Use these simple 7 alternative layouts to avoid bullet points:
Everyone is on a quest to avoid bullet points. Or at least, they should be.
We’ve spent decades reading bulleted lists, and yes, mostly in PowerPoint presentations. So here are some simple visual remedies.
Above – a typical PowerPoint slide that might feature in too many business presentations. It just states the points without any visual engagement for the audience. The chances of audience members paying attention here are slim. Indeed, some audience members have even died of boredom* while being inflicted with such slides (hence the phrase “Death by PowerPoint”)
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be like this. We’ve collated several easy examples of how one might add some basic “pazzazz” to the above layouts in a much less lethal, audience-friendly way.
*This is probably untrue
The first option is to use a grid layout:
This simply avoids the visual monotony of a list. Each point can be placed inside any shape (rectangles/ circles/ hexagons/ custom shapes) and each shape has a different colour. The shapes are evenly spaced and aligned and can be brought in using animation to give them an extra bit of ooompf (which also stops your audience from reading ahead = good).
The second option to avoid a list of bullets is to add icons:
A simple visual symbol that illustrates your point is a highly effective form of shorthand. These same symbols can then be used throughout the presentation whenever you want to refer to those particular points. This type of visual coding language really helps your audience throughout your entire deck.
There are several great websites, which have thousand of icons and icon sets that you can download and use (sometimes for a small fee). Here’s a couple of good’uns: Noun Project or Flaticon
Or ping us your deck and we can add them (they will always be editable PowerPoint shapes if we do them (vectors) and certainly not distorted or low quality image files).
Option 3: Emphasize the section headings by separation:
Option 3 here is a simple progression on the earlier methods with the added detail of featuring the heading separately. The text is still there, and the icons give visual interest.
This is a simple way to add more focus to heading of each point – which hopefully leads you to see that you don’t really need the small print.
In Option 4, we’ve dropped the detail entirely:
The audience should be listening to you, rather than reading the slide. This is the BEST solution to avoid bullet points. Cull the text!
You could expand the text to give more meaning, perhaps instead of “meetings”, use “More meetings” or “Identify your target” instead of just “Target” or “Agree a marketing strategy” instead of “Marketing”.
Bear in mind that more words can give more guidance, but too many words give your audience too much to deal with.
Option 5 is a great alternative to bulleted lists by featuring the detail of one point at a time:
In the above example, when the presenter clicks on a circle, a box appears containing the detail for that point (the icon and text also change colour). You could set up 6 different slides, or you can use clever animation: we’ve opted for action buttons – it’s not rocket science and dammit if it’s not kinda cool.
The communication benefit here is that the audience still sees the big picture of all 6 points via the icons & headings. But the presenter can focus on the detail of any one point. Much better than overloading the audience with all the detail at the same time.
Option 6: The big picture
You can also avoid bullet points by combining your key info into one overarching shape.
This could be a circular “pie” type as seen here. A circle is great to use, but any shape divided into parts can unify your individual points.
Again, we suggest using animation here to reveal the headings & detail one at a time to prevent your audience from reading ahead: they can’t read and listen at the same time. So if you give them too much to read at a time, then they won’t be listening to you!
And Option 7 – another way to avoid bullet points through good layout:
Lastly, why not ditch the bulleted lists in favour of a timeline arrangement?
We’re still looking at the same components: title, icon, text. But the layout can give a dramatically different feel to your slides.
There’s at least another dozen variations of layout that we could show, but the idea behind all options is simply how to avoid a list.
So, there you go. No more deaths by PowerPoint – quite the opposite we hope!
To see more, simply download our portfolio here: PowerPoint skills.
Before and after PowerPoint slides show what presentation specialists can do
A talented PowerPoint designer can improve slides in so many ways. New design concepts, neuroscience enhancements, messaging, overall structure guidance, varying levels of animation, layout, composition, to name but a few!
Before and after PowerPoint slides
See original before slide below (a standard bullet-point slide), and the same slide after design and some neuroscience improvement.
Bear in mind any design we apply to slides is based on design brief, messaging strategy brief and the level of design depends on how much time we can spend on each slide (i.e. your budget!).
- Too much text, it’s boring to look at, and tiresome to read.
- No animation: the audience will skim read the text faster than the presenter can speak. There is both cognitive overload risk with too much information, and a problem with overloading a listening brain channel. When reading: audiences are listening to themselves speak inside their own heads. Of course some audience members will choose not to read it at all, opting instead to listen. They then might miss out on some written information. Either way, it’s a presenting disaster.
- The title “Green Travel” doesn’t tell the audience enough. Are there good levels of green travel? Is there anything the audience needs to do or know?
- As well as a nicer – and widescreen – design. We have included graphical elements to help the brain make faster links with the content topics. We have grouped the content to make it easier to digest.
