Robbery at Bullet-Point

This is a guest post from Tony Burns, my life-partner and co-trainer at Effective Speaking.

Every so often an audacious robbery occurs in full view – yet nobody notices.

Late last year, Dublin Police launched a new crime prevention program called Freeflow. On the very same day a lone man drove a truck into Dublin’s Guinness brewery, hitched it to a trailer and drove out the security gates with 450 kegs of beer.

When we attend business presentations, we often see presenters robbed in plain view of the audience – yet no-one seems to notice. And the thief?


If you’re not wary:

1. PowerPoint will steal your credibility
2. PowerPoint will steal your clarity, and
3. PowerPoint will steal your audience.

PowerPoint steals your credibility

Powerpoint steals your credibility every time you use a slide to remind yourself what to say. It doesn’t matter how few words you use, the audience can see what you’re doing. Even though you don’t have notes in your hand, there’s an audacious con going on. You’re pretending that you don’t need notes. But…your notes are on the screen – everyone can see them. And as a result, instead of you being the credible source of the information, the screen is.

One of our course participants summed it up nicely – “I was burying my expertise in bullets.”

Solution – create notes on paper using brief key words and phrases. That leaves your slides to be a visual stimulus for your audience – not verbal cues for you.

PowerPoint steals your clarity

PowerPoint steals your clarity when you use Topic-Bullet list slides. The Topic-Bullet list format consists of a topic heading such as “Ways to help an audience remember” and then underneath, a bulleted list of those ways. Such a slide has limited effectiveness as a hand-out (for when the audience has time to read and reflect) but during the presentation when attention is limited, lists of words create distraction and confusion – ideal circumstances for committing a robbery.

And it’s the clarity of your message that’s being stolen.

Solution – use Assertion-Evidence slides.

The headline of your slide should be an assertion – the point you’re making, such as “Your audience will only remember what they process”. The rest of the slide provides evidence to support this be it anecdotal, statistical or the recommendation of a credible expert.

PowerPoint steals your audience

PowerPoint steals your audience when the slideshow is the centre of attention.Commonly, presentations start with a title slide followed by Topic-Bullet list slides. The presenter stands at the side of the room, speaking to the slides (sometimes literally!) and the screen steals the show. Audiences report that this style of presenting is boring, patronising and a rip-off of their time.

Solution – Remember, you are a presenter not a projectionist. Place yourself in the centre of the room and have the screen slightly to your side.

Introduce your slides before you show them – so that your audience sees that you are running the show – not the show running you.

And occasionally use a blank slide – forcing the audience to be totally focussed on you. The beginning and end of your presentation are ideal times to use this powerful technique.

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  1. 10 years after finishing school, I can’t understand why students aren’t taught how to present. I gave countless presentation during my educational career, but I was never taught how to give a presentation. My very first Power Point presentation consisted of nothing but text because I didn’t know any better. It’s such a necessary skill these days and you shouldn’t have to be a natural-born presenter to do it well.

    • I so agree Jen. And the vast majority of people out there presenting in the business world haven’t had any training either, so they just copy what they see everybody else doing – presenting with bullet-point slides. But things are starting to change as some presenters start to adopt a more visual style of PowerPoint. It will start to spread as audiences see presenters with visual slides and get more engaged – then they’ll start doing it and so on, slide-by-slide and presenter-by-presenter. And then text-heavy slides will be a thing of the past! Olivia