No Bullet Points – The Science Behind

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Why do Presentation experts recommend the no bullet points use of presentation graphics and advice presenters to go beyond bullet points?

This article discusses what is the real issue with bulleted list PowerPoint slides.

The way your audience scan

When you show a slide, the first instinct of your audience is to make sense of the information put up. They don’t have the patience to wait till you tell them the whole story.

They start scanning your slide right away.

The behavior is not very different from how you scan a web page as soon as it appears. You can look at the eye tracking ‘heatmap’ of how users look at a bulleted list on a web page.

The F-Shaped scanning pattern
Audience reading pattern
Source: Eyetracking Research

Areas where users looked at more the most are colored darker so the highest amount of scanning happened in the red areas; lower in the the yellow areas, followed by the least-viewed blue areas with Gray areas as the least viewed.

As you can see, audience scan the page in ‘F’ pattern.

Applying the science to your slides

If we extend that knowledge to a bulleted list on a PowerPoint slide…

Sample bulleted list
Bulleted List

The F-pattern in which your audience scan it…
Bulleted List

When the bullets are more and when the sentences are complex, it takes a long time for your audience to scan the slide.

Interestingly, when they scan, they shut off their minds from any other disturbance. So, your explanation of the bullet point slides falls on deaf ears.

By the time they finish scanning and turn their attention to you – they lose half the explanation.

The result…

Your audience get disappointed twice, when you use bullet point slides:

  1. They get very little information from their first glance of your bulleted list, which is not optimized for scanning.
  2. Second time – because they hear only half your explanation and that doesn’t make any sense to them.

So, they grow tired and give up on your presentation.

This means as a presenter you need to follow the no bullet points rule…

What is beyond bullets?

  • Create presentation graphicsthat can be scanned quickly. Diagrams and simple illustrations are faster to scan compared to long and complex words.
  • Build audience curiosity by revealing information in stages.
  • Include only one idea in a slide

You’ll learn how to create effective slides when you go through the rest of the pages in this section.

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