There is a time and a place to use bullet points, but it’s not in a live presentation!
Bullet points serve an important function in writing. Namely, they help the reader scan written material quickly and focus on key points, rather than full paragraphs of information. Bullet points are also helpful for formatting lists, such as the one farther down in this article.
Before we can evaluate whether bullet points belong on presentation slides, we need to ask another critical question: What is the purpose of showing slides during a presentation? In other words, why not just give a speech without the slides?
Contrary to the way slides are commonly used today, the purpose of adding slides to an oral presentation should be to guide the audience through the information being presented.
That’s the bottom line, isn’t it – making sure the audience understands what you are telling them!
With that purpose in mind, now we can ask “Do bullet points on presentation slides improve the audience’s understanding of the presentation?”
Unfortunately, since the first presentation software was developed in the 1980s, there have been no known scientific studies on the effectiveness of using bullet points in presentation slides! Zip, nada, zilch, niente!
On the other hand, there have been numerous scientific studies with conclusions that seem to contradict the common practice of using bullet points on slides.
- It is difficult to read written text on a screen while listening to a speaker at the same time.
- Too much information on a slide distracts viewers from grasping the speaker’s key points.
- A full sentence headline on a slide creates better audience comprehension than shorter phrases.
- Audiences understand verbal narration by itself better than verbal narration PLUS text on slides.
If bullet points on slides don’t actually help your audience follow your presentation better, then why are you still using bullet points? In a word – HABIT.
Many of us have gotten used to glancing up at the screen for a reminder of what we are supposed to say next. That is to say, we use the slides as notes or an outline for our speech. (And then we display that outline up on the screen where our audience can see it too!)
You may also simply not be aware of other choices you could make when designing slides for your presentations. Most likely nobody ever told you there was another way to create your slides.
Now that you know bullet points don’t help you achieve your goal of audience comprehension of your presentation, are you willing to explore the possibility of other ways to design your slides?
If you answered “Yes,” you’ll want to read my next article, What Do I Use Instead of Bullet Points?
I recently attended a 3-day event in Chicago, organized by Raymond Aaron and J.T. Foxx. I didn’t really know what to expect. The event was called “2011 Blueprint” and, frankly, I had no idea what that really meant.
In addition to learning an amazing amount about branding, marketing, and business development, I also learned about the value of “Wow”. One of Raymond Aaron’s tips which I really took to heart is to “Give and Wow and Give and Wow and Give and Wow” until your audience or clients are so impressed that they can hardly believe you are going to give them even more.
Of course this can result in more purchases, but it was clear that it also results in happy, abundant presenters who feel good about what they are doing, who share their knowledge generously and passionately, and who genuinely want to help their clients, customers, or audience succeed.
When you reach a certain point in your life, it seems only natural that you would begin sharing what you have learned with others. Even those of us who may not have achieved great financial success yet still have other areas of abundance in our lives. And the only response to abundance that makes sense is to share it!
The “2011 Blueprint” 3-day event has changed my perspective on building my business. Of course I still want to grow the business financially. But I am also remembering now to look for how I can share what I know, how I can help others with the skills and knowledge I have acquired over the years.
And every day now I am looking for ways that I can “Wow” my clients, my co-workers, my friends and family, even a stranger in a store or on the sidewalk. Life is short. For some people, it seems like constant struggle. If I can bring a moment of joy to someone else, that’s a gift for both of us. Wow!!!
How do you give “Wow” to the people in your life?
The most important thing to consider is whether your presentations achieve the results you want.
If your goal is to persuade your audience to buy or invest, then your results are fairly easy to measure. If your goal is to teach your audience, it may be a little more difficult to determine whether or not they have learned what you presented.
While different goals will require slightly different presentation approaches, there are things that all audiences have in common. Above all, nobody wants to be bored by a dull speaker reading from slide after slide full of bullet points!
Everyone wants to avoid “death by PowerPoint”, but do you know HOW to avoid it?
Fortunately, there are better ways to organize and present your information to an audience other than bullet point lists. Many presenters have been experimenting with different ways to enliven PowerPoint.
Some of those experiments have been successful; others are still too constrained by traditional ways of using presentation software, whether that is PowerPoint, Keynote, or some other alternative.
Exciting visual images can certainly make a presentation more dynamic. But sometimes those graphics end up creating a meandering series of unrelated images that don’t really get the message across that much better than a series of bullet point slides.
When you combine great visuals with training and development concepts, then you start to create a fusion of key ideas from multiple disciplines. Mixing and blending those ideas is part science, part art. The results can mean a huge shift in audience response to your presentations.
It isn’t enough just to have great content to share. You also need to share that content in a way that your audience really gets it. In this era of short attention spans, information overload, and increasing competition, doesn’t it make sense to take advantage of every technique that can help you improve how you do that? Isn’t it time you learned how to take your presentations beyond bullet points?
Leave a comment and let me know what you think makes a good presentation. I look forward to exchanging ideas with you on this site.