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How to Tame the Bullet Points in Presentations

The brain is efficient at discarding useless chunks of memories, but the most embarrassing and boring ones never leave the brain. Flashbacks from a long, drawn out lecture enter the mind out of nowhere. Most of the time, the boring lectures come with a hail of bullet points. Then another flashback sets in… and it turns out you were giving that presentation riddled with bullet points.

There are no set rules for using the bullet point, which makes it difficult to know how to use it successfully. Technically, bulleted lists are only a matter of format. They should contain key points that will be discussed during the presentation.

Let’s take a look at this example:

Tame Bullet Points

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Bread

The above is a simple grocery list. It’s composed of three distinct items, which are then separated from each other through bullet points. Even without writing these items down in a list again, they’re easy to understand and recall. Now, compare it with this bullet list:

Wild Bullet Points

  • Milk
  • The eggs should be brown.
  • Bread
    • Sandwich
    • Toast
    • Banana bread

The latter looks disjointed and confusing for different reasons: inconsistent formatting, too many bullet points, and difficult recall. The first two items nested under “bread” are different ways to prepare bread, while the last item is a type of bread. Eliminate the three items under bread to maintain the general idea of the list, since the three sub-bullets are specific.

The list is more difficult to recall than the former because the general and specific ideas are mixed together. A specific list will have different kinds of bread, and other types of milk and eggs. Ideas need to be refined further and follow consistent formatting.


If a bulleted list looks too much like the latter example, there are several ways to simplify it and make it look more like the former.

1. Don’t play mind games

In the context of creating a deck, if the bullet points only make sense in the mind of the speaker, then the audience takes the burden of trying to understand the information. A presentation has new information for the audience, therefore it’s wrong to assume that they possess this information beforehand.

2. Hold their hand

The poorly made bullet list in the latter example branches off wildly in all directions, completely disregarding the audience. According to Think Outside the Slide‘s Dave Paradi, a consistent style is necessary to avoid confusion. Hold their attention by showing bullet points of the main topics, then explaining each topic.

3. Prevent a bullet point tragedy

The most boring kind of bullet list is the kind that pretends to be a bullet list. A group of sentences is called a paragraph, but a bullet list of sentences is a paragraph formatted unnecessarily. Be careful not to mislead the audience into thinking that the bullet-list-paragraph is a bullet list.

4. Maintain harmony

Ideas get along well with each other through formatting and style. Format the topics as a sentence, phrase, or a single word for a bulleted list. If the bullet point begins with the first word capitalized, then the rest of the list should follow the same format. Consistency is important since discrepancies are distracting from the flow of thought and information.

5. Use Bullet Points Sparingly

Bullet points are key points for the audience, not a series of cue cards for the speaker. Use as few bullet points as possible to break up a presentation visually and to avoid overloading the audience with information. Insert an image between slides, and make sure to break up big chunks of information down for the audience.

The Verdict

It’s important not to accidentally play a game of PowerPoint-Karaoke by reading bullet-list-paragraphs throughout the presentation. Break up information by using a bulleted list with proper formatting and just enough information for easier recall. The proper usage of the bullet list is important to successfully get a point, or several points, across.

Finally, free yourself of the flashbacks of bullet list tragedies and exercise the responsible use and control of bullet points.


Paradi, Dave. “How to Write Powerful Bullet Points.” ThinkOutsideTheSlide. Accessed on October 2, 2015.

Featured Image: Bearpit Karaoke” by sfreimark from

Making Your Slides Less Text-Heavy

The main purpose of a PowerPoint presentation is to help a presenter tackle a topic in as few words as possible, without losing the core message.

Unfortunately, not all presenters know how to limit the amount of text on their slides. To avoid making your presentation appear too text-heavy, you may want to try the following suggestions:

Use Multiple Slides

The bullet point has been an alternative for many presenters who don’t want to flood their slides with walls of text. However, this solution sometimes proves to be counterintuitive, since many presenters make the mistake of fitting as many bullet points as they can – on a single slide.

Just like paragraphs, this practice makes a slide look confusing. To avoid this, do away with bullets and give each point their own slide. Doing so will let you increase the font size as well as improve your slides’ layout.

