Making a (Power)Point of Not Being Tiresome

PowerPoint is:

* Bullet Points

* A Mysterious Jumble of Graphs and Charts

* Utter Boredom

But Cliff Atkinson, who runs a one-man, Los Angeles-based company called Sociable Media, wants to change all that. Atkinson published a book last year called "Beyond Bullet Points" about how to combat "PowerPoint fatigue": the deadening sameness of Microsoft Corp.'s commonly used presentation software. The book caught the eye of W. Mark Lanier, a Houston-based trial lawyer.

What happened next sounds like an episode of a ripped-from-the-headlines TV crime drama. Lanier, who was suing Merck & Co. on behalf of a man who died while taking the painkiller Vioxx, hired Atkinson as a consultant to help with his opening argument.

The resulting 253-slide presentation was so mold-breaking — so the opposite of boring — that it was dubbed "CSI: PowerPoint." Reporters covering the trial singled out the slides, with one calling them "frighteningly powerful." Jurors apparently agreed: They awarded the plaintiff's family $253 million, coincidentally $1 million per slide. (Merck is appealing that award.)

"I think Cliff turned PowerPoint in a direction that the Microsoft people never dreamed of," Lanier said. "The idea that you could speak for 2 1/2 hours and keep the jury's attention seemed like an impossible goal, but it worked. The jury was very tuned in."

To Atkinson, a 41-year-old, MBA-wielding former Air Force officer who has also dabbled in journalism, that came as no surprise. Since 2001, he has made a living helping people unshackle themselves from the tedium of pie charts. His secret, which he is happy to share with anyone who asks: using the same three-act storytelling structure that screenwriters swear by.

"Hollywood has been communicating using words and pictures for 100 years without text on the screen, so we need to look at what they do," he said recently as he showed a visitor around his Miracle Mile apartment, which doubles as his office, near Wilshire Boulevard.

Details here from the Los Angeles Times.