The 5 Principles and 10 Building Blocks of Persuasive Visual Storytelling

In this sample chapter from Beyond Bullet Points: Using PowerPoint to tell a compelling story that gets results, 4th Edition, Cliff Atkinson reviews step-by-step how the Beyond Bullet Points (BBP) Story Template creates a foundation for presentations that you will build upon with narration and graphics.

In this chapter, you will:

  • Review step-by-step how the Beyond Bullet Points (BBP) Story Template creates the foundation for your presentation that you will build upon with your narration and graphics.

  • Review the 5 Principles and 10 Building Blocks of persuasive visual storytelling.

  • Prepare the BBP Story Template for your next presentation, and review three guidelines for writing headlines.

The toughest part of preparing a persuasive visual story is knowing where to begin. As each of us faces the prospect of transforming a mountain of information into an easily understood story that gets results, we have our work cut out for us. The challenging road ahead includes finding the right story structure to engage our audiences, making tough choices about what information to leave in—and what to leave out—as well as creating the visuals to go along with the story.

If you recall, Chapter 2 began with the story of an executive who aimed to persuade an important audience to decide to choose his company for a high-value project. But his current presentation was loaded with text and was less than persuasive. As demonstrated in this chapter, we took his message step by step through the clarifying process that’s summarized in this chapter and described in the rest of the book, and created a persuasive visual story similar to the “after” presentation in Figure 3-1.


FIGURE 3-1 The before and after versions of the original presentation shown in Chapter 2.

After the team delivered this compelling visual story, the COO immediately wrote the CEO an email saying, “This was the best presentation we’ve given in 5+ years, and I’m confident we’re going to win.” And they did.

I’m convinced that every presentation can be transformed in this way, making what would otherwise be a dull and boring experience into a persuasive visual story that gets results. This book will show you how.

Many methods and approaches provide a way to outline ideas or to turn a script into a storyboard. However, the two activities are often separate, and presenters today want the efficiency of both outlining their story and creating effective slides in one fell swoop. In this chapter, you’ll learn about a powerful story outlining tool that will make that efficiency possible. Along the way, you’ll also learn a set of principles and story elements that can guide you from start to finish to ensure you craft a story that works for you and your audience.

Introducing the BBP Story Template

With the lessons of the dual-channels theory from Chapter 2 in mind, filmmaking is an appropriate model for designing multimedia presentations because it plans and manages both visual and verbal information simultaneously. Filmmakers know that the best way to start planning a film is with the written word, in the form of a script. A script is much shorter and less detailed than a novel because it assumes that the visuals and dialogue will play a major role in telling the story. The best scripts distill stories to their essence and strip away anything that does not contribute to a story’s singular focus.

When a writer completes a script, the document then becomes a powerful organizing tool that puts everyone on the same page. The script is the starting point for planning and producing visuals and dialogue, and it serves as a way for everyone involved in the project to be clear on what everyone else is saying and doing. If you were a filmmaker and you started filming before you had a script, you would waste time and resources while you changed your focus and figured out the story along the way.

When you begin writing your script or outline for your presentation, you won’t have to start with an empty page, because you can use the Beyond Bullet Points Story Template shown in Figure 3-2 to guide you every step of the way. The story template serves as a central organizing tool for the entire presentation. On a single page or two, you’ll see the big picture of your story before you commit to adding a visual and verbal track to individual slides.


FIGURE 3-2 The BBP Story Template, which you can complete in a Word document.

I encourage you to give the BBP Story Template a try on your next presentation, to:

  • See how it can help you to find a compelling structure for your visual story.

  • Orient your information to the needs of your audience.

  • Distill your information to its essence.

  • Decide what to include or exclude from your message.