In the early days of PowerPoint presentations, audiences were tortured by typewriter text, pointless, clunky animated clip art, and obnoxious sound effects. Gratefully, much of this noise is gone or has been upgraded by higher quality, more entertaining audio and video. Even with the evolution of some presentations, we are still subjected, however, to one of the most painful parts of PowerPoint—slides packed with bulleted paragraphs the presenter will “helpfully” read to everyone—yawn!
What can you do today to increase your presentation success by crafting slides that banish bloated bullets? One effective approach is to eliminate all bullets in PowerPoint presentations and just use visuals with limited text. The reality in the workplace, however, is a majority of subject matter experts (SMEs) are not professional speakers and are often also using the slide content as their presentation notes. What changes, then, can we make to PowerPoint slides (or suggest to our colleagues and co-workers) to improve readability? How can you add more interest to the presentations, and head towards the goal of banishing bloated bullets and improving the text bullets we create?
Consider These PowerPoint Presentation Tips:
- Apply the 5 by 5 Rule. Remember this idea: “5 by 5 keeps a presentation alive!” This means most bulleted slides should have no more than 5 bullets with only about 5-6 words per bullet. Although some experts prefer a less structured approach, business presenters are often more comfortable improving their slides (and the audience experience) if they have “rules” to work with. This suggestion, however, should not be applied to every slide in your presentation. That would be boring! Where can you bring in images instead of text or simplify the text to one word or a short phrase?
- Ideas Not Sentences. Applying the 5 by 5 Rule, slide bullet items should not be entire paragraphs or even sentences. Stick to a descriptive phrase or key idea and, as the presenter, bring the rest. After all, if you display everything you are going to say, why are you there? Applying these guidelines should also limit each bullet to no more than 2 lines per bullet. This often means that a multiple column slide or 10+ item bulleted list should be broken into 2 or 3 separate slides. Also practice your presentation to test how long each slide is displayed onscreen. Is it longer than a few minutes? If so, this is another reason to split slide content into multiple slides. Simplify the text and content whenever possible.
- Break Up Text Slides. Run through your slide show or switch to the Slide Sorter View. How many text slides do you have in a row? Give your audience a break … please! Avoid having more than 3 to 4 text slides in a row. Add a photo, graph, chart, table, and other visuals to add interest and to grab attention from your audience.
- Keep Bullets Simple. As tempting as it can be to pick a decorative bullet, solid bullet characters are easier to read—especially from a distance. Your default choices for bullets can be established from the Slide Masters in your presentation so you only have to setup the formatting in one place. Learn more about the PowerPoint Slide Master view.
- Don’t Confuse with Numbered Lists. Look at the slides in your presentation with numbered bullet items. Is this simply a list of the points you want to make or are you presenting a sequence or list of steps that needs to be in a specific order? To your audience, a numbered list implies a required sequence. Change a numbered list to standard bullets if the order doesn’t matter.
- Move Rules, Regulations, and References to a New Home. With technical topics, we often see lengthy citations, excerpts from regulation manuals, and other detailed references as the featured content in PowerPoint slides. Ugh! Not only is your audience not likely to be able to read it but they will certainly not be interested in having you recite the long, boring text to them. Move this content to a place where your audience members can actually benefit from the reference. Move the content to a handout or resource manual, your organization Intranet, or a website.
Still need to cover this information? Would you be more effective by taking breaks to reference printed materials? Explore other ways to involve your audience while sharing key content: collect ideas on a flip chart, ask for questions via online tools, or create exercises to build audience engagement.
- Forget the Lie About Memorizing. One of the easiest ways to feel more comfortable cleaning up your bullets slides and improving your effectiveness as a presenter is to use presentation notes. We are often conditioned by watching motivational speakers, professional presenters, and other performers to think we have to memorize our speeches and we cannot use notes. Keep in mind that many of these presenters have practiced and delivered their performances several hundred times.
The pressure to memorize a talk is the top reason many presenters rely instead on putting their entire speech directly into their PowerPoint presentation—they are afraid of forgetting how and what they want to say. Explore Notes Pages or Speaker Notes in PowerPoint so you can eliminate much of the text in your presentation slides.
Also test the Presenter View in PowerPoint which displays your notes and upcoming slides as you are presenting. Yes, you will be more effective if you devote the time to practice your presentation and are not reading directly off of notes or your slides, but decide if using notes will give you the flexibility to simplify your slides and give you more value as a presenter.
Set the goal to banish bloated bullets, apply these PowerPoint presentation tips, and watch as you deliver more successful presentations.
Were these PowerPoint tips helpful? Discover more PowerPoint techniques and shortcuts here.
By Dawn Bjork, MCT, The Software Pro®
Microsoft Certified Trainer, Technology Speaker, Software Consultant