Breaking the rule – go for it!

The whole idea of NOT having bullet points in your presentation is to tell your story as if you are showing a movie. Your story has a setting, cast of characters, starting point, end point and how to get from starting point to the end point. These make up your first FIVE slides. (see below for a short video of the concept). Once you have defined the theme of your story, you are FREE to tell your story the way YOU want to.

You should not be bound by some artificial rules that say you must have three acts with each act containing three scenes. In other words, the rule says that you are supposed to tell your story by focusing on only three main ideas and if you must explain each idea, you should not use more than three points to explain it.

I say BREAK that rule!

Why? What if you have to tell a story about the Ten Commandments? Which three commandments do you focus on? which seven do you discard? Will you be stricken by lightning?

You should use as many slides as you need to present your ideas. If you had 100 points you wanted to make and you had jammed them into 10 slides with 10 bullet points each, now is the time to break these out into 100 slides. Each slide will represent each one of your ideas. I promise you – the PowerPoint police will not come and arrest you for having 100 slides or 1000 slides.

Your content is the same as before except now you are presenting the same 100 ideas with 100 slides and this time around you audience is no longer in a coma.

6 responses to “Breaking the rule – go for it!

  1. terrygaultthg

    Thanks for the post!

    I think everyone in business has been in this situation: an important but overly boring presentation, which makes it hard to pay attention and absorb the information.

    Here is my advice if power-point must be used:

    1: Close OutlookClose Outlook when you are showing PowerPoint slides. Otherwise, email alerts pop up.

    2: Slideshow Mode

    Always use the slideshow mode: it makes your slides easier to see.

    3: Standing in projector beam

    Always avoid standing in the projector beam, as it is distracting.

    4: Bullets as hooks

    If you are going to use bullets (contrary to the good advice on this post), think of the bullets on your slides as hooks. By that I mean that the bullet should remind you of your talking points but also incite curiosity in your audience. Use questions, alliteration (repetition of consonants) or juxtaposition of ideas to intrigue the audience. For example:

    · Why Automate Processes?

    · License to Fail

    · Magnet Markets

    · Customers: Faithful or Fickle?

    · Plan or Wing It?

    · Tragedy or Triumph?

    5: Use more images

    Incorporate images and negative visual space. Break up all the linear text on your slides with stories, examples, images & metaphors. Otherwise, you are not engaging your audience’s right hemisphere, the brain’s center of imagination. That’s when our minds start to drift, in spite of the fact that the data may be important for us to learn and understand. Use more imagery coupled with metaphor. The image search engine that I use is You can save the image files you find to your hard drive and insert them into PowerPoint. Use files that are between 30 – 100K for good clarity without bloating your PowerPoint file.

    6: Simplify text

    Most PowerPoint slides are loaded with way too much text. Distill your slides down into simple bullet points with 4 or 6 words per bullet max. Instead, think of the bullets as hooks.

  2. I think there is a general misunderstanding among presensters on the 3 act structure of a story.
    According to various screenwriting books I have been reading recently, the classic acts are setup, confrontation and resolution, with “turning points” at the end of the first and second act.

    There is absolutely no indication that you should only focus on 3 main ideas only! The five slides you mention are really useful to start your presentation and are essentially the core of the first act.
    The “decision” of going from starting point to end point is your first turning point.
    The increasing obstacles that you find on your way to get to the end point are your middle act.

    The “final battle” and anwser to the question: “did you succeed in going to end point?” are in your third act.

    As you see, you can easily put as many ideas as you need in your middle act.

  3. Claudio,

    Thank you very much for your comments. You should post it on Cliff Atkinson’s blog too. Many of his readers are under the impression that you can only present three ideas.


  4. Hi Norman,
    Yes, you are absolutely right, perhaps it is Cliff’s “fault”. I read his (great) book and indeed I was left with the same impression.
    As I truly realized how powerful stories and metaphors can be, however, I felt the need to learn more about this approach and read as many screenwriting books as I could. The good thing about screenwriting is that, differently from, say, novel writing, it a naturally “lean” system: given the film costs, either a scene reveals something about the character or moves the story forward, otherwise it should be cut. I like these kind of (often) self imposed limitations and there are a lot of great lessons that we can learn in our quest to become better presenters. As get a bit of spare time, I will definitely write something about what I learned so far and hopefully it will be of help to some.
    All the best and congrats for you blog!

  5. I think part of the problem is understanding that often rules are just guidelines! Just reading stories and film scripts show that there are more than 3 acts per whole… On US and British Commercial TV I understand that we need a cliffhanger at the start of each ad break. but again I say we need to start somewhere and Cliff’s format is a great help to start… I guess I don’t need it now I have broken old habits. You need to decide how to run the rest of your presenting life yourself. 5 acts is may biggest so far! As an aside I found this little presentation: . It certainly livens up a boring message the UK government is hitting us with!
    Also this is an interesting storytelling story

  6. We need to be careful when we are changing our style… here is a story of someone’s experience: [schulzeandwebb_com] .
    So having a structure or framework to guide us can be useful!

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