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January 06, 2007

Using "Beyond Bullet Points"

Quick report: I used Cliff Atkinson's Beyond Bullet Points quite dogmatically to create a one hour forty minute first-day lecture for a master's class this week. I was very pleased with the results: after going through all of his templating and storyboarding steps, I had a much better idea of the main points I wanted to convey, and gave a much more focused presentation.

I also think the presentation was more lively, provocative, and engaging: it was a lecture to about 70 students I don't yet know, in a large room, so it wasn't intimate, but I think it was much closer to active learning than my previous versions of this same lecture have been. They seemed to enjoy it, and my doctoral student teaching assistants said it was an especially good opening lecture.

That said: it took me an enormous amount of time to prepare. This is partly because I basically had to read the entire Atkinson book, and go through the learning curve -- future lectures using this style will be faster. It also took a lot of time because, even though I've given this lecture several times in the past, I reconceived the entire thing from scratch, rewrote every sentence, found new graphics, changed the visual style, etc. So, even though I thought of this as refreshing a lecture, it was really more like writing a new lecture from scratch, which is and should be time-consuming.

The other caveat: I'm not convinced yet that the rigid storytelling style that is the core of Atkinson's method will work as well for all classroom lectures, especially with more technical material. This, being a first lecture, was largely motivational and high-level concepts (I don't waste time with administrative trivia -- handouts take care of that): I had a few persuasive points I wanted to make, and telling them through a story make sense. But when I'm teaching skills and techniques, I expect the method will need some modification.

But overall, I think Atkinson's main communication points, drawing on (and referenced to) cognitive psychology literature on how people learn from visual presentations, are on target, and worth learning through doing, to incorporate in most presentations, even if not developed using his storyboarding method.

Cliff Atkinson: Beyond Bullet Points: Using  PowerPoint  to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire Cliff Atkinson, Beyond Bullet Points

Posted by jmm at January 6, 2007 04:36 AM

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