‘Death by bullet point’- Is it really that bad?

‘Death by Bullet Point’ — What do you think, is it really that bad?

If used correctly there’s nothing wrong with PowerPoint or most other visual aid software. 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; hence the terms, ‘Death by PowerPoint’ and ‘Death by Bullet Point.’

It’s not a new phenomenom.

Every week, for the last decade, I’ve been reading blog posts or articles damning the inappropriate use of the bullet point. ‘Death by Bullet Point’ isn’t new. Everyone I meet has experienced it for themselves. Most honest presenters admit to having inflicted ‘Death by Bullet Point’ on their audiences at some point.

Despite that, every day, I see slides with enough bullets to start a small war. Doesn’t that make for a facinating phenomenon?

Everyone agrees intellectually that saturating slides with bullet points is bad, yet still, many of those same people continue to produce them.

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.

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. The moment any text appears on any visual aid you are sending an unspoken instruction to your audience to read that text.

The truth is, your audience simply cannot read your slides while listening to you speak at the same time; not effectively.

The moment you read a slide out loud to any audience you are insulting their intelligence. It’s another way of saying, ‘I know you can’t read, so let me read this for you.’

A slide filled with text isn’t a visual aid; it’s not a slide.

It’s a document.

Documents are designed to be read in the comfort and quiet of our own minds; not read out load, word for word on a screen.

Most of us struggle to read and attentively listen to someone at the same time. Faced with the dilemma of having to choose, most of us will read every time; that makes you redundant.

The good news is, you can email your slides directly to your audience and save everyone a lot of time. Remember, if it looks like a document it’s not a slide it’s a document. Documents have no place on a screen, unless of course you are demonstrating what ‘Death by Bullet Point’ looks like.

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.

We use them because our audience would like a copy of them afterwards and we don’t want to create two decks. The visuals to present and the document to send separately.

What to do instead?

Firstly, ask yourself why you may need to use PowerPoint or any other software in the first instance.

What real value will it add to your audience in them understanding, connecting with and acting on what you have to say.

Is the slide really for them or is it purely for your benefit; remember, no one wants to read and listen to you speak at the same time.

If you are totally confident that slides will greatly help your audience, 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. Make sure each one is simple but compeling and that it creatively illustrates your key point.

If you feel absolutely compelled to inflict ‘Death by Bullet Point’ because you are certain that’s exactly what your audience want and need from you that’s another matter.

In the unlikely event of that happening, 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.

Each of us 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.

Here are a few tips:

– Avoid templates wherever possible; many are too restrictive.

– Make sure you have one idea/key point per slide. Not three, four or twelve;just one

– Have a clear and simple background.

– Less is more; keep the text to a minimum.

– Use a large and simple font size. Don’t complicte things.

– Avoid animations; most are unnecessary and many are ‘cheesy’.

– If your audience want a copy of the slides create two decks. One for the screen that presents the key message, insights, information. The second will contain more detail and be self-explanatory if they really want it. If you can’t create the first and make that compelling and effective, the second is unlikely to be helpful too.

– Never, rely on your slides. Plan for the worst case scenario; the technology doesn’t work or you leave your notes on the train. Internalise (not memorise) your message. You should still be able to speak if things go awry.

– Create billboards, not slides.

– Book yourself onto a powerful public speaking course.

– Get yourself some good presentation skills training.

– Invest in some one to one public speaking coaching.

If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and public speaking coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.

Image Courtesy of: Flickr.com

Author, speaker, trainer, presenter - former corporate executive passionate about personal leadership, people and results.