Monday, 11 July 2011

Don't throw out the bullets with the bathwater

Search the Web for presentation tips and you'll find a pretty consistent condemnation of bullet points. So you should never use them, right?

Hang on a minute though; just because people inflict paragraphs of garbage on us, each prefaced by a little dot, does that mean a global moratorium?  Should we forbid music players because people sometimes use them to play Jedward?  Don't mistake me here: I'm just as set against bullet points as a means of non-surgical lobotomy as the most militant PowerPoint adviser.  But sometimes they're the right thing to use.

Let's look at the popular alternative to bullet points.  You'll often see advice to put one concept on screen at a time.  You'll usually be told to add a relevant graphic, and sometimes it'll be suggested that you leave the text off altogether.
No need for bullets when... there's no need for bullets

It's good advice as far as it goes.  And following it will usually leave you with a clear, attractive slide with plenty of visual impact.  But beware of another important factor: presentation audiences often have the memory capacity of a goldfish.  If you want to put over a series of closely related statements, there's every chance they'll have forgotten the first before you get far down the list.

In my not particularly humble opinion, a short list of bullets is often the best way of developing a single specific area of your proposition.
What's so painful about these bullets?

Bullet points are brief headings, not a substitute for the presenter.  If the audience could read and understand them without you present, e-mail them the presentation and save yourself a lot of time.

Used correctly, bullets work absolutely fine.  Here are a few guidelines to keep away the atrocities (in bullet form of course):

  • No more than four or five to a screen
  • Keep them very short
  • Never try to cover more than one information thread per screen
  • Don't build your whole presentation on bullet point screens

I'll talk about what the presenter's doing while the bullets are flying in another post.

  • Bullet points are a Bad Thing when you don't consider the alternatives.  
  • Bullet points aren't in themselves a Bad Thing.

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