Shoot Those Bullets

By Heather Baldwin

Here’s the exercise: Pull out your most recent sales presentation and delete all the PowerPoint slides that consist entirely of bullet points. Got anything left? For most sales reps, the answer will be no. After all, the terms PowerPoint and bullet point have become practically synonymous. Yet bullet points should be used sparsely and carefully when communicating important ideas, says Rick Altman, host of the PowerPoint Live user conference and author of two books on PowerPoint ( “Time and again, you see people who use PowerPoint but all they’ll do is title, bullet, bullet, bullet,” he says. “Good, complex ideas simply can’t be communicated that way.”

Altman suggests sales reps look at each of their bullet-laden slides and think about whether there’s a better way to illustrate their point. Say, for example, you’ve got a slide addressing posture considerations at the completion of a golf swing and you now list those considerations in bullet format: head level, front shoulder high to promote balance, spine upright or beyond at follow through and so on. Is there a better, more memorable way you could communicate those points?

Sure, says Altman. You could overlay those points on a photo of Tiger Woods at the completion of his swing with each point located near the body part it’s addressing. That’s what one online golf site did, enabling its audience to see what the points look like in practice. While that presentation included all the information, it didn’t guide readers through the points in the desired sequential order. So the golf site, working with Altman, took the presentation one step further. In the new version, the animated points appear sequentially in the order the instructor wants the audience to view them. Now, says Altman, the slide is visually appealing and communicates its message in a way that’s memorable – a far cry from a page or two of bullet points.

“If there’s a way to communicate an idea without bullets, you’re better for it,” says Altman. “Bullets are tired and tedious. They’re a cliché. They’re fine for an agenda, but when it comes to the items on that agenda, think about how you can illustrate your point without bullets.” Your audience will not only thank you for the relief from another bulleted presentation, they’ll actually remember your presentation.