how do I replace bullet points in my presentation?

So you’ve heard of “death by powerpoint” and you’ve all be shot at by the screen-full of bullet points on a slide.

And you promised not to do it to your audiences – but you did.

Why? Because knowing how to replace bullet points just doesn’t seem ‘do-able’. If the presentations you sit through are bad, with no good role-model presentations, how are you supposed to improve?

So… let’s have a look at some of the ways you can replace your bullet points with something more impactful – and if you can’t, how you can at least modify the bullet points so your presentation isn’t something that makes people want to use literal bullets and a sniper rifle to shorten your presentation!


Technique one – split up your bullet points

This is about as simple as it gets!

Start by creating your bullet point list just like you normally would so you’ve got something to work from, then decide if there are any you can dump or double up etc. Once you’ve got a sensible number of bullets, just create a new slide for each of the bullet points in turn. Honestly, it’s not that hard! I’ll work with the abomination in the image above…

Even if all you do is put the bullets onto different slides, it’s easier for the audience – and better for you. This is because we’re pretty much all visual animals and so if we’re given a lot of bullet points at once we read them. On the other hand, if there’s only one bullet point on the slide we read it… and then stop to think and listen to what you’re saying as the presenter.

Cheap, quick and dirty slide trick… At the very least, if you’re not able to put things onto different slides, at least bring the up one at a time. It’s hugely tedious for the audience but it’s better than nothing.

Pro tip – when you split the bullet points over a range of slides, think about keeping the same heading on all the slides and use the Morph transition (in powerpoint) or the (Magic Move) transition in keynote so that the title doesn’t fade out between slides.

I’ve faded the text out and in again here for clarity but you can experiment with a simple cross-fade transition between your slides.


Technique two – just show the start

Image or reduced text slide

You can combine this with the previous technique pretty easily and it’s equally simple. Instead of writing out your full bullet point, just start it off and then put an ellipsis (…). Because the bullet point isn’t a full sentence/thought your audience is intrigued and so, frankly, hasn’t got much choice but to listen to you as you explore the rest of the idea.


Technique three – make it a pretty slide

Again, this is so simple it barely counts as a technique! Just take either (or both) of the first two techniques and put the words over an appropriate image. This is particularly visually effective if you use the morph crossfade I mentioned in the pro presentation tip above. It might not be the best thing to do for your message/audience though, so test first and don’t make assumptions. When it’s appropriate, it’s very impactful!

Of course, you need to make sure the text doesn’t get lost in the background image. (I have very slightly edited that picture to make sure the text appears over the clouds not the horizon.) You also need to be very sure you own the rights to use the use the picture. (I downloaded this one from Pixabay.com.)


Technique four – for related bullet points in particular

I’ve found that pretty often, bullet points are sequential – in that the order they appear in matters. If that’s the case you can vastly improve the visual impact of the slides by showing that relationship. I’ve made up a (painfully simple) example in the diagram. Imagine how handy that would be for the audience if you introduced those ‘bullet points’ one at a time – the backup action not being faded in until you’ve finished talking about the ideal action.

Personal hint: I’ve found it very handy to introduce the ‘backup activity’ with a bit of a lighthearted comment such as “So much for the theory – but we all know it doesn’t work like that all the time… so…”

With a bit of imagination you can build up very complicated models like this and actually turn the presence of the bullet points into a feature rather than them being a PITA! 😉

I’ve seen variations on this technique handled very well so that, for example, an entire flow diagram is built up – or even a mind map!


Technique five – for when things aren’t related

Sometimes a list is just a list. No one cares what order you get things in on your shopping list – it’s just a list! If that’s the situation for your slide, the best you can do is make the bullet points themselves interesting. A personal favourite trick of mine is to put them on the screen so that they look like I’m sticking them on using post-it notes.

Again, with a bit of imagination you can make this kind of slide vastly more interesting than the traditional list.


Pro tip: rarely (very rarely) the audience doesn’t need to be able to read the items on your list – this happens when the idea is simply to show that the list is a big one! You might, for example be showing how hard it is to do something – by listing all the component parts of doing whatever that thing is, you can give the impression that your audience needs to bring in the big guns to help them. (Hint – in a sales or marketing presentation that would be you! 🙂 )

Try thinking about what you can do to make the bullet points more interesting to look at in ways that are related to your message or your audience. For example if you’re reporting a list of common opinions you could use speech balloons. If you’re reporting the output from different offices, you could but the ‘bullet points’ over a map showing those locations. I’m sure you get the idea!


So what about you?

There are other ways to replace or improve your bullet point slides, but what’s your favourite technique…

Side note: there are more advanced discussions of how to do some of these things (particularly technique three) in Presenting Made Simple. Grab your copy here


Oh, and you might find this blog interesting, I look at how you can interactivity to your slides, and the examples I give are mostly the sexed-up-bullet-points that I’ve talked about here.

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