is a story well-told. A bad PowerPoint is a mind-deadener. Thousands of businesspeople are snoozing away at this moment as slide after slide of fancy-transitioned words, words, and more bulleted words evaporate a fortune in productivity. Don’t get me started on how badly made PowerPoint presentations are blunting the sharpest minds of today’s college students. Google “Gettysburg Address”+”PowerPoint” to see for yourself.

It doesn’t have to be that way! Beyond Bullet Points shows you how to achieve excellence in presentations. I just looked at my bookshelf and noticed that my third copy of Beyond Bullet Points is missing, having been pressed into the hands of some startled friend, executive, teacher, activist, who was only trying to get out the door of my office.

Here’s what it teaches in a nutshell: The medium of PowerPoint is one of visual storytelling. An excellent presentation is an excellent story. So, the structure of the story is first. Then a storyboard is needed. A storyboard is a series of sketches, or notes, about what you will talk about. These are not bullet points that the audience are meant to read, but visual reminders about what you are planning to say. Last, and least important, you add the words or text. The images rule! You can download admirable Word templates from the book’s website, and get started storyboarding right away.

The emerging storyboard

With images in place

Following the approach of this book, I have spent dozens of hours storyboarding my own recent presentations, and hundreds of dollars on custom photographs and image research. It has paid off. I’ve used this approach on all kinds of audiences all over the world, and it works. Right now, anyone using these techniques has a strategic advantage in being heard — after listening to the second or third speaker reading words on the screen, audiences who see a well-orchestrated visual accompaniment to a well-plotted narrative start waking up and paying attention.

Do not advance one slide further without reading this book.

-- Howard Rheingold 05/17/18


It might sound counterintuitive, but when you put less information on a slide, you increase the audience's attention because the audience is then dependent on the speaker for explanation, and the speaker is dependent on the audience for feedback.


The protagonist of every presentation is your audience, and you are a supporting character. This is the crucial spin on crafting stories for live presentations.


Stories are about how people respond to something that has changed in their environment. We like stories of how other people handle changes in circumstances and what their choices reveal about their characters.

When a protagonist experiences a change, an imbalance is created because things are no longer like they used to be. In screenwriting, this change is called the inciting incident that sets a story in motion. Scene 3 of the story template should help your audience to understand why they are there for the presentation -- usually, because a change has happened that has created an imbalance.

Defining the imbalance that has brought everyone to the presentation can be easy or difficult, depending on your situation. The imbalance could be caused by a crisis brought on by an external force that has changed your organization's environment, such as a sudden economic shift or the action of a competitor. It could be the result of an internal change, such as a revised opinion or mindset, a new piece of information, a new research report, or an anecdote from the field.


Once you get the hang of writing an Act 1 with your group, try applying these techniques to other communications scenarios beyond your PowerPoint presentations. Crafting Act 1 of a presentation is a problem-solving framework that can also help a group to clarify strategy, develop marketing messages, create project plans, and resolve other challenges.

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2005 — editors)

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