Beyond the Japanese Bullet Train

One of the fascinating things about the conventional bullet-point approach to PowerPoint is that it produces remarkably consistent results, even across international borders. That’s why I was particularly interested to hear what happened when Naotake Murayama tried out the Beyond Bullet Points approach with a Japanese audience. He just emailed me about how things went, and said he would be glad to share it with other readers:

"Probably for most Japanese audiences the idea of being shown pictures and photos with no text is almost heretical; I wouldn’t be too surprised if some audiences complain that they’re not getting their money’s worth since they don’t have something to READ, with lots of detail. Having said that, I’ve always been bored by those endless series of bullet points, charts and schematic diagrams called ‘presentations’.

"So I wanted to try out your approach. When I was asked to speak to a a group of Japanese college and graduate school students who were visiting Silicon Valley, I figured that this was a ‘no risk’ (wasn’t work – related to my non-profit activities) environment in which I could employ the approaches in your book.

"The end result was a presentation that was not entirely text-free, Japan_1but NO BULLETS and quite a few ‘image only’ slides that I used to tell my own career story. Since it’s in Japanese I don’t think it’s worth sharing with you, but I attached one slide that I used to talk about my cross-cultural background (i.e., spending 40% of my life in the US).

"The reception was quite good; I sensed that the audience (students and faculty members) were at first somewhat surpirsed, but it turned out to be a refreshing experience for them. At a minimum, I can claim that I kept them awake in their jetlagged condition by avoiding the ‘reading the slides’ approach. They may have thought my presentation style with lots of body language and asking questions instead of just being asked ‘very American’, but that’s another story.

"Anyway, I think I need to try out your approach a few more times to come up with something that I can use effectively in both ‘work’ and ‘non-work’ situations, but one thing’s for sure; you got me thinking more about presentation delivery as a total package that requires a trinity of the presenter, the visuals, and the STORY."

I suspect Naotake’s last word, story, is a universal communications structure that easily crosses borders. What’s been your international experience, either with or beyond bullet points?  Post a comment and share your thoughts – I’d especially be interested in hearing from those of you who present to non-English speaking audiences.

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5 Responses to “Beyond the Japanese Bullet Train”

  1. An Economy of Bullet Points

    A few posts ago I reviewed Chris Atkinson’s new book Beyond Bullet Points. Correspondent David Goldberg at the University of Illinois chimes in with a somewhat contrary view in his excellent blog, which is worth taking a look at. He has some suggestion…

  2. The Two-Flag Slide


  3. Sharon says:

    I present regularly to audiences whose first language is not English. One of the most challenging and interesting audiences was a deaf community, to whom I presented how technology could and should be used to break down barriers that make it difficult for them to communicate with hearing people in the work place. The use of visual pictures, combined with my body language and an interpreter (I sure learnt how to speak slowly during that session) was far more effective than had I used bullet points.

    I’ve been a fan of using PowerPoint to support telling a story rather than list bullet points for a long time. I hope your book builds momentum for others to start doing the same. I also have a copy of it on my desk right now, but have to confess I’ve got 4 other books to finish before starting it 🙂

  4. cliff says:

    Sharon – an amazing experience. I’m sure we have much to learn from you – if you can share any of your materials with us, we’d love to see them!

  5. Aria Systems says:

    beyond bullets

    So I purchased Cliff’s book based largely on his blog or vice versa. The blog barely scratches the surface….

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