Russell Davies, author of 'Everything I know about life I learned from PowerPoint'
Russell Davies, author of 'Everything I know about life I learned from PowerPoint'
A view from Russell Davies

'It's all about lists': an extract from Russell Davies' PowerPoint guide for presentation phobics

An extract from Russell Davies' book about the art of the PowerPoint presentation, covering all the reasons you should use lists if you want your presentations to stand out.

I’m very shy. Embarrassingly, selfishly shy. I hate meeting new people or being in unstructured social settings like parties, lunches or, well, most of modern life outside a monastery.

The only serious arguments my wife and I have ever had have been about my extreme reluctance to attend weddings where you have to sit next to people you don’t know.

And yet I love working in the kinds of creative industries where all these things are virtually compulsory. You have to meet, share your work, talk about your ideas and present to strangers all the time. I always wanted to work in that kind of world. I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to. 

I found the answer early on – PowerPoint.

With PowerPoint by my side, I realised that being on stage and presenting ideas was something I enjoyed and could get good at. 

You’ve escaped the randomness of people and put yourself in control. You’re doing a presentation. You’re in charge. You can avoid the embarrassment and terror by simply being well-prepared. More prepared than anyone in the history of the world ever. 

And so I’ve defeated that shyness and been blessed with a very fortunate career.

I’ve helped make advertising for Nike, Honda and Microsoft. I’ve consulted for organisations from Apple to Unilever. I’ve made ‘PowerPoint artefacts’ that ended up in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. And I’ve paid some of the spiritual debt for all that relentless capitalism by helping the UK government build better websites and persuade a million people to switch to renewable energy.

Although you might well have seen some of the work I’ve been involved with – Nike ads, those famous Honda ones, GOV.UK – you won’t have seen the PowerPoint that led to them. Given it’s so ubiquitous, PowerPoint is oddly private. So let me take you behind the scenes with my top tips for creating PowerPoints that make your work stand out. It’s all about lists… 

Five reasons you should use lists: 

  1. They wake people up. Honestly
  2. Put a list on the screen and people will stir in their seats, sit up a bit, get out their phones and their notebooks and start writing it down
  3. People love lists
  4. They seem valuable, like repositories of knowledge. Like you’re finally going to stop messing around and deliver some actual knowledge
  5. They’re easy to write

Seven more reasons you should use lists: 

  1. They’re a good discipline; they make you organise your thoughts into a useful format
  2. They’re a great, simple way of structuring a talk
  3. Five Reasons We Should Do X is a perfectly acceptable format for a presentation
  4. You can still do jokes
  5. Just by messing around with the form
  6. See
  7. Bang

Eleven more compelling list facts: 

  1. They’re clear. We know what we’re getting 
  2. We remember things spatially – lists are memorable because we can remember that was the top one and this is the second one 
  3. That’s why we have shopping lists on long bits of paper and not on wide ones 
  4. As A. S. Byatt put it, "lists are a form of power". They put you in control 
  5. We know where we are. This is the fifth one. We know we’re almost halfway 
  6. They’re a scannable, easy-to-pay-attention-to way to absorb information 
  7. Don’t put too many on one slide though – spread them over a few 
  8. And don’t reveal them all at once – people will read ahead 
  9. Prime numbers are more memorable. A Top 11 is more interesting than a Top 10 
  10. They provide all sorts of ways to make things more interesting. Like tell people that one of the items on the list isn’t true and get them to work out which one. That keeps people watching 
  11. They feel definitive and completable. Look! This is the last one. We’re done. We can all go home now

This is an extract from Russell Davies' Everything I know about life I learned from PowerPoint