death by powerpoint

6 Alternatives to Bullet Points

 

First things first: bullet points are not inherently bad. They can be very useful in written documents. When used in presentations, however, they stop your presentation being as effective. (They often turn presentations into written documents) In fact, your audience engages less, remembers less, agrees less and likes you less when you use bullet points in your PowerPoint presentations. (International Journal of Business Communication, 2015)

So why take that risk?

Usually the answer to that question is one of: 1) It's what I've always done, 2) It's the easiest way thing to do, or 3) Because what else would I do?

For me, 'we've always done it this way' is not a reason to do something. 'This is the best way to do it' is a reason to do something, and sometimes that overlaps with that we've always done, but not always. 

Presentations are often huge opportunities. You have a room full of people giving you your attention (with potentially thousands more online afterwards) and you're there to talk to them about something significant. So although bullets may be easy, why not make the most of the opportunity? Why not do everything you can to not only get your message across but to get it to stick in people's minds? And finally, the 'what else is there?' issue - well, here are five alternatives to using bullets.

(Subscribers, there's LOTS of images in here, some of them stacked up as slides. It's probably going to be a lot easier to view this on the website itself rather than in an email / feedreader - here's the link.)

1) Just put fewer words on the slide

An example of using fewer words without reducing the impact

An example of using fewer words without reducing the impact

An obvious and straightforward place to start. Take away everything you don't need - if it's surplus to requirements, if you can remember to say it out-loud, or if it doesn't really matter whether you say it or not, just get rid of it!

The example here is a slide I used in a recent workshop. I could of course have listed all the ways in which marketing is changing, using bullet points to separate them. But I felt the slide would have more impact with just a single sentence written on the screen, me listing examples out loud, and a visual metaphor as the background image.

2) Cascade the key messages across multiple slides

Rather than making four or five points on one slide (and risk your audience reading ahead and getting out of sync with you the presenter), make one point per slide over four or five slides. This gives each point room to breathe, and helps with signalling to ensure your audience understands and remembers you.

If you're making several points on a theme you don't have to make new slides from scratch for each one - just do the first slide, right-click and Duplicate it, then edit the text on the duplicated version. I've used this technique in the examples below (use the arrows to switch between slides):

If you've got the most recent PowerPoint you can use the Morph transition between the slides, which works really nicely.

People worry that this method will mean a longer presentation but this isn't the case - you take the same amount of time overall, but cycle more quickly through the slides.

3) Use colour to make lists readable, rather than use bullet points

An example of using colour to differentiate chunks of text

An example of using colour to differentiate chunks of text

There are times when you need several points on a slide - for example when you're showing an audience what you'll talk about, or are summarising something, or making comparisons. In these instances neither of the first two techniques are appropriate; you need all the text on one screen. So just write it out like you normally would, but get rid of the baggage and negative associations of bullet-points by not using them - and recreate the POINT of them (making text easier to read) by using alternating colours.

In the particular example shown here, I've actually built up to what you see over three slides. The first just says has the alternating colours text list much larger and in the centre of the screen, then the second is as you see above but with the Bodleian's reply hidden, and then lastly the slide you see here.

4) Highlight key sections of your slide, one by one

I do this a lot - sometimes by building the content of the slides one animation at a time, or by changing the colour to highlight each section, one at a time. Again it means you can have all the points on screen, but you're not using bullets and you're in sync with your audience.

In the example below I've got all three points on screen but each one is highlighted yellow (picking out the yellow from elsewhere on the slide) while I talk about it - again use the arrows to move between them:

5) Turn your bullet points into something visual

An example of using icons instead of bullets

An example of using icons instead of bullets

A fifth option is to basically use bullets without people thinking 'Aargh, bullet points, death by PowerPoint here I come' etc. Use icons (for example from iconfinder.com) as bullet points - the images will help your audience learn. A basic example is shown here.

6) Combine several of the techniques above

The final example below is how I introduce the timings for my Presentation Skills training days. It does what a single slide with bullet points would do, but uses colour and visual elements over three slides to introduce the information in a more engaging way. Part of the reason I bothered doing this is the slides allow me to talk about each part of the day in turn, whilst staying in sync with my audience, AND it allows the audience to see the full day's timings in one go on the final slide of the sequence.

So there you go! Several ways to avoid bullet points. It's really worth taking a small amount of time to rewrite presentations to avoid bullets: your audience will thank you for it...

An Alternative to Seth Godin's 5 Rules to create amazing PowerPoint Presentations

 

Seth Godin is a very influential man, and his views on PowerPoint carry a lot of weight. He wrote a famous post a while back (1.5k Facebook shares, a gazillion tweets about it etc) on creating amazing presentations - you can read it here. I agree with lots of it completely, but I'm not totally on board with the five rules at the end.

