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Business analysts need to bite the bullet before it bites them

I’m sure every business analyst can recall a time when they had to sit through the most boring presentation ever, and left feeling like attending the presentation was a complete waste of time. As business analysts and product managers, we are often guilty of the same sin of delivering staid, tepid presentations that no one finds valuable. 

But what if you could guarantee that people would fully understand your presentations, and would even listen with rapt attention?

There is – but you have to bite the bullet and get rid of your bullets.

Despite Edward Tufte’s assertion that “Power corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely,” I would suggest the fault lies not in the tool.
Business analysts need to redefine how we use PowerPoint. If holding our audience’s attention is important in requirements elicitation and other activities, we can’t use PowerPoint with exhaustively bulleted lists of information or crazy diagrams like this:

This slide’s meaning may be clear to its creator, but its complexity defies others’ understanding.

So, how can business analysts use PowerPoint without bullets? Cliff Atkinson, in his book Beyond Bullet Points, proposes a radically different method of creating presentations. Below are a few of the takeaways I had from reading Beyond Bullet Points.

Tell a Story

People often take the wrong approach to creating presentations – they focus on what to put in a slide instead of what they are trying to communicate to their audience. By taking the approach of telling a story, you can focus on what the audience has to gain from listening to your tale. For thousands of years storytellers have used a three-act approach: set the stage, build anticipation, and culminate in a dramatic climax. Using this same approach to your presentations, you can engage your audience in ways that ensure they will hold onto your every word.

Simplify Slides

Far too often business analysts use PowerPoint slideshows as just another document that contains information for people to read. People email the slideshow among their group to discuss bullet points in slides, much like a traditional text document. Instead of creating bulleted slides, try creating slides with a headline, a picture and a single line of text. People will no longer be tempted to use your presentation as a “read-only” document. Even better, your presentation will hold the audience’s attention more; since they will no longer spend the bulk of their time reading your slides, they can attend more closely to you. This is the essence of what a PowerPoint presentation should be; a background tool to enhance the experience of listening to a speaker.

I encourage everyone to take a look at Beyond Bullet Points – Cliff Atkinson presents a compelling case to change the way we all use PowerPoint. Using this resource, I have seen noticeable changes in the way people have created their presentations within Seilevel, and our staff and clients agree this new approach is far superior to the old bulleted slides. In addition, I think we can all agree no one wants to be the person presenting a slide like one shown above.


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