PowerPoint, the Bullet Points and the Story

Does the bullet point enhance the story, or destroy the story – the choice is yours.

Many things are best communicated through humour and Rowan Manahan has a great way of communicating the absurdity of much of what I see every day.

Rowan Manahan at Ignite #6

I’m not one of those PowerPoint bashers who blame the tool for the things that people create with it. People need much more help than they currently get with presentation skills. In the hands of a good presenter the tool can make the experience wonderful. I sat in a breakfast session on Saturday morning where a friend amazed us with an overview of the sun. It might not sound like the most exciting subject, but believe me, we were all transfixed. The experience simply wouldn’t have been the same without the wonderful videos and picture, there wasn’t a bullet point in sight. The point that people miss time and time again was that the presentation was complementary to the story, enhancing our experience.

(I suspect my friend wasn’t using PowerPoint, but using Keynote instead, the point still applies though. I’ve seen some pretty dreadful Keynote presentation too)

My Tools: Office Clip Art

Let me be clear right from the start – for the most part Clip Art is your enemy and should be avoided like a crocodile in a swimming pool.Loch Awe

But, in certain circumstance, Clip Art can be your friend, but there are conditions.

The first thing you need to know about Clip Art is that Clip Art is created in styles. You should NEVER use Clip Art from more than one style in a diagram, or set of diagrams.

Using more that one style creates diagrams that would look better if you had cut everything out of Hello and PC Magazine and stuck them on to a piece of paper with Prit Stick.

Styles are essential but how do you find items of the same style. Office online helps here, they show you the style and let you search on it.

If you do a Clip Art search on office.microsoft.com and find something that you like the style of and then open that drawing you get a dialogue similar to the one below:


Notice the style number down the right-hand side. The style in this case is 1540  which you can simply click on to get other items in that style:


Being of the same style these items go together in a diagram without looking like the diagram was drawn by a 2 year old with the aid of Crayola.

If you are looking for something specific you can obviously update the search terms rather than browsing through all of the items.


I’m showing style 1540 because I quite like it. It’s diagram Clip Art with items that are icon type representations of things that work well in the conceptual diagrams that I draw.

The other thing that I do is to put the icons that I am going to use in a messy set in the last slide, this is useful for quick reference.

There is another thing that I wish more people would do with Clip Art and that is to maintain the aspect ratio. The items look OK when they are the same height and width as the original. Shrinking items down should be done with your finger on the Ctrl key, that way the items don’t look squashed. A professional artist has spent some time making this Clip Art look right, squashing it makes it look wrong, as simple as that.

And while I’m on the subject, the items should all be the same size or a small number of different sizes. Again this is quite simple, select a number of objects and set the size to be the same using the menu. If you are using PowerPoint 2007 it’s in the Format menu.

The next thing that you need to know about Clip Art is that less is more. Like most design – simpler is normally better. Don’t try and fill the diagram with Clip Art, use it sparingly. If a box is the right thing to use – use a box, don’t use Clip Art of a box. Remember white space is your friend. Leave room for the diagram to breath.

And finally, if it should be a photograph (rather than Clip Art) please make it a photograph, there are loads of places where you can find the right picture for your diagram.

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