What?! No bullet points?!

Monday’s Art Marketing Action Newsletter and podcast about designing PowerPoint presentations provoked a number of comments and questions. Those who had obviously had to sit through a number of wickedly boring presentations cheered me on in emails and comments. Quinn McDonald, who apparently teaches PowerPoint (!), wrote:

The simple truth about PowerPoint is that logic doesn't win agreement, emotion does. And emotion is processed on the right, creative, visual side of the brain. Make your words logical, your visuals emotional, and you have a decent PowerPoint.

Others were perplexed: If not bullet points, then what? Trust me, I understand. We’ve gotten so used to them that we think we can’t do without them. But we can! I’m living proof. You should see the presentations I did just three years ago. (Thankfully, they’re destroyed!) I used bullet points as a crutch to get me through so I didn’t have to look at notes. That’s what most speakers do.

You shouldn't be writing out complete thoughts in text on your slides. If you can speak it, use your related slide for emotional impact. Words on the screen just can't create that kind of emotional impact.

With art, you don’t need bullet points! And you rarely need any text at all. I sat through years of art history classes in darkened rooms. Thousands of slides! Not a single bullet point in any one of them. Imagine! Like Quinn said in her quote above: Use your images to stimulate the right (creative) side of the brain.

One final (for now) resource for you. Cynthia Morris wisely recommended watching Garr Reynolds’ (of Presentation Zen) presentation to Google.

Here's a slide from one of my recent presentations, which introduces the concept that "the economy is in the toilet." See: No bullet points and no complete thoughts in text. You get the picture.

Picture 4

PS: For those of you who didn't know what PowerPoint was, consider yourself blessed. You won't make the same mistakes we did!

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6 comments to What?! No bullet points?!

  • I am totally on board with Allyson’s comment about not writing out complete thoughts as text on the Powerpoint slides. I’ve been to meetings where this was the bulk of the presentation. I felt like my soul was dying. Looking around the room I saw I was far from alone.
    It made me long for the chalk board- at least you could critique the handwriting styles.

  • I actually don’t teach PowerPoint, I teach people how to write and give presentations, so I have to disabuse them about all those charts, bullets, and word-crammed slides.

    Good proof that PowerPoint has been abused: When I speak at a conference or meeting, I usually start with, “I will not be using PowerPoint today,” and more than half the time, get an immediate standing ovation.

    Really, we are artists, we can do much better than bullet points. Love your toilet!

  • This was really helpful! I was grinning when I read Monday’s newsletter, but this example really gave me a full picture of how much better it is to not spell those things out on the slide — and how to do it better. I think that sometimes in the midst of putting together a presentation and trying to get things perfect, I would be inclined to add too much stuff, when that single image is a much better backdrop and makes people pay attention.

  • Philip: Thanks for backing me up here. It’s quite painful to sit through one of those!

    Quinn: Will make that correction asap.

    Annie: Wondering if you use PowerPoint in your teaching?

  • Great post Alyson,

    I agree that complete thoughts should not be written out on the slide. They should be written out on paper, or in Word or a mind mapping software. When the story is complete, then start with the visuals.