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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

Death to Comic Sans: The Worst Font for PowerPoint

If you don’t know what Comic Sans is, maybe you’re too ashamed to admit you do. It continues to grace countless homemade greeting cards, signs, banners, and sometimes, even PowerPoint presentations.

Despite many alternatives, Comic Sans retains a degree of prevalence, banking on its perception as a warm and fun typeface.

This perception, along with its overuse by amateur designers, contributes to its reputation as the worst font choice in any designed output. Before we dive deeper, let’s take a short look at its history.

Humble Roots

We can thank former Microsoft Employee Vincent Connare for the existence of this typographic blight. He claims that Comic Sans wasn’t initially designed as a usable typeface for Microsoft Office, but just for use in an application featuring a virtual canine assistant, Microsoft Bob.

In his own words:

“Comic Sans was NOT designed as a typeface but as a solution to a problem with the often overlooked part of a computer program’s interface, the typeface used to communicate the message.

There was no intention to include the font in other applications other than those designed for children when I designed Comic Sans. The inspiration came at the shock of seeing Times New Roman used in an inappropriate way.”

To be fair, the British Dyslexia Association considers the font easier to read than other fonts. Its legibility makes it easier for viewers to distinguish different glyphs and characters from each other. In addition, its handwritten design and curvy features lend it an air of friendliness and accessibility.

So why do people, especially designers, hate it?

An Ignoble Font

It’s the abundant misuse in inappropriate situations that’s handed Comic Sans its legacy as the worst font of all time. The friendliness mentioned is unfortunately not suited for how it’s been used. You’ve probably seen this a dizzying amount of times in office pantry signs, self-published greeting cards, and even some unwitting business signages.

Most likely, an unaware presenter may have even used it in his slides. It’s easy to reason that its bad rep is solely due to this abuse. Experts would beg to differ, noting its inconsistent kerning (spacing between characters) which make Comic Sans technically “ugly.”

No matter what, it can’t shake its image as cheap and unprofessional, given its common use by untrained designers.

So When Should I Use Comic Sans?

Never.

Save yourself from embarrassment. The people over at Ban Comic Sans Manifesto, expanding on its misuse, put it so:

“Comic Sans as a voice conveys silliness, childish naivete, irreverence, and is far too casual for such a purpose. It is analogous to showing up for a black tie event in a clown costume.”

In other words, Comic Sans is only good for communicating one thing: that you’re not a professional. There’s also no longer any excuse for resorting to this silly font. Even if you’re going for a more fun or aloof feel font for PowerPoint, there are so many other alternatives.

If you’re presenting to a professional audience, you’re better off sticking to the classics like Arial, Century Gothic, or Helvetica. Some may argue that they’re equally overused, but at least their look is clear, classy, and timeless. Still insist on injecting some fun into your slides? Ban Comic Sans can give you other alternatives.

In Summary

Comic Sans is a font that stumbled into its role as designers’ public enemy number one. Its overexposure and misuse has made it a target of much derision. The fact is, there are so many other free choices that come built into Microsoft Office.

We have serious serifs like Times New Roman, Garamond and the like for long bodies of text. There are more commanding sans serifs such as Impact, and you can count on Arial when you need to grab attention. In a perfect world, everyone would know the proper font choice for every situation.

Not everyone can be a PowerPoint professional, but anyone can easily learn to follow the general rule: avoid Comic Sans.

 

References

Ban Comic Sans Manifesto.Ban Comic Sans. n.d.
Connare, Vincent. “Why Comic Sans?” Connare: Art, Design & Typography. n. d.
Typefaces for Dyslexia. BDA Technology. March 20, 2011.
What’s so Wrong with Comic Sans?BBC News. October 20, 2010.

 

Featured Image: Ban Comic Sans” by Emanuele on flickr.com