- We have improved the narrative of the heading.
- We’ve trimmed all the text, lessening the text-heavy load: this could still be improved further of course.
- We’ve included animation to control the flow of information. Leading to less reading ahead and more synchronicity between presenter and audience.
The design in this sample may not be to your own personal taste – every job is different, and designs are created with the client, their preferences and their budget, in mind.
Potential clients often ask us questions like: “how much for 20 slides?” The answer depends on the level of design, the level of neuroscience improvements we make, and how much animation we add.
Before and after PowerPoint slides are a good way to understand the range of options available.
We have a portfolio of before and after slides we can share with you – please get in touch and ask to see it.
If we could only give you one tip we’d tell you about the most important presentation technique out there. We’ll get right to it:
The most important presentation technique is to remember to repeat your messages:
Brain Rule #6: Remember to repeat.
John Medina’s Brain Rule #5 says we need to repeat to remember. And #6 says we need to remember to repeat. Remembering to Repeat means that the brain will be more able to commit information to long term memory. “Repeated exposure is the most powerful way to fix memory into the brain”.
So it’s not just repeating key info within your presentation that’s important. It’s also vital to follow up and communicate your key messages to your audience again (ideally later in the day). That reminder is vital if you want long term memory to come into play. If you don’t… well then maybe you’re happy with being forgotten?
How you reconnect and remind your audience is a different issue. Hopefully you can email them all, but don’t just send them a copy of your slides. Write something to highlight your call to action or to remind them of your key message.
According to Medina: In an ideal school environment, repeating what was learned would occur 90-120 minutes after the initial learning.
Don’t waste an opportunity
The opportunity to present to an audience is an amazing one to have! The communication and learning potential is huge and so it’s important that we make the most of these occasions. Whilst presentation design may impress (especially if great presentation designers like Presented help you, nudge nudge), it’s more important that your information is clear and understandable. Some tips for clarity include: good layout, simplified content, a strong structure, a repeated structure. We can let you know how you’re doing with a free presentation consultation. (This isn’t publicised this anymore, so if you find this webpage, make the most of this offer!)
We believe these days that many good presenters keep content light and avoid text heavy slides. But we also believe that most presenters neglect to remind their audience later of their key messages. This really is the most important presentation technique. It’s so powerful to follow up with an audience to reaffirm messages and key content.
So, let’s make it happen: Start to use this presentation technique. Remember to repeat! Provide a simple synopsis later in the day or later in the week to help your audience remember you.
Will you do it?
In our blog series on the Brain Rules, we look how John Medina’s brain rules can apply to the best presentation structure and design.
Brain Rule 1: Survival
It’s no challenge to apply Medina’s #1 rule to presentation structure and design: “Survival” is all about our ability to solve problems. Indeed, our brains evolved to learn, to collaborate, and to make progress with others through team work and partnerships. We have an inherent need to get things agreed – and acted upon.
To quote brain scientist John Medina, “our ability to understand each other is our chief survival tool”. So when presenting to a roomful of brains, you will be perceived as a highly valued individual if you can communicate clearly and with a purpose. Your presentation structure must be understandable and your call to action should be powerful and relevant.
Presented’s services aren’t just presentation design. What we do isn’t only making slides pretty. We also advise and create powerful presentation structures. Medina’s brain rule proves that there are scientific reasons why it’s essential to nail the presentation structure and the key message behind your slides.
We most often use Cliff Atkinson’s “Beyond Bullet Points” structure to create a versatile, informative and convincing presentation. Clients have reported back on their success (more sales, more bookings, more sign ups, more interaction) so we’re highly confident about how effective it is. (And it’s perhaps the only format to consciously take Mayer’s multimedia learning principles into account. More neuroscience in action with presentations!)
Why use the Beyond Bullet Points presentation structure?
Firstly, we need to state our call to action near the start. Too many presentations have the call to action at the end. If you’ve lost any attention during your presentation, then hiding the CTA at the end is daft. (Even if it’s a good presentation, you’re still more likely to have lost people’s attention by the end).
Next, we need to repeat our key messages. Within a presentation structure that has crystal clear navigation, everyone is sure about where they are within the presentation. The number 3 is a golden number of key messages to make. If you can break your call to action down into 3 proof points, you’ll be on your way to making a scientifically strong presentation structure.
Gear the main body of your slides to prove or provide evidence of each key message. Your audience will be more likely to believe your messages. And your presentation will stay on track and show purpose. How you phrase the copy is important: conversational language, as well as using the same grammatical tense leads to a more coherent message.
Finally, we need to summarise our call to action and our key messages at the end. Repetition and the use of a conclusion slide helps the recall ability of your audience’s brains. If they have understood you, they will value you.
