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PowerPoint Presentations:
Banish Bloated Bullets

7 Tips to Better Presentations

powerpoint tips, powerpoint presentations, tips for bullet slides, better powerpointIn 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 that 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? Some experts pronounce that there should not be any bullets in PowerPoint presentations-just use visuals with limited text. I agree with this goal in many instances-in fact, most of my presentations are heavy on photos and other images and light on bulleted text even though my subjects are highly technical.

The reality in the workplace, however, is that 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, add more interest to the presentations, and head towards the goal of banishing bloated bullets and improving the text bullets you create?

  1. Apply the 5 by 5 Rule. Remember this idea: "5 by 5 keeps a presentation alive!" This means that most bulleted slides should have no more than 5 bullets with only about 5-6 words per bullet. I've heard contradictory advice that we should not have any rules like these because it creates too rigid a structure for presentations that should instead be more interactive and flexible. Based on my experience with thousands of PowerPoint users, many technical experts are more comfortable improving their slides (and the audience experience) if they have "rules" to work with.
  2. Ideas Not Sentences. Applying the 5 by 5 Rule, bullets 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.
  3. 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, timelines, tables, and other visuals to add interest and to grab more attention from your audience.
  4. 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 that you only have to setup the formatting in one place.
  5. 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 that order? To your audience, a numbered list implies a required sequence. Change a numbered list to standard bullets if the order doesn't matter.
  6. Move Rules, Regulations, and References to a New Home. With technical topics, which are just about any area of expertise these days, 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. Not all content should be or needs to be in your presentation. Move it to a place where your audience members can actually benefit from the reference: a handout or resource manual, your organization Intranet or website.

    Still need to cover this information? Who made the rule that a PowerPoint presentation has to be contiguous? Some presentations are more effective by taking breaks to reference materials, to collect ideas on a flip chart, or to engage in audience interaction.
  7. Forget the Lie About Memorizing. One of the easiest ways to feel more comfortable cleaning up your bullets slides and thus 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 that we have to memorize our speeches and that we cannot use notes. Keep in mind that many of these presenters have practiced their performances hundreds of times.

    The pressure to memorize a talk is the top reason why 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 how to do Notes Pages or Speaker Notes in PowerPoint so that you can eliminate much of the text in your presentation slides. 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 and watch as you deliver more successful presentations.

Dawn Bjork Buzbee, MCT, The Software Pro

Dawn Bjork Buzbee is The Software Pro and a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) as well as a certified Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Master Instructor, certified Microsoft Applications Specialist (MCAS) Instructor, and a certified Microsoft Office expert. Dawn shares smart and easy ways to effectively use software through her work as a software speaker, trainer, consultant, and author of 8 books.

This article and more can be reprinted at no charge in your publications and website with copyright and attribution.
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Hot PowerPoint Tip
Press [F5] to quickly run a PowerPoint slide show presentation.

Press [Shift] + [F5] to quickly run a PowerPoint slide show presentation from the active slide.
Did You Know?
Good rule of thumb: most slides should not be displayed onscreen longer than about 30-60 seconds before you move to the next slide or add movement such as a transition or animation.
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