Review of the 3 books of the Presentation Revolution

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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  1. One thing you can mention is that Beyond Bullet Points is referred by Presentation Zen and slide:ology when talking about “what to put my my slides?”

    For me (as I have the 3), I really see Presentation Zen as a referential of best practices that refers to other resources (Beyond Bullet Points but also others).
    And if slide:ology was published before Presntation zen, I’m sure that Garr Reynolds would have referred to it (as he included an interview of Nancy Duarte in his book).
    Thus, I think Presentation Zen alone is good but it is better combined with other resources, like Beyond Bullet Points for organizing contents (and find an easy method to create good presentations) and slide:ology for finding and creating visuals

  2. I also have all three books. BBP (new edition) is the most dense, and really pushes a specific method. That’s fine if you totally love the method. Presentation Zen and Slide:ology leave the method up to you, and give you lots of ammo to help get your act together, along with numerous examples.
    BBP seems a bit old-school, but its huge, engaging, one TON of information, but you do have to buy in to the method.
    Nancy Duarte’s breadth of research is astounding to me, and I’ve learned (and continue to learn) a great deal from this book. Personal gripe (as a designer) is that over one tenth of this 270+ page book is taken up with red chapter opener pages, which gets tired after chapter one. Whatever the clever design reason for putting these in, they seem like nothing more than a way to pump up the page count. Some of the stuff is going to go right over the heads of non-designers, I think. But… really packed full of insight, wisdom, beyond-clever tips that just go right to the heart of creating good material.
    Presentation Zen gets my vote though. I love this book. It offers much of the same wisdom as Slide:ology, but without some of the more technical design stuff, like pages and pages of diagram examples, stage blocking (?), color wheels etc. Garr gets where corporate graphics are at, and tactfully skewers Powerpoint tackiness.
    All three have been incredibly helpful to me, all three have different strengths, and while Presentation Zen comes out tops, I am beyond grateful to read, read and re-read Nancy Duarte’s carefully-crafted book.

    • You have shed a ray of snsiuhne into the forum. Thanks!

  3. Hi,

    I have the first two (ie not slide:ology). BPP has some things to say but phew is it tough to read! I in fact stopped reading about half way because of the drearyness and repetition of the writing.

    It really could be explained in about 20 pages. That would leave more space for designs and worked examples of turning fuzzy slide shows into stories. As said by others the classical story structure is a good start but you shouldn’t force your story to that shape just because that’s how hollywood movies are.
    That I found irritating too – saying at the start that Aristotle proposed the three act structure – but then always referring to Hollywood as the brand.

    But if you want help with how to structure and build a story there is certainly some there.


  4. Thanks for your comments and sorry for my delay in replying as I was overseas.

    @DaveG and Jonathan. It’s very interesting to read your comments on the Beyond Bullets book. I too find the “one method to rule them all” a little restrictive. And I think the strength of the other two books is the focus on graphic design. If us non-designers are going to be creating visual powerpoint slides then we need design guidance so that the audience have something pleasing to look at.