Bullet Points

May 3, 2011

Around the world, in every office, conference room and meeting room, every minute, of every day people are standing up giving presentations with a list of bullet points displayed on the screen behind them. Now just because millions of people do it does it make it right? The short answer is NO !

Ban the Bullets

Using bullet points in your presentations is:

  • Lazy
  • Ineffective
  • Futile

They rarely help the overall communications process which the presentation is trying to achieve.

While it is true that the human memory is better at retaining visual information rather than aural information, using bullet points distracts the listener from what the presenter is saying while they read the bullets. Then when the presenter repeats what the audience has just read, it is old news. And we all know how boring it is to hear old news repeated!

If, in an attempt to be more interesting, the presenter rephrases the bullet points in his oration this just ends up confusing the audience as they hear one thing but see something different.

So using bullet points in your presentation is a “lose-lose” situation.

Why do so many people use bullet points? I believe they are a bi-product of the presentation’s development. When you are developing your thoughts for a presentation is very useful to write down short bullet points and to be able to re-order, add and delete points as you think through your presentation. The result being a sheet or sheets of paper covered with a long list of bullet points. The problem comes when people transcribe these bullets into the presentation software.

This usually happens for one of to reasons:

A)     The presenter doesn’t know any better.

B)     The presenter feels that he/she needs the reminders to help them present the information and keep the presentation on track.

In the latter case, I would suggest that the bullet points are transcribed on to the speaker’s notes, not the slides. That way the speaker can be reminded of what to say, without broadcasting it in advance to his audience.

Using the slides to remind you what to say turns the whole process of giving a presentation on its head. Rather than the presenter leading the presentation with the visual aids supporting what he says, it makes the slides lead the presentation with the presenter demoted to the role of describing what the slides say. In the worst cases the presenter becomes completely redundant as the audience can read the slides and understand the points themselves. The “presenter” would have been better off sending everyone an email, far more efficient.

Hopefully, I have now convinced you that bullet points are not good for your presentations. This raises the next question; what else should you put on our visual aids, or should we do away with the slides altogether?

Personally, I believe slides can help get your message across and help to make it more memorable. After all it was Confucius who once said, “I hear I forget, I see I remember”. What should go on the slides though? Well the clue is in the name, “visual aids”. Your slides should conjure up strong mental images which reinforce what you are saying.

The best example of this I have come across was in a presentation about global warming. The speaker was making the point that what happens in relation to global warming is all down us as individuals. To illustrate the point that one person can make a difference he put up a slide with three images: “American policemen beating up a black person”,”Martin Luther King” and “President Barack Obama”, what a change in one generation!

So I appeal to your better judgement, Ban the Bullets, be more creative and make your presentations work.

If you’d like to see examples of replacing bullet points with images take a look at my Brief History of Slide Design blog listing.

All the Best

Graham Young




Mental Pictures

January 5, 2010

Telling stories which your audience can associate with and where they can create a mental picture of the story is a great way of gaining buy in to your presentation. 

When the story is a personal anecdote then it’s even better as people are usually much better at telling stories from personal experience.  People tend to put more emotion into such a story and can bring it to life. This makes it more interesting for you audience.  By sharing a piece of yourself, through retelling a personal story, the audience will gain a better understanding of you and will become more involved. They will trust you more, which all helps in gaining their approval and commitment to your objective.

Presentation Training and Coaching is available from the author of this blog. Please visit my presentation training  website.

Give me a day and I’ll change your presentations, forever


January 5, 2010

‘Death by PowerPoint’ is a well known phrase these days, but is it really PowerPoint’s fault?  While after dinner speakers rarely use PowerPoint nor comedians or entertainers that does not mean that any presentation that uses PowerPoint or similar presentation software is at a disadvantage. 

Personally, I believe Effective Business Presentations can be made even better by the right use of PowerPoint. 

Surveys have shown that audiences remember up to 40% more if they have seen it as well as hearing it.

The trap many presenters fall into is using PowerPoint to build their presentation in the first place.  This makes the slides more like speakers notes than visual aids.

PowerPoint slides should be “visual aids”, doing exactly what it says on the tin. That is being both visual (rather than textual) and helping to convey the message and make it more memorable. This medium is ideal for showing graphs, charts and images, which elucidate, compliment and reinforce your message.

Instead of a bullet saying the company was formed in 1969, why not have an iconic picture of something that happen the year the company started, in this instance, the first moon landing.

Once you have worked out what you are going to say and even written out your cue cards, that is the time to start thinking about using PowerPoint or a similar tool to create your visual aids.  Think about what imagery you could have to illustrate each point. If you can’t find a substitute for the bullet points, even this type of text can be transformed by embedding the text into conceptual block diagrams.

Presentation Training and Coaching is available from the author of this blog. Please visit my presentation training  website.

Give me a day and I’ll change your presentations, forever