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27
oct

7 Alternatives to Boring Bullet Points

by Adam Noar

Introduction

Are you struggling to find good alternatives to presenting without bullet points? Using bullet points to give a PowerPoint presentation is a surefire way to put your audience to sleep faster than you can say “Here is a list of five reasons why . . .” It isn’t that bullet points are useless; they are, in fact, really good for conveying sometimes complicated information in a very clear and linear fashion. But they come with a few serious limitations. The most obvious problem with using bullet points to tell a story, demonstrate value of a product, argue for a change in lifestyle, or otherwise convince your audience is that bullet points are boring. Period.

They are not fun to look at. They are usually heavy on text and light on visuals, which usually means that they will be forgotten by your audience just as soon as the next slide pops up.

But there is another drawback to using bullet points that is important to note: not all information that you share is meant to be told in a linear fashion. Not everything is that neat and simple to follow. Depending on your presentation topic, you might be doing a disservice to yourself and your audience by using bullet points simply because there is a much better way of presenting that information.

If you find yourself needing some new ideas for presentations—and never want to use bullet points again—then you will definitely find these seven alternatives to standard bullet points helpful!

Bullet Point Alternative #1: Create a Set of Images With a Few Words Underneath

Instead of just listing each idea one after the other and relying solely on your display text—which, by the way, can look awesome if done right—why not create a set of images with text captions beneath them? This is a really useful method, especially if you have a limited amount of slides to go through and want to cluster your information on as few slides as possible. In order to make this sort of layout work, remember to pick images that are related as much as possible to the topic at hand. Since you do not have the luxury of using words to explain an idea, it is fundamental to the success and clarity of your slide presentation that you use relevant images.

This kind of text alignment works best if you have a short list of related items that can be summarized on one slide. For example, if you are presenting a how-to slideshow of directions for how to use an app, a really awesome looking alternative to bullet points would be to show screenshots of the login page, entering the app dashboard, and then interacting with the app itself. That way you can let the focus of the slide be on a visual, practical aspect of the app, rather than just explaining it in words to your audience.

Bullet Point Alternative #2: Break the Bullets up into Multiple Slides

There is nothing wrong with using more slides, especially if you have a lot of very good information to share. If this is the case, do not hesitate to expand the length of your slide show and break up bullets into multiple slides. Doing so will give your presentation a lot of crucial breathing space—and there is a consensus in the design community that negative space is a beautiful, effective way of creating content.

When you add additional levels to a presentation it will give it a bit more dimension; especially if you add photos to the background, this will infuse slides with a sense of narrative and real world context. So instead of trying to squeeze five bullet points onto one slide, stretch one slide into five and let each bullet point rest on its own. In this context you will have more room to focus on each point at an individual level without having to deal with interference from the other points on your list. And the less visually chaotic your slide is, the more effective it will be in roping in your audience and engaging with them in a positive manner.

Bullet Point Alternative #3: Dress the Bullets Up

Sometimes, the truth is that there is no better alternative to using bullet points. They have the benefit of being succinct, concise, and direct. When you do decide to go with bullet points, you can still dress them up quite a lot—that way they seem less like boring bullets and more like beautifully designed accents to your presentation.

You have lots of weapons in your arsenal against using boring old bullet points. You can surround your text with bright, colorful shapes to draw attention to each individual talking point. You can use nifty presentation tools such as Font Squirrel to curate bold, catchy text that grabs your viewers’ attention—and don’t think that you have to keep the font uniform all the way through. If there is a particular word you want your audience to pay attention to, do not be afraid to dress it up in boldface or choose an extra fancy font to make it truly stand out.  While some designers will tell you to quit playing around with your presentation like you are still in elementary school, I would also suggest using a few interesting animations as each line of text enters the screen (but do try to restrain yourself). And lastly, in the case of bullet points, less is always more. If you can say what you need to say with three bullet points instead of five, say it with three. Fun fact: people remember things in sets of three, so your slide will probably be more memorable if you focus on that magic number.

Bullet Point Alternative #4: Use GIFs or Videos Instead

GIFs are kind of like the new kid on the block when it comes to communication in the modern corporate world. But as people loosen their ties and let a sense of humor permeate the office, there is a growing acceptance of a medium best known for condensing everything from funny cat videos and the Harlem Shake to football highlights and people twerking. Heck, it’s already considered acceptable practice to use GIFs in email correspondence, so who says you can’t use a GIF in your PowerPoint presentation either?

Sort of like how you can cut down on bullet points by placing images instead, using GIFs works by letting a video do most of the talking for you. And of course, you can always play a video instead. Just remember that like a lengthy bullet point list, a long video (say, anything more than a couple minutes) is a really easy way to lose your audience. The brilliance of GIFs is that they are designed to satiate short attention spans and get across a message in just a few seconds. I encourage you to be creative and see how you can use a few cleverly placed GIFs as substitutes for long blocks of boring bullet point text.

