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Posted: January 31, 2012

Seven steps to more powerful PowerPoints

Banish bloated bullets!

Dawn Bjork Buzbee

In the early days of PowerPoint presentations, audiences were tortured by typewriter text, pointless, clunky animated clip art and obnoxious sound effects. Gratefully, much of this noise is gone or has been upgraded by higher quality, more entertaining audio and video. Even with the evolution of some presentations, we are still subjected, however, to one of the most painful parts of PowerPoint-slides packed with bulleted paragraphs the presenter will "helpfully" read to everyone-yawn!

What can you do today to increase your presentation success by crafting slides that banish bloated bullets? One common idea is to eliminate all bullets in PowerPoint presentations and just use visuals with limited text. The reality in the workplace, however, is a majority of subject matter experts (SMEs) are not professional speakers and are often also using the slide content as their presentation notes. What changes, then, can we make to PowerPoint slides (or suggest to our colleagues and co-workers) to improve readability, add more interest to the presentations and head towards the goal of banishing bloated bullets and improving the text bullets we create?

1. Apply the 5 by 5 Rule. Remember this idea: "5 by 5 keeps a presentation alive!" This means most bulleted slides should have no more than five bullets with only about 5-6 words per bullet. Although some presentation experts prefer a less structured approach, many business presenters are more comfortable improving their slides (and the audience experience) if they have "rules" to work with.

2. Ideas Not Sentences. Applying the 5 by 5 Rule, slide bullet items should not be entire paragraphs or even sentences. Stick to a descriptive phrase or key idea and, as the presenter, bring the rest. After all, if you display everything you are going to say, why are you there? Applying these guidelines should also limit each bullet to no more than two lines per bullet.

3. Break Up Text Slides. Run through your slide show or switch to the Slide Sorter View. How many text slides do you have in a row? Give your audience a break...please! Avoid having more than 3 to 4 text slides in a row. Add a photo, graph, chart, timelines, tables and other visuals to add interest and to grab more attention from your audience.

4. Keep Bullets Simple. As tempting as it can be to pick a decorative bullet, solid bullet characters are easier to read-especially from a distance. Your default choices for bullets can be established from the Slide Masters in your presentation so you only have to setup the formatting in one place.

5. Don't Confuse with Numbered Lists. Look at the slides in your presentation with numbered bullet items. Is this simply a list of the points you want to make or are you presenting a sequence or list of steps that needs to be in a specific order? To your audience, a numbered list implies a required sequence. Change a numbered list to standard bullets if the order doesn't matter.

6. Move Rules, Regulations, and References to a New Home. With technical topics, which are just about any area of expertise these days, we often see lengthy citations, excerpts from regulation manuals, and other detailed references as the featured content in PowerPoint slides. Ugh! Not only is your audience not likely to be able to read it but they will certainly not be interested in having you recite the long, boring text to them. Move this content to a place where your audience members can actually benefit from the reference: a handout or resource manual, your organization Intranet, or a website. Still need to cover this information? Some presentations are more effective by taking breaks to reference printed materials, to collect ideas on a flip chart or via online tools, or to engage in audience interaction.

7. Forget the Lie About Memorizing. One of the easiest ways to feel more comfortable cleaning up your bullets slides and thus improving your effectiveness as a presenter is to use presentation notes. We are often conditioned by watching motivational speakers, professional presenters and other performers to think we have to memorize our speeches and we cannot use notes. Keep in mind that many of these presenters have practiced their performances several hundred times.

The pressure to memorize a talk is the top reason many presenters rely instead on putting their entire speech directly into their PowerPoint presentation-they are afraid of forgetting how and what they want to say. Explore how to do Notes Pages or Speaker Notes in PowerPoint so you can eliminate much of the text in your presentation slides. Yes, you will be more effective if you devote the time to practice your presentation and are not reading directly off of notes or your slides, but decide if using notes will give you the flexibility to simplify your slides and give you more value as a presenter.

Set the goal to banish bloated bullets, and watch as you deliver more successful presentations.
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Dawn Bjork Buzbee is The Software Pro® and a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) as well as a certified Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Master Instructor, certified Microsoft Applications Specialist (MCAS) Instructor, and a certified Microsoft Office expert. Dawn shares smart and easy ways to effectively use software through her work as a speaker, trainer, consultant, and author of 6 books. Discover more software tips, tricks, tactics, and techniques at www.SoftwarePro.com . Contact Dawn at Dawn@SoftwarePro.com  or (303) 699-6868.

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