Powerpoint: Lose the bullets

by on 30th of October, 2008 in Writing, Publishing & Presenting
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About Nick Oswald
Nick Oswald started Bitesize Bio on a Macbook on his kitchen table in 2007 while in his 7th year of working as a molecular biologist in biotech. He made it his day job in 2010 and has been loving it ever since.

Powerpoint is a double-edged sword. There’s no doubt it makes putting together a presentation easier. Those who worked with slides, overhead projector films and the like in the years B.P. (Before Powerpoint) will testify to that.

But Powerpoint’s ease of use also makes it easy to abuse, and bullet points are the most abused feature of all.

Bullet points should be used very sparingly, if at all, in Powerpoint and only ever to highlight crucial information.

But unfortunately most people spray bullet points around in Powerpoint like a gung-ho machine-gunner rather than a well-trained sniper, and that’s guaranteed to make your Powerpoint more of a hinderance than a help in trying to get your message across.

The most common reasons for bullet point overuse are that the presenter:

1. Plans his/her talk in Powerpoint itself, typing the main points out like a list
2. Wants to use the Powerpoint content to prompt him/herself during the presentation.
3. Thinks that saying what they are saying will somehow be emphasised by repeating in in text form on the screen.

All of these completely miss the point of Powerpoint.

Firstly, Powerpoint is not a planning tool and so it’s best not to use it as one. Planning is better done using pen and paper, well away from Powerpoint. Only then can you distill out the main points you are trying to get across and work out an appropriate way to illustrate them.

Secondly, Powerpoint should never, never be used as an autocue. Well, I suppose you could use it in that way, but you’d be better turning off the projector and giving a speech only presentation.

Your presentation should be designed from the audience’s perspective, not from your own, in such a way that it helps your audience understand your message.

Thirdly, It’s easy to parrot your presentation content as series of bullet points, but how does duplicating what you are saying in text help your audience?

It doesn’t. It only distracts your audience.

Instead you should design your slides with the idea that your audience should get most of it’s information from what you say, and that information should be enhanced (not just repeated) by the content of your presentation.

So, next time you create a Powerpoint presentation, consider leaving out the bullet points and replacing them with visual aids that enhance what you are saying.

Things like graphs, illustrations, even photos are ideal. The trick is to think about the key message you are trying to get across and focus the slide on that, rather than all of the individual points you are talking about.

If you can do that, and get good at it, your audiences will be much more receptive (and impressed).

Do you agree?

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