My take on Seth's rules

My take on Seth's rules

No more than six words on a slide. EVER. There is no presentation so complex that this rule needs to be broken. To me this seems too arbitrary. Fewer words is without doubt better than more words when it comes to slides - they're presentation tools not written documents. But six? As the maximum ever? Unless that's based on research that shows seven or more words reduces the effectiveness of your PowerPoint, why limit yourself in such an extreme way? I'd say one or two sentences to ensure brevity but allow yourself a little flexibility in conveying meaning and nuance.

No cheesy images. Use professional stock photo images. First of all there are plenty of cheesy professional stock photos! Authenticity is key. The trick is to find images which look like the camera has happened upon a real scene - lots of pro stock images show impossibly perfect people laughing flirtatiously over a blank iPad, I mean come on. I find Pixabay and Unsplash have enough for most presentations I make, plus someone introduced me to Pexels the other day which looks good, and they're all free - both of copyright and financial cost. The professional stock photo sites cost a fortune to use - why use them when so many great (legal) images can be found for free?

No dissolves, spins or other transitions. Yup. No argument here. If it's extraneous to your story, all you're doing is reducing the impact of your message.

Sound effects can be used a few times per presentation, but never use the sound effects that are built in to the program. Instead, rip sounds and music from CDs and leverage the Proustian effect this can have. If people start bouncing up and down to the Grateful Dead, you’ve kept them from falling asleep, and you’ve reminded them that this isn’t a typical meeting you’re running. I like the idea about using music etc but it really needs a certain type of high energy presentation performance to pull this off. It's not for everybody (I couldn't do it). It's hard to think of a rule around sound that is absolute; it all depends on your audience, and some of them way think the use of music is a little distracting, whatever your music taste... From what I understand about the Proustian effect it's a very personal thing; I'm not sure a presenter could expect to cause or induce it for a room full of people. 

Don’t hand out print-outs of your slides. They don’t work without you there. I agree with this. But I wouldn't put it in my top 5...

Header pic is a CC-BY image by  Betsyweber  - clcik to view original on Flickr.

Header pic is a CC-BY image by Betsyweber - clcik to view original on Flickr.

 

My own top 5 rules for creating effective PowerPoint slides

So what would I put in my top 5 rules for creating amazing PowerPoint presentations? I can answer that question because the intro to my full-day Presentation Skills training is built around five golden rules, based on existing research into what makes for an effective presentations - and that's the aim here, to build something which works. 'Amazing' is no good on its own; you need people to remember your key messages, not just how great a presenter you were.

Here we go:

  1. Keep it simple. Slides don't need to be flash - get rid of anything that doesn't tell your specific story, and leave behind something which supports and reinforces what you're saying out loud, and prompts you as to what to say next.
  2. No more bullets. Bullet points ruin slides. They're fine for documents, but you're not making a document in PowerPoint. As well as being symptomatic of a general Death By PowerPoint malaise, they make people less likely to agree with, understand and remember your presentation. Oh and they like you less when you use them. That's enough of a reason to never use them, surely?
  3. Make one point per slide. Make your point, allow your audience to digest it, then move on together in sync with them. Several points on a slide inevitably result in your audience moving at a different pace to you, because they can only listen and read for a few short seconds. Why be in conflict with your presentation materials when you don't have to? Give each key message room to breathe.
  4. Big fresh fonts. Font size 24 is the absolute minimum you should ever use in slides. If you need more you're trying to fit too much on one slide. Either ditch some text or cascade it across two slides. Non-standard fonts (which is to say, fonts which don't appear in the Office Suite) can, if chosen carefully, increase the impact of your presentation. Typography is underrated.
  5. More images, less text. Too much text stops slides working. Relevant images help people learn. Make the most of your opportunity with each new PowerPoint you make!

The 4 Most Important PowerPoint Rules for Successful Presentations

 

I have been working on these slides, 10 minutes at time here, 15 minutes there, for MONTHS! I finally uploaded them to Slideshare this morning.

There are a few reasons for making these. First of all it's separating out what is essential in slide design, to what is merely desirable. There's a million and one guides to creating nice PowerPoint slides and a lot of them focus on what is desirable, but that can often be too much information if you want to improve your presentation materials but you're not sure where to start. The presentation below focuses on the four rules which REALLY matter (backed up by actual research) - and as it says in the slides, an attractive presentation is actually just a byproduct of an effective presentation. Follow the four rules below and you will be making effective PowerPoint slides which communicate effectively and make your message stick.

Another reason to make these is my understanding of what matters with slide design is evolving over time, so this reframes some of the things I've highlighted in previous presentations. It covers some of what we talk about in my Presentation Skills Training; I realise not everyone who wants to attend these can get to them, so wanted to disseminate some of the guidance they contain more widely. (If you're already booked onto a workshop don't worry though - the information above is a small part of the full content of the day!) 

I hope people find these useful. In my experience the easiest way to make a big difference to how effective your presentations are is to start with the materials (for teaching as well as conference presentations) - a great set of slides makes the audience sit up and take notice, which in turn gives you the confidence to deliver a better presentation.

