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Bullet points are great – don’t believe the hype

If you have been using bullet points, or indeed if your Powerpoint or Keynote slides are still riddled with bullet points please read on.

Bullet points are one of my pet hates on Powerpoint or Keynote slides and I am sure that many of the people who I train, just think that I am a little odd for this and what I suggest is just a way of avoiding bullet points, but it serves the same purpose.

Well, let’s just get one thing straight – BULLET POINTS ARE GREAT !

As long as you are writing a report, a shopping list, a to-do list, an academic paper, a blog post, or a list of bullet points, but they should never be seen on a slide, unless you are presenting your shopping list to your clients or the CEO of Boeing, which is highly unlikely.

The thing is, some shopping lists are more interesting than some of the bullet-point-heavy presentations we have to endure.

So let me just reiterate, I hate bullet points on slides, there I’ve said it and I feel much better for it.

Why the hell is that ? I hear you say…

Well one reason is that an ordered list is often all the excuse that some presenters to need to cram it full of text content … don’t you … you know who you are.

Bullets are place holders that just allow people to put full sentences on slides.

Bullets make you stand out, they make you stand out as being stuck in the gloomy past of old Powerpoint presentations and any clued-in audience, which most are, will be able to see right through you.

Bullets were designed to break up long blocks of text in written documents, making longer paragraphs easier to islotae and therefore easier to read – just remember that your audience did not come to your presentation to read.

When PowerPoint was ‘invented’ and became mainstream, people then just cut blocks of text and pasted them into their slides – and some still do that – I kid you not. Then they added bullets to break up those blocks of text and hey presto ! Their slides were made.

Powerpoint and Keynote are designed to make your messages come to life, something that bullets will never achieve – like, ever.

If you need any more reasons, I’ll put it all in an ordered list, separated by bullets – yes, lists, good, slides, bad.

And, if that wasn’t enough, The International Journal of Communication states that, “…your audience engages less, remembers less, agrees less and likes you less when you use bullet points in your PowerPoint presentations.”(International Journal of Business Communication, 2015)

So why continue using bullets on slides?

Invariably the answer to that question is usually : 

·      It is what we have always done. 

·      It is the easiest way to do it.

·      Well, what else can I do?

·      My boss makes me do it.

We will start by taking these reasons one-by-one.

It is what we have always done., in other words WADILT – We Always Do It Like That. If you want to kill off your business, keep on using this phrase, it is business killer and that is a guarantee as very few modern companies can be content with the traditional way of doing things, and definitely not as far as presentations. Even if your company deals with age-old traditions that have rarely changed over time, I would bet that your target market and clients have, so if you are presenting to them, unless they are stuck in some kind of time-warped parallel universe, make sure your presentation shows how you are moving on, even with that fabulous traditional product that they love.

It is the easiest way to do things. Who says so? Even if this were to have an inkling of truth about it, why is easy so good? You have to go the extra mile in presentations, the easy way often gives terrible results – there is no shortcut to excellence. Now, if you are talking about simplicity, then I am with you all the way – however, simplicity takes a huge amount of work, or as E.F. Schumacher said, “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” 

Now let’s go to the last bullet, “My boss makes me do it.”This sounds a lot like the revelation from Son of Sam killer, David Berkowitz, that a dog named Harvey had forced him to become a serial killer.

Are you sure your boss likes your bullet-point strewn slides? Couldn’t you help educate them? You can use me as your own personal Harvey the dog if that makes things easier.

Now we come to the only legitimate phrase from that little bulleted list, “Well, what else can I do?”

That is a good question; especially as few of us have actually been trained in presentation skills, so let’s have a look at some ways to replace bullets with something that does a much better job in my next article.

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