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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.

Troubleshooting

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.

References

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

Featured Image: Bearpit Karaoke” by sfreimark from flickr.com

PowerPoint Insight: Reconsidering the No Bullet Points Rule

You’ve heard it before. It’s probably the one presentation tip that gets repeated time and again: bullet points do nothing to help you get your point across. Some bloggers have even gone as far to say that it’s actually harming your presentations. Do a quick Google search on bullet points in presentations and you will get results like these:

bullet point in presentation : search engine result page

For presentation expert Seth Godin, bullet points hold a status of notoriety. The general consensus is to get rid of them altogether and make use of images instead. While this is definitely good advice, is there still room to reconsider the value of bullet points in PowerPoint presentations?

Bullet points and death by PowerPoint

Bullet points are often cited as the main culprit for the “Death by PowerPoint” phenomena, and it’s pretty clear why. Some presenters like to bore their audiences with tiny bullet that correspond to a disproportionate amount of text. This is a scenario almost everyone has experienced, regardless of field or industry.

bullet point filled slide
Presentation-Process.com

Outside of presentations, bullet points are used to enumerate key information in a document. They help readers draw out and remember the most important points. On a resume, for example, a candidate will use bullet points to list down achievements or awards. And unlike most PowerPoint decks, bullet points are written in short phrases or sentences.

It seems that ‘PowerPoint death’ isn’t caused by bullet points, but by our constant misuse of them. Instead of insisting on the “no bullet points” rule, it’s better to take a step back and review the proper way to use them.

How to use bullet points properly

If you’re willing to give bullet points another shot, try these tips to make sure you’re using them correctly:

SlideGenius Homeclick PowerPoint Slide
More examples in the SlideGenius portfolio

1.) Key Points: Use bullet points to enumerate key points and important details. As the presenter, it’s your job to explain these points further to your audience. Your PowerPoint deck is a visual aid. They will list down a few key words they need to remember, but the bulk of it should be explained in your delivery.

2.) Consistency: Make sure you use the same writing style for all bullet points throughout. Be consistent in your capitalization, use of verbs, and whether to use simple sentences or phrases.

3.) 6 X 6 Guideline: Maintain a professional look to your slides by following the 6 x 6 Guideline. You should have six words per bullets and only six points per slide. While this isn’t a hard and fast rule, always aim to have slides that look neat and concise.

4.) Variety: Even if you follow these rules, your PowerPoint deck will look monotonous if you use bullet points on every slide. Add a bit of variety by integrating pictures, videos, graphs, and other visual elements. Remember that bullets are used to enumerate key information. If your content doesn’t call for that, use something else on your slides.

 

References

“Bullet Points.” Oxford Dictionaries. Accessed August 22, 2014.
Most presentations aren’t bullet proof.” Seth’s Blog. Accessed August 22, 2014.

 

Featured Image: s_p_a_c_e_m_a_n via Flickr