Bullet Point Alternative #5: Substitute icons or vectors

Many effective presentation slides rely on simple icons or vectors to convey significant chunks of information. This doesn’t mean that you should completely do away with words, but maybe choose one or two words to accompany the images you select. Especially for any visual learners in your audience, chiseling your bullet points down to a single icon is a really helpful way for them to absorb information. This also frees up a lot of space in the slide, so you waste less time getting to the point.

A great challenge behind using icons is that it forces you to think about how to represent verbal ideas in a non-verbal way. This kind of challenge is a great exercise in itself because it will make you better able to sum up your presentation without the aid of words. When your slide is mostly image based it also means that your audience will pay more attention to you, because they will be waiting to hear important details from you rather than just copying down the bullet point text you would otherwise be providing them with.

Bullet Point Alternative #6: Create an Infographic or Diagram

Infographics have a special place in my heart. They are such a flexible and brilliant way to convey information (hence the name) and they do so in a manner which is super engaging, not too wordy, and allows for more complex and nuanced relationships between ideas. If you want to really wow your audience with a good presentation design scheme, you should consider creating infographics to be at the heart of your presentation.

One of the most effective aspects of infographics is that you can pretty much craft them to tell any story you want. Unlike bullet points, infographics do not have to be linear. The same is true of diagrams—think of Venn Diagrams or brainstorming bubbles that have overlaps or multiple branches off of a central point. The really unique feature of infographics and diagrams is not only do they rely on a visual way of conveying information as opposed to a purely verbal/written way, but the way in which information is presented is part of the presentation itself. For example, take this infographic about drivers in the USA. You can see how the style of the infographic allows for a comparison of multiple variables simultaneously: teens versus seniors, 1998 versus 2008, and state by state. Imagine trying to present that same information in bullet point form! It would be a complete disaster! So don’t be afraid to get creative and rely on infographics to tell your story when bullet points simply won’t do.

Bullet Point Alternative #7: Condense your Bullets Into a Table or Graph

If you have a particularly data-driven presentation to give, the best alternative to using bullet points is to create a neat table. You can easily import tables or graphs from Excel into PowerPoint, so there is no excuse!

But tables do not just have to be reserved for presentations where you are talking about numbers. It might make sense to ditch bullet points in favor of tables if you are making a comparison of different topics, noting the change in different variables over time, highlighting the before and after of an experiment, or maybe even condensing a list of seven alternatives to bullet points into one simple table instead of writing a whole article about it! You can also rely on graphs instead of bullets for most of the same kind of data, and not necessarily if you have hard, numerical data. Here’s an idea of what that might look like, in case you’re not sure:

Conclusion

Getting rid of bullet points can be a challenging task, but there is no reason you can’t have a great time flexing your creative muscles through the process of using these stylish and savvy alternatives to bullet points on your slides. If you take the presentation path less traveled and rely more on images, negative space, infographics, icons, tables and graphs instead of the traditional bullet points, your presentations will look cutting edge and deliver a powerful impact to your audience.

So, here’s my question for you:

Are there any other methods you use for creating great slides without having to rely on bullet points? Any other styles you use to come up with the perfect slide I missed? Let me know what you think below and please try to be as specific as possible. Sound off in the comments below!

Lastly, do you have a friend that could benefit from learning about these presentation design tips? If so, email them the link to this post.

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  • raymond rose

    Interesting suggestions, but how many of your suggestions ensure that the slides are accessible for people with disabilities? And, if they can be, what needs to be done to ensure that they are accessible?

    • Hi Raymond,

      Thanks for your comment. Not sure I understand your question though. Can you elaborate?

      • raymond rose

        I’m not sure if you’re doing this for the readers or because you didn’t get my comment/question. Accessibility has finally become a more common topic recently. Think digital accessibility. And the number I’ve seen recently is that about 65% of folks need some support for digital accessibility. And more organizations are aware of the need to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to digital content.

        Being narrow and specific, there are folks with a variety of disabilities that use screen reading technologies to “read” digital content. Screen readers can understand bullets (older technology). Using a graphic instead of a bullet without proper labeling for the screen reader, is not making the content accessible.

        One of your suggestions was to make the bullets into a table or graph. If that’s all that is done, that may no longer be information available to someone with a visual disability.

        There are accessibility solutions to every one of your suggestions, but without at a minimum, indicating that there may be some specific actions needed to ensure accessibility, I think you’re doing your followers, and folks with disabilites a disservice, and potentially setting up some folks to violate the ADA.

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