Presentation Slides: Avoid bullets

Note: If your student project group or class would like a workshop on these methods, contact us at . We will do workshops for groups over 10 members.

Perhaps the most insidious and harmful practice in technical and scientific presentations is the over use of bullets. Deploying bullets and too much text on any slide has two very harmful effects:

  1. A bullet-ridden slide overwhelms the audience.
  2. Too much text overshadows the live speaker.

It may seem like heresy, but stripping out bullets and heavy text allows the technical expert to shine and to interact with the audience in an authentic way. Combined with sentence headers, we have found (both for school and on-site engineering work) that presenters become empowered when they are not beholden to a lock-step bulleted list.

CHEC: visual evidence

On the left, you can see the poor practice of bulleted lists. On the right, the presenter revised the visual approach, which will be more memorable for the audience.

Instead, use intentional visuals (nothing silly) to help your audience understand your topic. Visuals will support the points that you are making while not competing with the slide for the audience’s attention.

Getting rid of bullets and using just small amounts of text makes many engineers and technical people very, very nervous. We hear your objections. (No! My audience needs all of that information!  I need to see it all so I don’t forget everything! My boss likes it that way! It’s how everyone else is doing it!) But too much text on the slide will put people to sleep, and it works as an obvious crutch for the speaker, which allows people to doubt your credibility.

Remember that the slides are for your audience, not for you. Make them helpful for them, not for you. Images allow for ideas to be imprinted on the mind far easier than tons of text. There’s thousands of way to make images to work for your purpose, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

Learn more:

Engineering Presentation books

Slide Rules: Design, Build, and Archive Presentations in the Engineering and Technical Fields. Authors: Traci Nathans-Kelly and Christine Nicometo.  (Wiley, 2014).

The Craft of Scientific Presentations: Critical Steps to Succeed and Critical Errors to Avoid. Author: Michael Alley. (Springer, 2013).

Learn More: Websites and Recorded Webinars