“Are you saying I can dodge bullets” Neo
“No Neo. … When you are ready, you won’t have to”. Morpheus
The Ubiquitous Bullet Points
30M+ presentations made every day. 90%+ of them are slide after slide of bullet points. Why is that? Bullet points are the easiest and fastest way to create content in presentation software. They are also a natural extension of long-form (document) communication.
But, Bullet Points Suck!
The common argument (Garr Reynolds) against bullet points is that they are not visual. And since we are visual learners bullet-points are easy to forget. Which is true, but not the whole truth!
The Hidden Issue
Another insidious less obvious problem with bullet-points is logical. When our brains notice the bullet-point layout, we assume it is one of two logical arguments: Inclusion or Sequence.
- Inclusion: all bullet-points are part of one logical category. E.g., Seven wonders of the world, Policies in a state program, results of a financial quarter.
- Sequence: all bullet-points are in order E.g., seven steps to cook a recipe, chronological events that led to world-war I
However, we confuse our brains by incorrectly using bullet points to communicate other logical arguments E.g., causality (A 🡪 B), levels (one idea is higher order than others), convergence (multiple ideas leading to one central idea), etc. Let’s bring it to life.
Here is an example of the bullet list being used
This issue with slide is that the brain processes the bullet points layouts as all four points are in same category or in sequence. Neither is the case here.
The first three bullets are supporting points. And, the last bullet is the main outcome or effect that the first three bullet points helped with.
Causality is the right logical argument here. And, the bullet points layout conflicts with it.
The meaning would become clearer if we used a layout more conducive to causality. In the picture below, it becomes easier for the brain to process that the first three bullet points lead to the outcome on the right.
How To Dodge Bullets?
So, creating sparkling business presentations requires us to go beyond the graphics/visuals. We must think about the logical argument or meaning we are trying to communicate. And, choose the right layout that goes with the argument.
If it is inclusion or sequence, then bullet points work great. If you are trying to communicate a different logical argument (e.g., causality, convergence), you must dodge bullets!