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Beyond the Bullet Point List

I have a love/hate relationship with PowerPoint, or Keynote for that matter. I love them because they are incredibly easy to use. Anyone can open up the application and within minutes, and without much instruction, be assembling thoughts and ideas into a presentation.

I hate them for the very same reason.

The form and function of PowerPoint directs the users into conceiving presentations in a series of words, usually nicely arranged in bullet point lists. It is the default state. And it’s making business a group of communication-challenged lemmings producing bulleted list, after bulleted list, after bulleted list — ad nauseum.

Maybe you’re of an age when you can remember the days before PowerPoint. How many bulleted lists did you see then? Any?

OK, rant off.

So what’s wrong with this? Plenty. It disengages the audience from the instant it appears on the screen. It is stale, tired, trite … and worst of all for the presenter – easily dismissed. It weakens your presentation and your results. Matters become even worse when presenters display the entire screen of 100 words in nice bulleted lists, all at once! They don’t even take the time to present in progressive reveals. Your audience is way ahead of you, scanning for important facts and tuning out the rest. And really insecure presenters feel compelled to read the entire content of the slide. It’s another way of admitting that there is too much stuff crammed on the screen and no one is going to make the effort to read it all. That’s what PowerPoint does to many of us … and with ease!

So if not words. And if not bulleted lists. Then what do I show in my PowerPoint? Well, the name of the program itself gives some clue.

Power: What is the most powerful thing you can put on the screen? A paragraph? Or a single word? If a single word will do. I’d opt for that. Here’s an example of a single word that conveys a lot.

Do you need more than that?

Point: The second part of the software’s name. What makes your point … clearer, more memorable, more persuasive, more engaging? Get the point?

Here are a few guidelines to using PowerPoint, or Keynote, to their fullest:

Think in headlines. Use single words and short punchy statements. Can some be provocative? Some transitional? Some informative? Here are few to choose: What? How? When? How Much? Next But Wait … Problem Solution Advantage Competition The Plan Results

You get it, right? Your slide should shine a spotlight on the most important thought in your content at that moment. Memory is largely visual (or olfactory but that’s for another blog). And most of us won’t remember 50-70 words. Most of us have a hard time with more than seven. By the way, that’s the reason phone numbers are seven digits long.

Make one point at a time. Keep your thoughts organized. Keep your audience focused. Make a single point. Move on. See?

Think visual. Words are abstract. Images are concrete. More importantly, images add emotion. Images create context for your words. They bring the world into your presentation. The most emotional images are those of people. Humans relate psychologically to images of other humans.

Here’s a test. Which is more engaging?

Think graphically. Graphics can be charts and graphs. But thinking graphically means thinking design. And design is simply orchestrating visual elements with purpose.

In his blog, The Floating Frog, Gary Hartley boils design into a handful of guiding principles.

Anyone can be a designer. Anyone must be a designer to some degree to be an effective PowerPoint presenter. Hey, if a panda can do it …

Keep the audience engaged. A good PowerPoint presentation is akin to well-structured debate. Use simple, informative and memorable statements. Use provocative thoughts to lead content. Like a well-rehearsed comedian, don’t give your punch line away. Think of your self as a magician, revealing information and facts. Consider yourself to be a safari guide leading the audience on a journey. Use your visuals to guide your audience through your logic. Lead the audience to a conclusion. You’re in charge.

Conclusion. Admittedly, most of the information in this blog offers nothing new. You may have seen this kind of advice many times before. So why are you still creating PowerPoint slide decks made of bullet lists? Because they are easy!

So the next time you are tempted to create a new slide with the Title and Content format (the code name for a bullet list), STOP before you are seduced into bringing yet another bullet point slide in the world. Choose Blank format instead. See what happens.

Remember, PowerPoint is about two things: Power and The Point. Otherwise it would have been called Bullet List Generator.

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