Live or virtual, bullet points don’t work

powerpoint Mar 05, 2021
Bullet points don't work

“…when you throw up bullet points and then run through them, you're guaranteeing that whatever you say will be quickly forgotten. Not because you're bloody boring, but because people can't read and listen at the same time.”

Geoffrey James wasn’t mincing his words in an article for under the headline Harvard Just Discovered That PowerPoint is Worse Than Useless.

And the quote that I used to open this blog goes to the heart of the problem: we really cannot read and listen at the same time. But we keep ignoring that well-documented truth.

A steady diet of text-heavy bullet points didn’t work in the old days when we made live presentations. And they definitely don’t work in our new world of virtual meetings and online presentations.

The virtual world calls for a different approach to presentations. But too many presenters haven’t made the transition. They continue to drag all their old in-person bad habits into the virtual world.

Any slide presentation is only as good as the thought and creativity that has gone into it. Sadly, far too many of the 300 million-plus PowerPoint presentations delivered around the world every day don’t achieve their purpose. They don’t win hearts, or change minds, or encourage action.

They fail because they show no regard for our inability to read and listen at the same time. The problem has been well-documented in research from Harvard University. In a double-blind study, using a typical business scenario, PowerPoint was rated by online audiences as no better than verbal presentations delivered with no visual aids. (You can read a good summary of the research here, in Forbes Magazine).

In the virtual world, audiences are even quicker to judge you than they would be if you were in the room with them. They will judge you with the right side of their brain first. That’s the emotional, creative and intuitive brain. The left brain is all about logic, order, systems.

What appeals to the right brain is your performance, your authenticity, your passion and emotional impact. You need to be empathetic to your audiences. Put yourself in their shoes. Speak to them from that perspective.

Your goal is to make an emotional sell that’s based on trust. People have to know you before they trust you. And they have to trust you before they will act on your advice.

Text on bullet points, especially if there’s a disconnect with the words being spoken, is not a fast-track to trust. Far from it.

You need a communication strategy with your slides. And that communication strategy must involve a transfer of emotions. It  must go deeper than just giving the audience a data dump. The audience needs to be invested in you before they will engage with your slides.

The only way to do that is through your performance and the design of your slides. In my next blog I’ll talk about how to conceive and create slideshows that get that emotional buy-in to your vision, product or message.