There are three books which have ushered in and defined the PowerPoint Revolution. If you can only buy one, which one should you buy? Here’s my analysis of the three books and my recommendation.

beyond-bullet-pointsCliff Atkinson was the pioneer with Beyond Bullet Points. The Beyond Bullets approach is an entire system for creating a presentation with the support of non-bullet PowerPoint slides. It’s published by Microsoft and is a hybrid between a software how-to book and a presentation book. I find the system too limiting and constraining. Note: I have the 2005 edition of BBP – there is a 2007 edition which may be improved.

presentation-zenGarr Reynolds came next with Presentation Zen, based on his blog of the same name. His book is imbued with the philosophy of simplicity. If Cliff’s book is methodical, Garr’s is philosopical. The book attempts to cover most aspects of giving a presentation from planning the content, to designing the slides to the delivery itself. However, the strength of the book is the section on slide design. Garr made us non-designers aware of the importance of design in PowerPoint presentations. The discussion on the planning and delivery of a presentation is at a high conceptual level. There are useful insights for presenters with some experience but the lack of practical guidance could be frustrating for a beginner.


Then came Nancy Duarte with Slide:ology. Slide:ology is the most beautiful of the books. It is also the most focused. Nancy concentrates almost exclusively on slide design (there is an out-of-place section on audience analysis).

Here’s a table which summarises the strength and differences between the three books:

Beyond Bullets Presentation Zen Slide:ology
The case for the PP Revolution Appendix discusses Mayer’s research insofar as it applies to the approach described in the book Develops the case for a new approach to PowerPoint presentations Short discussion on using slides for visual communication
Content Planning Template for planning a presentation. Too detailed and constraining. Applies Zen principles to art of planning content Short discussion on audience analysis. That’s all.
Slide design principles Presents one method of constructing a slide with no discussion of principles. Excellent discussion at a conceptual level Excellent discussion and gives detailed guidance – a non-designer’s guide to slide design
Slide design inspiration None Many terrific examples to inspire you. Examples tend to be from educational-type presentations. Lots of examples of charts, but very few of diagrams. Huge number of examples from real corporate presentations including makeover of charts and diagrams.
Delivery Traditional advice on delivery Applies Zen principles to presentation delivery None

So which one would I buy? I would no longer recommend Beyond Bullet Points. Not when you can see what’s possible with slide design in Presentation Zen and Slide:ology.

If you want a philosophical discussion of simplicity in the art of presentation together with wonderful inspiration for designing better slides, go for Presentation Zen. But after I’d read Presentation Zen, I felt like I wanted a “A non-designer’s guide to slide design” to help me put into practice the principles and the inspiration that I had from Garr’s book. I could copy the ideas behind some of Garr’s ideas, but I felt like I didn’t have enough grounding in the basics to create my own designs.

Nancy’s book fulfills that need. So if you want the non-designer’s guide to PowerPoint slide design, together with visual inspiration, then Slide:ology is the book for you.

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