Think Visually

Instead of describing things with words, consider using images to represent your points. Don’t worry about your audience not getting the reference at first glance. It’s up to you as the presenter to fill them in on the missing pieces, just make sure the connection is evident after you’ve given the explanation. If it’s still not obvious after that, you may want to reconsider your choice of words.

This works for you since their attention will come back to you after viewing the slides. If you put text on your slide, their focus will stay on the slide – they’d just read everything instead of paying attention to you.

Keep it Short

While images are a great shorthand for your points, not all slides can contain only one image. Some slides may still require a few words to be effective. If you really need to add text, make sure to keep it to a minimum. Highlighting your main points can help organize your slides. Choose contrasting colors to enhance readability. If you’re going to use a bright background, for example, then choose a darker shade for your text.

A good rule of thumb would be: If you can express something in one image, then do it. If you can’t, use as little text as possible. The audience is there to hear your talk, not to read the slides with you (or even ahead of you).


The presenter’s bane has always been walls of text that bore the audience and ineffectively relate key points. You can put an end to this information overload on your slides with a few simple steps.

Instead of going for plenty of bullet points that defeat the point of breaking down text, try using multiple slides to get your point across. You can get even more creative and put images instead of text. But if you really can’t help using words in your slides, make sure to always keep them as short as possible.

Your deck should complement your pitch, but in order to do that, it first needs to take be visually appealing, not off-putting.



Contrast RebellionAccessed June 3, 2014.

Five PowerPoint Design Mistakes to Avoid

It’s perfectly normal to make mistakes when creating PowerPoint presentations – the first few times. According to software consultant, Wendy Russell, there are ways to learn the basics of PowerPoint. But when you’re failing repeatedly without seeing the errors of your ways, you may need to be jolted back to reality.

There’s a reason why your audience members tend to stifle a yawn or stare blankly at the open window whenever you deliver a presentation: You have poorly designed PowerPoint slides.

Here are five of the most common PowerPoint design mistakes are probably guilty of:

1. Too Many Details

Slide decks are your visual tools to help you get your message across. When you put too many information details on a slide – be it in the form of text, charts, or images – you run the risk of overwhelming your audience.

Ideally, slides should convey only once concept at a time. To avoid the problem, many professional presenters follow the 6 x 6 rule. This requires limiting the number of lines in a slide to six and keeping the number of words per line to six.

2. Poor Use and Choice of Images

Using images can help you explain an idea in a much simpler way. Inappropriate and low-quality images can create the opposite effect, though. Don’t just include any photos or clipart for the sake of having images up there. Be sure that there are clear connections between the images you choose and the points you are making.

Additionally, check if the images are of good quality by testing it out on a white wall. There are times that images would seem great on your monitor screen yet look bad when blown up and projected on a large screen.

3. Abuse of Effects and Other Fancy Features

If you think using too much animation, transitions, and sound effects can improve your presentation, you couldn’t be more wrong.

When it comes to special effects, less is more. Your audience will not be impressed with bullet points that constantly spin around, zoom in, blink, make sounds, etc. Try to make everything as simple as possible. The end result would be more powerful.

4. Several Bullet Points That Appear at Once

This is where you can apply animation appropriately. You see, having five to six bullet points appear on the slide at one time can be overwhelming to read.

The best thing to do is to reveal the points one at a time. This way, your audience will be able to focus better on each one. It would also keep them from reading ahead and tune you out.

5. Failing to Proofread

Nothing will make your PowerPoint presentation look more amateurish than typographical errors and spelling mistakes.

Apart from this, BBC education correspondent, Sean Coughland, cites online entrepreneur Charles Duncombe’s study in saying that bad grammar does cost companies millions. They won’t just distract your audience, but will also leave a bad impression, which may lead to a drop in revenue.

So always make sure to read your slides a couple times before declaring it good to go.


Remember, a good presentation can save a bad presenter. But a bad presentation would be hard to salvage even by the best presenter.

It would even make him look ridiculous and unprofessional. So which one would you rather be: a bad presenter backed by a well-designed presentation or a great presenter with a disastrous presentation?

It’s time to check what you’ve been doing wrong and apply the necessary changes on your next slides.


Coughlan, Sean. “Spelling Mistakes ‘cost Millions’ in Lost Online Sales.” BBC News. July 14, 2011. Accessed May 22, 2014.
Russell, Wendy. “Ready to Learn to Use PowerPoint?” Tech. Accessed May 22, 2014.