Michael Coté likes bullets in his presentations. I know I’ve been forced to sit through several presentations that made me wish for firearms, but he is actually talking about something else, namely this review of Speaking PowerPoint: The New Language of Business:

PowerPoint and its infamous bullet points have been so abused in later years that the term "PowerPoint death" has become widespread, to the extent that some voices claim that PowerPoint is making us stupid or threatening our thinking and reasoning.

It's understandable that as a reaction some very popular books published in the last couple of years about presentations focused on creating minimalist slides, with stunning visuals and little text. These decks might be appropriate for ballroom-style presentations before large audiences expecting to be motivated and/or entertained. However, the vast majority of presentations in the business world are boardroom-style presentations in which these design guidelines have little application. Bruce Gabrielle has written a book for the rest of us: the professionals who have to speak often in boardroom meetings before small, highly motivated audiences expecting lots of details and thorough information.

This type of "formal" presentations had been neglected and forgotten in previous literature. This book is fully oriented to people who have to create and deliver strategic plans, marketing plans, research reports, product planning decks, execution plans, program proposals and other business planning presentations.

Caveat: I haven’t actually read the book, so this post is about the review and Coté’s reaction to it.

The zeal of the new convert is always embarrassing and overblown, and Presentation Zen is no exception. I have seen many failed attempts to do a Steve Jobs-style presentation. That said, if you actually read the book instead of trying to imitate the latest TED Talk video, the methodology and examples are much more nuanced.

Any presentation can be improved by some graphic design principles. The fact that you are presenting in a boardroom or generally to a small audience is not an excuse to bore them to death, quite the contrary. If you are making a sales presentation to the economic buyer, you probably only get one shot to persuade them. If every slide is a dozen bullets, all in the same font size with no emphasis, interleaved with the odd eye-test graph or screenshot of dubious relevancy, don’t be surprised if your competitor gets the nod - especially if they have built an attractive, clear, legible and structured presentation.

Sometimes the right choice is even to use bullet points.