Presentation Skills & ‘Death by bullet point’

PowerPoint slide with bullet points

‘Death by bullet point’, is it really that deadly?

If used correctly there’s nothing wrong with PowerPoint. It can be used to great effect to significantly enhance your message, make it more meaningful and of course memorable.

I’ve seen PowerPoint and other visual aid software used very powerfully to complement a speaker’s key point and help bring it to life; in the right hands they are an asset rather than a liability. I’ve also seen the very same visual aids used to drain the life force from the audience.

Every day I read a blog post or article damning the inappropriate use of the bullet point, yet still every day I see slides with enough bullets to start a small war.

What will it take?

A global referendum or simply a mass awakening that it not only doesn’t work but that we are inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering on fellow human beings forced to endure our indulgence in them.

Let’s be frank, if you are going to present a deck of slides fraught with bullet points then you may as well give them to your audience and take a seat while they read them.  That’s exactly what they will do if they are up on the screen and you start talking over them anyway. Most of us struggle to read and attentively listen to someone in the first place and faced with the dilemma of having to choose, most of us will read every time.

That makes you redundant, so the good news is you can email your slides directly to your audience and save everyone a lot of time. It’s been written about millions of times already, bullet points are boring, unnecessary and disrespectful to an audience and yet we persist.

Why do so many extremely intelligent, creative and talented professionals still insist on using bullet points?

I  believe that the answer to that question is a simple one; we are using them for ourselves and not our audience.

We use them so we don’t forget anything.

We use them as our script.

We use them because everyone else uses them.

We use them because they are easy.

We use them because we aren’t interested enough in our audience to think differently.

What to do instead?

Firstly, ask yourself why you may need to use PowerPoint or any other software in the first instance and what real value it will add to your audience in them understanding, connecting with and acting on what you have to say.

My advice would be if you are totally confident that slides will greatly help your audience then make a decision today to avoid using bullet points at all cost. If you were going to have 5 bullet points don’t be afraid to have 5 slides instead with each one creatively illustrating your key point.

If you still feel compelled to embrace the bullet point or believe they may be helpful to your audience use them very sparingly; use far less with far less words.

Use images.

Most of us think in pictures.

If I were to ask you to think of your car or your home or something important to you an image of your car or your home will instantly pop up in the screen of your mind.  You won’t see a list of bullet points in your mind with the words car, home, etc.

Different people will see the image with different levels of clarity and some may not even realize they are seeing it but it’s still there.

We think in pictures and the clearer the image, the less doubt and confusion there is.

Be bold, be daring, be colourful and most of all put your audience first.

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