Book Review: Beyond Bullet Points

Posted on February 19, 2010 | by Kim

After 5 years in print, I finally read Beyond Bullet Points (second edition) by Cliff Atkinson. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly, or why I initially resisted reading it. Maybe because in my legal graphics world, using PowerPoint all day every day to (try to) design graphics and presentations that engage, I’d already subscribed to “less is more” and the evils of bullet points. But I can tell you, that’s no reason to not read this book.

What was most interesting, to me anyway, was Atkinson’s recount of the first Vioxx trial in Angleton, TX, where he created presentations with Plaintiff’s lawyer, Mark Lanier. Walking through, in unprecedented detail, the development of a story within a legal matter, and how it was brought to life with pictures and visual concepts, was refreshing.  I’m sure most of us wrestle internally with clients’ “graphics” requests that, by the end of the process, frequently miss the mark. Sure, they’ll acknowledge creative ideas, but few are brave enough to be so radical as to empty the bullets from the gun, so to speak.  Too risky.

Author Seth Godin says not taking risks is the riskiest thing you can do.  It makes you invisible, and you’re ignored as your audience filters you out with the clutter.  When it comes to presenting information, I can’t think of any reason why this wouldn’t apply to attorneys in the courtroom.

As it happens, I’ve seen Mark Lanier in action a few times. I was lucky enough to work with Diane Sullivan (lucky in that not only is Diane a fantastic lawyer, she’s willing to indulge in pictures and visual concepts and drop the wordy-words) to prepare graphics for the defense of several New Jersey Vioxx trials.  Unlike that first trial in Texas, where Lanier’s approach, one could argue, and Atkinson does, trumped the defense’s anemic visual strategy, Diane leveled the playing field (or upped the game, depending on how you look at it). Watching both Mark and Diane use visuals fearlessly was fun.  Each, in their own way, told coherent, compelling stories punctuated with vivid pictures and graphics. And neither was ignored.

But back to the book…

After laying a nice foundation with a real world example, Atkinson fleshes out in practical textbook style, a number of useful techniques that make sense to (at least) try.  Rather than just throw together slides randomly, he shows how to weave a visually inspired story with a clever mix of creative thought and planning.

Not everything is earth-shattering, but it’s a good attempt to convince presentation-makers in the legal industry that there are great things to be gained by those who dare venture beyond bullet points.

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