Cliff Atkinson is an acclaimed writer, popular keynote speaker, and an independent consultant to leading attorneys and Fortune 500 companies. He designed the presentations that helped persuade a jury to award a $253 million verdict to the plaintiff in the nation’s first Vioxx trial in 2005, which Fortune magazine called “frighteningly powerful.” Cliff’s bestselling book Beyond Bullet Points was named a Best Book of 2007 by the editors of Amazon.com, and it expands on a communications approach he has taught at many of the country’s top law firms, government agencies, business schools and corporations.
In this interview, Cliff discusses the release of the third edition of this book, Beyond Bullet Points.
Geetesh: Now in its third edition, your book “Beyond Bullet Points” has been such a big success – tell us more about what it means to move beyond bullet points?
Cliff: In the conventional approach to presentations we tend to create lists of facts, and simply show and tell those to our audiences thinking that will get the results we want. Time and experience shows that this approach falls flat, when our audiences walk away bored, confused and frustrated. Moving beyond bullet points means tapping into the power of story structure to make an emotional connection with your audience at the start, and then making your main points as clearly and memorably as possible. This shifts our approach from using PowerPoint as a typewriter for our notes, to using the same tool as a filmmaker uses a storyboard to tell a story visually.
Geetesh: What’s different in this third edition compared to the older releases of your book?
Cliff: Where the second edition was a major revision of the first, the third edition is a streamlined version of the second, featuring new presentation examples that show you the BBP approach in action.
Geetesh: Do the users who move go back to their old way of using PowerPoint?
Cliff: Anyone who wants to use PowerPoint more effectively has to face the reality of PowerPoint culture – even if you manage to tell a clear story and get to the point, your boss may say “That’s fine, but that’s not the way we do things here, so put the bullet points back.” In the face of a particularly strong PowerPoint culture, people are finding success when they shift focus away from the slides and to the results of the slides. When one presenter used BBP in the courtroom and told a powerful story while his opponent used dry bullet points, he got the results he wanted – a dramatic verdict in his favor.