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

http://www.businesspresentation.biz

 

Advertisements

Slide Design

May 3, 2011

For main busy executives, the idea of taking time out to plan the design of their presentation slides is a foreign concept. But a little bit of thought and consistency can go a long way.

If you are one of the many who picks a PowerPoint background at random then it is time to thing again. All the backgrounds provided by Microsoft have been used time and time again. As soon as someone sees that perennial blue fade background with the wavy lines across the top, they instantly remember the last boring presentation they sat through and assume yours will be the same.

To create an original looking background to your presentation, try using a relevant photograph. The only problem is that most photographs have a combination of light and dark, which can make any text laid on top difficult to read. By making the background image a “watermark” or giving it a high level of transparency, you can create a unique a relevant background without interfering with the legibility of the slides.

Another option is to add the text in a text box and then fill the text box with a pale colour and set the transparency level to about 50%. This makes the text more readable but the underlying picture still shows through.

One thing that I approve of in the later release of PowerPoint is the concept of themes, which include a range of colours, and fonts for each theme. To the design illiterate like me, it means that at least I can be confident that the various standard colours I use through the presentation match, and that there is a consistent use of fonts on every slide.

As for individual slides, the smallest font you should ever use is 24pt, with most text being 32pt and titles even larger. Do not mix lots of different fonts throughout  your presentation, two fonts should be sufficient. See the Fonts entry for more advice on your choice of fonts.

Try to have just one concept for every slide. If you have 5 points to make, rather than having 5 bullet points, have five different slides, each one with a descriptive and appropriate image. See my related article on Bullet Points.

My one final point on design concerns animation. Animation should only be used if it actively contributes towards the meaning of the slide. In particular don’t use the spurious animation techniques PowerPoint provides to move from one slide to the next.


Plan B

April 12, 2011

These days every presentation seems to have some technology associated with it. If it’s not Powerpoint, Impress or Prezi, it may be a live twitter feed or video clips. The problem with technology is that it can go wrong and sod’s law says it will do at the moment when it will cause the most embarrassment for the user.

For this reason alone, it is always a good idea to have a Plan B, which can be called upon if and when the technology fails. I have seen very experienced public speakers thrown by something going wrong but if in your rehearsals you have already practiced what to do if the technology goes wrong, you can remain calm and confident when disaster strikes. For instance in rehearsals try giving the presentation without looking at your slides, then it won’t matter if the projector fails.

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


Relying on …..

January 22, 2010

Relying on your slides, your props, your notes or anything else is a recipe for disaster.

When you rely on something or make assumptions about something or someone. Sod’s Law says it will go wrong, particularly when it is of utmost importance that it all works.

Remember your slides are not the message, you are.

As David Goldman put it:

“Regarding Power Point, props, or anything else, what matters most is the result. Many of us have experienced times where AV doesn’t work. So know your presentation inside and out. If your passionate about your message then you can deliver it under any circumstances.” 

Even if all the technology works, the heart of a presentation comes from the presenter not from the media and props that are used to convey the message. As Paula Parish put it:

“It is the spirit of what you are projecting more than the “technology” that makes the connection work. Engagement, involvement, practical application along with visualization techniques and a ‘fun’ mentality are keys to a successful presentation.

I always say: Knowledge, Clarity, and Confidence = Impact!”

This tip was created based on a discussion item on Linkedin


INTRO

January 22, 2010

This tip is from David Cotton, Owner, Wize-Up Learning and Development Ltd.

I learnt the mnemonic INTRO when I first got into training and still use it to shape the introduction of a presentation. For those who don’t know it:

Impact/Interest
Needs
Timing
Range
Objectives

Just to expand this – I think of some way to grab the audience’s attention at the outset. Often a simple question is enough. (Impact/Interest). I make a few statements which will convince them that there is something here that they will need to hear – although I never use the word “needs”. (Needs). Then I tell them how long it will take, (Timing) what I will cover (Range) and what they can expect to take away (Objectives). 

 The alternative would be to stand up and tell them who I am and what I am going to present. And that’s a great way to lose people from the outset.


Fun

January 22, 2010

When you give a presentation there are three basic aims:

  • Entertain
  • Inform
  • Influence

Most presentations have one primary aim e.g. a best man’s speech is to entertain, a training course is to inform and a sales presentation is to influence but to be effective most presentations need to have all three elements.

People will be more receptive to new ideas and will learn more if they are having fun doing it.  So make sure you smile and use some humour in your presentation. Enable the audience to enjoy themselves and have some fun.  Use props and games to convey your message.

The presenter leads the way not just in the topic but also the mood of the audience. If you relax, your audience will relax, if you laugh your audience will laugh, as long as you have gauged the culture properly, if you are enthusiastic the audience are more likely to be enthused.

So have some fun when you are giving a presentation and your audience are more likely to enjoy it and to listen.

This tip was created based on a discussion item on Linkedin


Participation

January 22, 2010

How do you engage with your audience? How do you involve them in your presentation?

The key to an effective presentation is not talking at your audience but talking with them.

By getting your audience to participate in your presentation, you are far more likely to gain their engagement. Participation can take many forms, from physical activities to enlisting their imagination.

As David Cotton owner of Wize-Up Learning put it “Audience size doesn’t have any bearing on interactivity and I have never found an occasion in which I couldn’t introduce some level of interaction with the group. I’ve done interactive stuff with 2000 people in a concert hall. They expected to hear a speech but didn’t get one. Within seconds they were all on their feet, doing silly breathing exercises and then engaging with each other. It was enormous fun! On another occasion I had 165 corporate lawyers from 27 countries creating artworks together and on another groups of British civil servants singing and performing sketches. There were real learning objectives underlying each of these occasions, so it wasn’t purely frivolous!”

Cynthia Lett says ” I enlist the audience’s imagination from the start. My subject is etiquette so I explain they are going with me to an event (a meeting, dinner, reception – whatever my time restraints allow). Then we go together with me as the “tour guide”. I never stand behind a table or podium. Since we are “in this together” I am right next to them – talking with individuals who are encouraged to share their thoughts, situations and questions.

People take from a presentation what they can visualize themselves”

Just two examples of how you can bring your presentation to life with the help of some audience participation. As mentioned in the section “Do It” people will start to understand something only when they start to do it, not just by hearing and seeing it.

This tip was created based on a discussion item on Linkedin