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From the desk of Steve Lowell, Master Speaker and Mentor to those who speak in public.

Preparing For a Powerful Delivery

Avoid Bullet Points Like the Plague

In his book, Beyond Bullet Points, Cliff Atkinson provides the best explanation I’ve ever read as to why bullet points can kill your presentation. He explains that when an audience is watching a presentation, there are two basic tracks of information going into their brain. There’s a visual track, and there’s an audio track. To maximize the impact of the information for the audience, both tracks should be used.

You’d think using bullet points makes sense then, because when you’re speaking and you’ve got a slide with bullet points on it, you’re providing both the audio track (your speaking) and the visual track (your slides). But there’s a problem with that conclusion. When your audience is reading words, they’re not using the visual track; they’re using the audio track.

That sounds very strange. How can they be using the audio track when they’re reading the words?  Because, when we humans read words, our brain translates those words into sounds so we can place them into the context of language. This means that as you’re delivering your speech, your audience is reading the words on the slides at the same time, and since both the verbal words and the written words are using the same audio track, then the visual track isn’t being used.

Furthermore, our brain doesn’t process verbal words and written words at the same speed. When reading words, the neural processing is much slower, because our brain has to translate those words into sound. Verbal input doesn’t have to be translated. So, we end up with two flows of information coming through the audio track at different speeds. This dilutes the learning process for your audience.

The net result is that your audience is trying to both listen to your words and to read your bullet points, which means the impact of both is reduced.

So, what’s the lesson? Avoid the use of bullet points if at all possible.

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