I recently wrote a post about my feelings towards “approaches” and advice about effective presentation design that include an acceptable amount of bullet points greater than zero. It was an more of an editorial than a how-to post, reason being that I have over 200 posts on this blog that offer advice on alternatives to simply listing your information in bullet point form.
The post was reposted (with my permission) on Ragan.com, however since the post didn’t offer any actionable alternatives, I took some heat in the comments. So if you read that post and felt that I was ranting instead of helping, then I’m sorry. Below is my response to the first (of many) commenters who asked for concrete examples of effective presentations that don’t use bullet-points. I hope this helps!!
I don’t think it’s enough to provide examples without explaining why bullet points are so bad, and there are a few reasons. First, PowerPoint (or Keynote, Prezi, etc) isn’t a text-based medium. It’s a visual medium, there to support the information coming out of the presenter’s mouth. Yes, we have to SEE to read, but it’s actually monopolizing our ability to listen. Since we can’t read and listen at the same time, the audience can ONLY read your bullet points or listen to you (as the presenter). They CAN NOT do both. The more text on the screen, the less your audience is listening to the information you’re presenting. Thus, the less text, the more information you (the presenter) can convey.
Secondly, using bullet-points leads to the pitfall where multiple important ideas are condensed onto one slide. So if you tell someone that an effective presentation should only have, say, 4 bullet points on a slide, then they may put four separate ideas. The problem with that is that those ideas aren’t given their proper room to shine, and thus, all four ideas are blended into one and the audience will have a very difficult time recalling them.
It’s like trying to go on a first date with four people all at once (good luck with that!). I wrote at length about this here: What Bullet-Points and Dating Have in Common, and give EXAMPLES of how to redesign here: PowerPoint Before and After Slide Types
I also wrote a post about Reducing the Amount of Text ion your PowerPoint Slides.
I do put this into practice, too. I came in third in last year’s World’s Best Presentation contest hosted by SlideShare.net. Is there text? Of course. Actually, because it’s a presentation that is viewed alone (without me to present the information) I had to add a lot of text that wasn’t there in the original version. Are their lists? Yep. But in the post above, I’m not arguing agains the idea of using sentences or lines of text. I’m arguing against the negative effects that result (too many ideas, less focus on the presenter, etc.). You can view that presentation here: Social Media for Business
Since that presentation came in third, you’d be well served to check out the 1st and 2nd place winners if you want to see more effective presentations without bullet points.
First, from my friends at Empowered Presentations:
Second from my friend Jesse Dee:
The aforementioned Jesse Dee also went to the 2010 Cannes Lions Festival and took pictures of real slides built by real business people used in real presentations: 100 Beautiful Slides — none of which contain a list of bullet points.
Also, my friend and fellow presentation designer, Scott Schwertly from Ethos3, has NUMEROUS examples of effective presentations that rarely, if ever, use bullet points. He actually just posted a presentation that could have easily succumbed to a death by bullet points, but he uses creativity and storytelling, as well as some awesome visuals, to make it visually appealing. See it below:
Of course, it’s not just about the fight against bullet points. It is about becoming a better presenter and presentation designer. I wrote a post with 100 presentation tips to get you started.
Also, if you EVER use PowerPoint, do yourself a favor and read Prezentation Zen (by Garr Reynolds) and Slide:ology (by Nancy Duarte). There’s no way I could express the pitfalls of the traditional PowerPoint landscape and provide the necessary tools to fix it in just a single blog post. These books achieve that.
So I’ve given you five blog posts, four SlideShare presentations, and two books that will give you concrete examples of alternatives to simply listing your vital information on a bland slide with bullets. I hope this helps. I’ve been blogging for nearly four years now in order to be a resource for those who want to join me in the Presentation Revolution. You don’t have to be a PowerPoint expert. All you have to do is realize that audiences are dying a death of a thousand bullet(point)s, and there’s a better way.