Have you ever floundered to keep pace with a presentation slide packed with bullet points, while you try to retain what the speaker is saying? At the end of such a presentation, how much of it do you remember?
Bullet points to break up text-heavy information have been our go-to choice for PowerPoint slides, but they are not so helpful for the audience.We think we can multitask; that we can both listen and read at the same time. But it's tougher to do than we realize, say cognizant scientists.
Why cling to old-fashioned methods of presenting, when Google's CEO has revealed more audience-friendly ways of putting forward information? At a 2017 conference, Sundar Pichai spoke about Google employees learning to use less text and more visual elements in their presentations.
Drawing inspiration from the company's visual storytelling methods, here are some bullet-free tips to create presentations that will keep your audience awake and engaged, while still offering plenty of information.
1. Use more pictures, fewer words
It is well-known that pictures speak louder than words. They are easier to remember, and while looking at an image you can still focus on what the speaker is saying.
If you were to make slides the traditional way, researchers say you'd put around 40 words on one slide. In Sundar Pichai's presentation, it took twelve slides to reach 40 words. Most of the slides contained images, graphs, a phrase like 'Mobile first to AI first" in an otherwise white screen, to complement what Pichai was saying.
Only use words to describe images when you have to. Icons, graphs, diagrams, sketches, images, tag clouds and other visual elements work as hooks for the audience, while they listen to the relevant point you are making.
2. Follow the three-second rule
Nancy Duarte is an expert at designing PowerPoint slides that add value to the audience. She recommends following the 'three-second rule' for each slide. If you think your audience won't understand the essence of your slide in three seconds, you need to delete words.
According to Duarte, slides should be like billboards that people can quickly glance at while they're driving by. The real focus should be on the content of your speech.
3. Every bullet point is one slide
It is common to try and cram in as much information into one page. PowerPoint makes it particularly easy through the bullet system.
If you have already drawn up a list of bullet points that you want to talk about during your presentation, give each point a separate slide. In other words, every page should contain one idea or point. This will be far easier for the audience to retain than a series of slides that contain too much information.
Each bullet point in a default PowerPoint template can hold about eighty words. The average viewer reads at a speed of 250-300 words per minute. If you create 40 text-heavy slides for a forty minute presentation, think how difficult you are making it for the viewer to read, listen and retain at the same time.
You can always give your audience handouts containing the additional information for them to read afterwards.
4. Use plenty of white spaces
As we mentioned above, Google's presentations contain lots of white spaces. This minimalist design tactic helps to highlight the content of the slide, which could be a short piece of text like "1 Billion + users" to announce the size of the Google user base, or a series of icons that represent the new modalities through which users are interacting with computers.
White space - or negative space - is the modern star of visual design. We are talking not only of white spaces between elements on the slide, but even within the elements themselves. More negative space in and around icons, images, typography, sketches, etc., keeps away clutter and hold the reader's attention. People get frustrated when a screen bombards them with information. White spaces are the equivalent of a visual pause, giving viewers space to think about what they're seeing.
Professionals with a background in design will be able to tell you a thing or two about negative space. You can find pros at Freelancer.com, who can help you understand how to create striking, minimalist slides for your presentation.
5. Find a balance between what to explain, what to withhold
The temptation for many presenters is to explain everything through bullet points. If the audience is well-informed about the subject you're speaking on, you could be alienating them by dumbing down the information.
On the other hand, new or difficult concepts that you may take for granted, if left unexplained, can create a disconnect for the audience. It is up to you to gauge your audience, and tailor the information you include in your presentation to them. It means finding a balance between what to put in and what to remove from the screen, and your speech.
6. Pause. Pause. Pause.
White spaces give the audience time to digest what they are seeing. But you must also pause in your speech from time to time, to give them time to mull over what they hear. If you ask a question you want your audience to think about, don't forget to stop for a moment and give them time to think before you move on to the next point.
7. Highlight instead of using bullet points
You may not be able to use visual elements on every slide, though we argue that you can represent almost any idea visually. But if you only have a few hours to prepare a presentation for a company meeting, and only text-based information to present, use highlights instead of bullets.
Try as far as possible to keep a single idea on a slide. Highlight vital information that your audience needs to remember. Keep highlights to a single word or a few words at most.
There are many ways to highlight. You can bold text, use a different text background color (that is pleasing to the eye) or use a different font or Capitalization.
8. Overemphasize bullets
If you must use bullet points, try to visually separate the points with lots of white spaces, horizontal lines between points, and even text blocks of another color that complements the color of your text. We recommend choosing a lighter shade of the text color for your text background, as the low contrast will be easiest on the eye.
Bullet points are great for organizing information that you're going to put in your slides, but they are not so readable.
To summarize, learn from Google and try to eliminate bullet points. Use more visual elements and white spaces, and fewer words in your presentations. If you must have lines of text, try to place each bullet point on a separate slide.
If you are forced to insert several bullet points on one slide, try to use design tricks to separate the points visually.
Don't forget that what the audience reads shouldn't distract them from what they hear. Any element that is extraneous to the slide - such as your company logo - doesn't belong there. You can include your company logo on the contact page at the end of the presentation.
Are you a traditionalist when it comes to presentations or are you willing to go minimalist and give up bullet points? How do you think you can improve your slide design? Share with us below!