Slide Tips: Dodging Bullet Points in Powerpoint Presentations - Dave Yewman

July 15, 2008

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Dave Yewman is the author of On Getting to The Point. He usually describes himself as a presentation coach. His 10 year old was asked on the playground what his dad does, he paused for a minute and said, "He teaches people how not to say 'um.'" A better opening description he's yet to find!

To find out more, visit Elevator Speech.

Everyday, by some estimates, people deliver roughly 30 million PowerPoint presentations.

And 95 percent of them suck. Then people blame PowerPoint, as if the car caused the accident.

It’s a shame, really, because PowerPoint can be a great visual aid for a presentation. But it’s not the presentation itself. You are.

Below are five tips on how you can use PowerPoint effectively. As audience members we all know in the first few seconds of a speech if the speaker has done his or her homework or if we are merely the latest victims of the dreaded “Death by PowerPoint” syndrome (sometimes also called “Show up and throw up”).

It’s not pretty. But it is preventable.


Most people put their presentations together backwards. They cobble together old PowerPoint decks and build a “blob” often with no discernible point or flow or clear takeaway message. So reverse that. Imagine an audience member walks out of your presentation and sees a friend who asks him, “What did the speaker say?” This is your takeaway. Start there and build your presentation to support a clear “headline” – just like a newspaper story. 46 seconds on one way to do this:

Tip 2 – TELL STORIES (and practice doing so out loud)

People forget that human beings are pre-programmed to remember stories; we have been since “Goodnight Moon” in our childhoods. It’s far better to talk about your customer saving $3 million using your product than it is to flack an endless list of your product’s features. And when you talk about that customer, do it out loud to get used to the rhythm and cadence of the story. Here’s 76 seconds on how to do this:


Often people will say, “Well I need to put all those bullet points/details because audiences want my slides.” That’s fine. But hide the gory details. In PowerPoint’s slide sorter view right click on a slide and you’ll get an option to hide the slide. It will still be there in a printout or an e-mailed slide deck – but you won’t have to subject audiences to all those bullet points. Here’s a 64-second rant on hiding:


On most computers running newer versions of Microsoft Office you have the option to get a sneak peek at your next slide, and review a few notes on your laptop’s screen while all the audience sees is the current slide. It’s called presenter mode. Go find it. Then use it. Spend 54 seconds learning how here:


It always surprises me how few people know the B trick. When you’re in presentation mode in PowerPoint (or Apple’s Keynote) hit the B key and the screen will go blank. Hit it again and it will come back. This is a great way to hide distracting visuals while you answer a question or ad-lib a little. Here’s 98 seconds on how this works – plus an additional tip:

You’ll note that none of these tips even come close to being rocket science. But the overwhelming majority of speakers using PowerPoint don’t use them. And their audiences suffer as a result. There’s far more to a presentation than PowerPoint but if you must use it, at least make sure your slide deck doesn’t suck and that you know how to control the software, rather than have it control you.