If you'd rather use a design tool to help craft your slides for you, check out Canva and Haiku Deck from Presentation Tools Week.

7 Super Slide Styles to download, copy, and adapt

 

I love slides, as I've said before. One of the biggest problems people have when trying to make something effective and visually arresting is simply knowing where to start. Or having not much time at all, so they can get together the content but don't have chance to put it into a new style.

So with that in mind, I've created the presentation below. It features the same information presented seven different ways; if you like any or all of them, you can download the original PowerPoint from here, and do whatever you want with it. Delete the bits you don't want, modify and build on the styles you like.

I've not done this before, provided a sort of OER version of a presentation, so I'll be interested to see if people find it useful. I hope the templates can work in some situation or other for you, particularly if you're stuck for inspiration. It may be that you take a slide style and use it throughout a presentation, or it may be that you take one or two styles and just use them as a blueprint to give you a head-start, and then change them completely.  It's entirely up to you, you can do whatever you like with them - and although it would be great if you could credit me somewhere, don't worry if you can't fit it in. I'm not releasing them under a Creative Commons Attribution license, I'm just putting the whole thing into the public domain.

Something I need to make clear though (and thank you to Andrew Preater for flagging this up to me) is that the images are Creative Commons images (rather than public domain), and so if you want to use those images specifically you need to respect their original licenses! Each of them is linked to, both in the presentation itself and with its creator's name at the end of the presentation, so you can see the kind of Creative Commons licence they have. In all cases, they need at a minimum for the creator to be attributed. Obviously the images I've used here are just in there as examples, I'm expecting people to take the slide designs and redo them with their own content - but if you do decide to keep them, keep their Creative Commons status in mind...

For 6 of the styles I've included a little arrow in the breakdown section with a link to a full set of slides created somewhat in that style (most by me, a couple by other people) so you can see what an expanded version might look like.

To adapt and build on these styles if you like them, the right-click menu in PowerPoint is your friend. Firstly if you right-click on the little slide preview pane, you'll find the 'Duplicate' option. Duplicate the slide you like, then edit the contents. Right-clicking on the main slide edit view is vital here too: the menu it produces allows you to recolour text boxes or backgrounds, change the picture (but retaining size and positioning), copy elements you like and paste them elsewhere, blur or darken images so you can write directly onto them, etc etc. This allows you to take a single slide and build a presentation with a cohesive visual theme around it, rather than just having literally the same slide several times with different words on it.

Good luck making your slides, and let me know what you do with the templates! (You don't have to. I'm just curious to see whether people make things using these as a building block, and what they're like...)

The ultimate guide to Prezi, updated and refreshed!

A lot has happened since I wrote this post, complete with a Prezi guide created in Prezi itself, in July 2011. I've been the Technical Reviewer for a successful book on Prezi, I've been twice approached by publishers to write books about Prezi (including the 2nd edition of the one I was reviewer for!), I've used it for loads more training and presentations, and the Prezi guides I've written across various formats have been viewed almost a quarter of a million times. (Clearly I'm wasting my time with all this library stuff. :) ) There's also a deluge of comments on the Prezi, many asking when I'm going to update it - because the other thing that has changed, quite substantially, is Prezi itself. The whole interface has changed completely. So here is the ultimate guide to Prezi, updated and refreshed for 2013, with new screenshots, new instructions, additional examples, and an edited FAQ. I hope it's still useful!

The other change that's happened in this time is that Prezi has gone from a little niche presentation tool to something you see a LOT. And many people really don't like it - admittedly some of this comes from people being too cool to get on board with popular trends, but much of it comes from the majority of Prezis being fairly awful... They are made entirely with the presenter in mind (look what I can do!) and not with the audience in mind - and EVERY presentation should be made with the audience in mind. Bad Prezis get in the way of the messages you're trying to get across, rather than support them - and worse still, can leave the audience feeling motion-sickness. It's up to you as the Prezi creator to ensure this doesn't happen! As you can imagine, the guide above contains tips for doing so.

A lot of people expect me to be this mad Prezi fan-boy because I've written these guides, and I've actually had delegates at conferences express disappointment when I've turned up with slides! But I don't use Prezi all the time by any means - it has its strengths and its limitations, and isn't appropriate for every scenario. These days, I use PowerPoint if I want to talk about one idea - something with a linear thread - and Prezi if I've got lots of disparate ideas or themes within the same presentation. That's why I use it for my full-day training workshops (that and the fact that it's a lot easier to make a nice Prezi than a nice PowerPoint - the thought of making 7 hours worth of slides that aren't terrible fills me with dread...). The important thing is you decide whether or not you can get Prezi to work for you, and if so, when. It can be a fantastic way to get ideas across to an audience.

Also, in case you've not seen it, here's 6 useful things which even experienced Prezi users miss, and if you're interested my Prezi profile is here.

Happy presenting!