I have only one important thing to tell about bullets: they are dangerous! So, use them scarcely and with caution. If you eventually shoot one into your own foot, you will be the only one to blame.
Although bulleted lists are probably the #1 layout component that people associate with PowerPoint presentations, they can make your sheets dull, boring and ineffective. As your brain interprets every letter as a picture, wordy lists literally choke it. As a consequence, people tend to forget what you have spelled out. Your visuals should only contain your key message(s). Keep the full text details for the handout. Make people listen to the words you say instead of read the characters on your slides.
If you want to use bullets anyway, make sure that each slide contains only 1 message (read my “Master of the house” post on how build a message house). Explain it in maximally 5 lines of no more than 7 words each. Highlight a few key words to help your audience focus. Avoid complex, multi-level lists and nested bullets. Each statement should start with a capital letter. Never use fly-in and fly-out animation effects.
As an alternative, try to convert your bullet list into a series of visuals – one slide per bullet point. Although this approach will make your PowerPoint look longer, you actually won’t spend more time presenting it. After you have iterated all key messages, you may still consider showing the (original or shortened) bulleted list on a summary slide.
Next week, I will talk about using video and multimedia in your presentations.
Other articles about this topic that are worth reading:
- How many bullets should I put on a slide? (by Ellen Finkelstein)
- New evidence that bullet-points don’t work (by Olivia Mitchell)
- The $5000 bullets – avoiding bulleted lists in your slides (by Neil Brown)
- If No Bullet Points in My PowerPoint, Then What? (by Jon Thomas)