Pictures and narative

Every night I try to get home in time to read my daughter a bed time story. Currently her favourite is Cinderella. The story is short, it could easily be fit onto one sheet of A4 paper (the plot in Wikipedia is just under 800 words). I could even decompose it down to a number of bullet points to fit into a couple pf PowerPoint slides. Somehow I doubt this would engage my daughter. I read Cinderella from a picture book. There are only a few words on each page, I read those whilst she looks at the illustrations. It is from these pictures that her imagination is fired. They bring my words of princesses and castles and fairy godmothers and balls to life.

Similarly when building new propositions, I’m much more interested in drawing pictures that articulate the user journey story. But this blog entry is not so much about pictures to articulate the process of building products. It’s about PowerPoint.

I have a bit of reputation as a PowerPoint monkey. Whilst our developers build code, I spend a lot of time building presentations on how they will do it. All to often I see slides that have been crammed full of words. There is often an unwritten rule that considers 20 slides to be a maximum number in a presentation. The rationale? An hour long presentation, say three minutes per slide and pow! Time up!

First slide title “Background”. A dozen bullet points on the history of the project.

This is like telling Cinderella from an A4 sheet.

I’ve been inspired by the Lessing method; tearing up the 20 slide convention. A PowerPoint presentation should be like telling a story. Just like the picture book of Cinderella engages my daughter and her imagination with pictures, the words being a cue for the narrative, so a successful presentation should have a narrative, supported by images and carefully chosen points. And if that means a slide deck with 100 slides so be it. Take a look at Dick Hardt doing this for real. Awesome!


  1. Rowan Manahan · Friday, 24 November, 2006

    Amen to that! Your analogy is perfect – my daughters would never tolerate an A4, text-only version of their key bedtime stories. Kids are such a brutally honest audience that they force high production values on the publishing trade. I am told by my publisher that there is little or no margin in a kid’s picture book – commissioning and production costs preclude big bucks being made on the books. Hence the mugs, flasks, toothbrushes, audiobooks, colouring books and ancilliary flimflam that accompany successful kids stories.

    The problem in the professional presentation environment is that most people genuinely don’t have the time to do a Dr Suess on their presentations. My solution? Make far fewer presentations of a far higher quality. There are way too many self-indulgent, pompous, and frankly unnecessary presentations made on this planet. I say communicate some other way for the most part and make your presentations exciting, rare and anticipated.

    Can you imagine the disappointment if Dick Hardt got up and delivered a 20 slide, text-heavy, all bullet-pointed talk using a Microsoft standard template in PowerPoint? There’d be a riot! How about if U2 dropped ALL their multimedia stage show and just went with an acoustic set in a stadium with 80,000 people? Bloodbath!

    Every time you get to your feet, you are competing for a share of people’s busy headspace. You are competing with working issues, family issues, relationship issues, money issues. You are competing with the latest movie release, slick graphics on the evening news, beautifully formatted magazines and the readability and friendliness of every well-designed website in the world.

    Get serious about your presentations. Be the best PowerPoint Primate you can be! If you are not prepared to do this, either go back to using smoke signals or get ready to be ignored when you are up on your feet.

  2. Hari · Friday, 8 December, 2006

    Comment in the worng place because I could not send the message through the Main contact form

    Just read some of your trip logs ,

    You write pretty well,
    Do gimme a shout if you are ever in Melbourne , woudl be great to meet up,


    PS: are you still travelling now?

  3. Rowan Manahan · Friday, 22 June, 2007

    Hi Marc,
    This piece inspired me to produce the bullet-pointed PowerPoint you described. I hope you enjoy …

    Best regards,


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