And then chances are, you’ll survive…
We’re linking presentation science to the Brain Rules. In these 2 rules we look at how to improve the presentation experience using John Medina’s findings.
Brain Rules 2 & 7: Exercise. Sleep.
John Medina’s brain rules state that exercise and sleep are critical for good brain function.
We can’t however go for a run or take a nap during a PowerPoint presentation… no matter how tempted we might be! (Sure, so we’ve probably ALL had a little shut-eye time, but best not to admit that in your workplace).
How can these brain rules improve the presentation experience for your audience?
Let’s take exercise first:
Ever taken part in a workshop or presentation where the speaker gets everyone to stand up, stretch or jiggle (yes jiggle)? Although it may feel embarrassing, they are on the right track to boost your cognitive function.
Our brains work best when oxygenated through light exercise. Cognitive function improves activities such as spatial tasks, reaction times, quantitative skills and memory. Not only does oxygen flow help – “Exercise acts directly on the molecular machinery of the brain itself. It increases neurons’ creation, survival, and resistance to damage and stress.”
Many meeting experts swear that walking meetings are the best. Perhaps for future presentations we’ll all walk on self-propelling tread mills that recycle the energy generated by the audience into powering a big screen in the ultimate eco-friendly way. You read it here first! … In the meantime, keep your audience alert by using interactive functionality. Encourage them to move a little – even a forced stand up and stretch from their seats will help their attention spans.
Other mini-breaks will also help such as: voting, polls, any kind of interaction, change of direction or energy boost, whilst not strictly exercise, will create a little movement that certainly won’t inhibit that oxygen flow. Your own energy is also infectious – a lively presenter will keep your audience awake and therefore more likely to laugh, smile and move a tiny bit in their seats. Little things that will all help improve the presentation experience.
At the other end of the scale is sleep.
We probably don’t want to schedule a nap in the middle of our VIP delivery. No matter how tempting that might be! Ahhhh, sleep is wonderful right? The chance to switch off. Except, apparently we don’t really switch off – our brains are still on the go even whilst resting.
In Medina’s Brain Rules he says “It’s possible that the reason we need to sleep is so that we can learn.” Napping is normal and it’s believed that around 3 p.m., half way through your (typical) daily waking hours, all your brain wants to do is nap.
“There’s a battle raging in your head between two armies. Each army is made of legions of brain cells and biochemicals –- one desperately trying to keep you awake, the other desperately trying to force you to sleep.” So perhaps we SHOULD have a nap scheduled in the middle of a conference!
However, let’s simply look at it this way:
1) make sure you are well rested, and 2) do your very best to avoid the 3pm speaker slot…
Good luck with your next presentation! Let us know if we can help… advice, design, animation, tips, etc.
Did my audience remember the key message in my presentation?
Brain rule #3: Wiring
When shown the same presentation and quizzed afterwards, members of the same audience often recall a different key message. This is not good news for presenters who are hoping that their audience will all come away with the same key message! Indeed, most presenters wrongly assume their audience will not only recall their main message, but indeed all of the information presented to them. It just doesn’t happen – for many reasons, some of which are:
1) Audiences are fighting a million internal distractions. Their to-do list. Their feelings, memories and stresses. It’s hard to keep anyone’s attention.
3) Likewise, external distractions also compete for our attention – sights, sounds, smells, and things happening around us that may or may not be coming from your presentation (animation for example can be distracting, as well as a good way of getting attention).
2) Audiences pay more attention if the presentation is relevant to them. So we need to get their interest as early as possible. If you don’t, they’ll switch off and be harder to win back.
4) Each person has their own unique brain wiring – so their interpretation of your information (and the way you have presented it) will be slightly different for each person.
How can we help audiences?
In an ideal world, we would tailor our presentations for each and every member of our audience. Since that’s not quite going to happen, we can at least be practical with these other options:
- Create an interactive PowerPoint deck which allows you to adapt the flow of the presentation to any questions from the room. PowerPoint has great hyperlinking abilities (essentially replicating a website’s navigation). You click, you go to that page. You can focus on a particular direction, or area of interest specific to the group you are presenting to. More and more presenters are choosing this non-linear option.
- Give your presentation a clear structure to bring home your key message. The take aways for your audience need to be up front, repeated, and simple. One of the presentation structures we like best was developed by Cliff Atkinson in Beyond Bullet Points. In summary: establish relevance and context right at the start. Next, deliver your presentation’s key message. Right up front. Use the remaining slides to focus on proving that message. This works to reinforce and drum home your points. It also gives meaning to your meanderings and tangents, or keeps you on track!
- You must repeat your key message frequently. Ideally as part of your structure. But however you do it: repeat it.
If you do one or all of the above – those different brains with their different wirings will be more likely to all come out with the same conclusion. Your key message: remembered!