Three tips for working with bullets in PowerPoint

If you think you don't have the skills to create a bullet-less PowerPoint presentation, take a look at these three easy tips.

Bullet lists seem to be the foundation of most mediocre presentations. And while Bullet lists aren't necessarily bad, most users overuse and misuse them. Most PowerPoint users simply don't have the time or the skills to produce bullet-less presentations, so the bullets stay. These three quick tips will help you decide when you can use bullets effectively and show you how to remove the temptation to use them, altogether.

How many bullets per slide

Everyone wants to know how many bullets to use per slide. There's no good answer to this question because it's a bad question. The goal is to communicate a message, a point, without losing the audience's attention. In other words, each slide should supplement your verbal information. While your audience is reading your bullet points, they're not listening to you.

My best advice is to start with a bulleted list. Then, create a slide that visually expresses each point - one slide per bullet point. After the presentation you can display the bulleted list to summarize the discussion. You might also discover that you don't need the bulleted list after all.

Bullets allowed

Most experts will say to avoid using bullets completely, but that's a bit harsh and frankly, unrealistic. Users are going to rely on bullets! Sometimes, bullets are appropriate. If you're listing items - agendas, table of contents, schedules, and so on - use bullets without shame! In general, if the list needs no further development (discussion) bullets are okay.

Remove temptation

PowerPoint, on the other hand, is the great bullet pusher. The default slide encourages their use! If you insert a slide using the New Slide option in the Slides group or right-clicking in the Slides tab, PowerPoint will insert the Title and Content template slide.

Well, just because everyone else uses bullets doesn't mean you have to! The easiest way to break the bullet habit is to go cold turkey - remove them from your working environment. You'll need the Slide Master ribbon (in 2010) to alter the layout slide. To display this ribbon, click the View tab. Then, click Slide Master in the Master Views group. Doing so displays the layout slides. In PowerPoint 2003, choose Master from the View menu, and then select Slide Master.

Find and select the Title and Content layout. Then, highlight the bullet-placeholding text and the bullet characters, and press Delete. Save your presentation and return to Normal view. (Click the View tab and click Normal in the Presentation Views group. Alternatively, click Normal on the status bar (on the right side.) New slides won't contain default bullets, and you'll be less tempted to use them.


Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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