May 02 2009
How many times have you been cramming to prepare a PowerPoint presentation and it dawns on you that the bullet points in your slides are way too text heavy? It is very common for people to “brain dump” all of their ideas or thoughts into “stream of consciousness” bullet points as they create slides.
However, this creative technique becomes a problem when you fail to revisit your bullet points and simplify them so that your audience isn’t staring at a wall of text. It can be challenging to reduce and simplify what you wrote — but it needs to be done.
When I recently read Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte, I discovered she uses the same approach that I do for simplifying bullet points. If sharing this approach prevents just one audience from suffering through another bullet-point-intensive, “death by PowerPoint” session, my efforts were not in vain.
Step 1: Admit your slide has a text problem
Pretend as though you are an audience member for your upcoming presentation. Do any slides feel text heavy? Be honest with yourself. Remember the golden rule of PowerPoint presentations — always do what is right for your audience. Very few audiences enjoy paragraph-length bullet points.
Examine the font size of your slides. If they fall below 24 pt then you might be on to something. Also, look at the number of lines you use for your bullet points. If you use more than two lines anywhere, then they’re definitely leaning text heavy. Depending on the type of presentation, two lines might even be too much.
Step 2: Highlight key points within bullet points
Go through your bullet points and try to highlight the main point of each bullet point. Try to bold only the key parts of each point — limit it to as few words as possible.
Think of it as an approach to rehearsing your slides. What key part of each bullet point do you need to mention during your PowerPoint presentation?
Step 3: Remove all extraneous copy from bullet points
Focus on the main phrases in the bullet points instead of everything that you want to say about a point. It’s okay to cover details verbally that are not reflected in your bullet points. In fact, most presentation experts would encourage it! Otherwise you’re just reading the slides to your audience. Boring.
Re-write the highlighted phrases if they are inconsistent with the other simplified bullet points.
Step 4a: Add an image to increase slide appeal
If you’re pressed for time, it may only be feasible to add one relevant image to the slide. Visuals will enhance the slide and make it more memorable.
In some cases, the bullet points may not be conducive to matching visuals or they may require more time to find than you have. Don’t submit to the urge to add unrelated “decorations” to the slide. Be strong.
Step 4b: Replace bullet points with images
You’ve read Presentation Zen, and you hate bullet points more than Pauly Shore movies or people who club baby seals. Depending on your content, you may be able to convert each bullet point into a separate image on one slide or over several slides. This approach isn’t always feasible, but it is far more visually appealing than yet another slide filled with bullet points.
Follow these steps to reduce and simplify your text-heavy bullet points — your audience will thank you. Live long and prosper.