Getting Rid of Bullet Points - a Clarification

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When I'm arguing against the use of bullet points on slides, I often use a little bit of exaggeration to drive home my point. I also spend a lot of time explaining the benefits of visuals and how and why they work.

This sometimes leaves people with the impression that I want them to replace all of their slides with photos. Which, understandably, makes the more technically-minded members of my audience uncomfortable. So maybe I should point out two things:

  • lists are okay, especially short lists
  • technical content is okay, e.g. source code

When I'm referring to "bullet points", I usually mean the slides that we've all seen: White background and black text - lots of text. The bullet points themselves aren't so much the problem here, but the sheer amount of text is. These sorts of slides contain pretty much everything the speaker wants to talk about. They are the speaker's notes and shouldn't really be shown to their audience.

If, however, you have a list of things then show that list. It should be short and maybe you can find a way to present it without actually using bullet points. But if it's a list, then show it as such.

Then there's technical content. If you're a programmer and you're talking about your code to an audience of other programmers, then at some point you will have to show code or your audience won't take you seriously. I'm not trying to stop you from doing that. On the contrary - your audience always comes first, and if they want code you'd better give them code.

But while you're talking about what makes your code worth talking about in the first place, i.e. when you explain that it's fast, efficient, secure or whatever else makes it notable, then you can use visuals to illustrate these properties and help your audience remember them. And then you show them the actual code.

Likewise for other audiences: Architects may want to see drawings, scientists may want to see figures or the setup for an experiment, and so on. If you're talking to your audience as one of them, then you have to show these things at some point in your presentation. But that doesn't mean that you have to build your entire presentation like that.

Even scientists can get a case of information overload. Visuals will help here. It's a matter of finding the right mix for your specific audience.

(The highlighted quote is from Susan Weinschenk's book,
100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People)

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Creative Commons Licence "Getting Rid of Bullet Points - a Clarification" by Dirk Haun is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.