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Professional looking slides are as important to a presentation as on-message content and a compelling story. But what do you do when you’re staring down slide after slide of bullet points?
First, let’s remember that the point of a slide is to create a visual backdrop for your presentation. You and your story are the focus, not your slides. Text-heavy eye charts should be avoided at all costs.
Yes, I know, there are times when you just can’t avoid bullet points. In these instances, present them as cleanly and attractively as possible so as not to distract your audience from your carefully prepared delivery.
My first piece of advice when working with a slide of bullet points is to look for groupings of like-minded items and to think beyond the vertical.
1) Reorganize copy and make better use of space
The simplest thing you can do to improve the look of your bulleted slide and make it more easily digestible for the viewer, is to organize your copy into sections. If you’re a visual thinker, you’ve already done this in your outline but if not, you may need to tweak the copy.
When presenting your copy in sections, ensure your headings and bullet points are consistent; don’t mix and match sentence structures. Always start each point with the same part of speech – if one is a fragment, they should all be fragments, if one is a question, they should all be questions. Doing anything else distracts the viewer.
Use the entire space of the slide. Don’t stack things vertically with endless bullets and sub-bullets – use the whole length of the slide.
This type of treatment is ideal for times when a deck is being sent to someone as opposed to presented it in person.
2) Add icons
My second piece of advice is to incorporate graphical elements into your slide. There are many ways to do this.
Incorporating icons that illustrate your copy is one way to add visual interest to a slide of bullet points. Finding these icons can be a time-consuming process but one that is typically worth the effort to help give your slide more life.
According to the Social Science Research Network, 65 percent of the population are visual learners so adding a graphical element can be a powerful learning tool to help people better digest and remember your content. Color adds even more visual interest and kicks things up a notch – we used subtle gradients in this example.
3) Use stock photography
Using stock is currently frowned upon – most people are tired of the clichés, clip art, and poor use of bad imagery. But incorporating small, simple, well-taken shots to support bulleted text in a consistent way with lots of white space is still an effective way to turn a bullet-ridden slide into something more digestible.
Remember that you should never download any old image off of the web as there will invariably be copyright issues. Instead, sign up to a few stock imagery sites such as EveryStockPhoto and Unsplash (both free sites), as well as Adobe Stock and Shutterstock (both subscription models).
4) Use an image as a backdrop
Using an interesting, relevant, and simple image in your slide of bullet points is another way to add visual interest. Of course, the image must relate to all of your bullet points and be super simple. You don’t want a busy, complicated backdrop to draw people’s attention away from the main point of the slide. Your image should support your message, not interfere with it.
You have to be careful to keep the copy readable when using this treatment. Finding an image that is simple enough to support a lot of copy is tricky, which is why we put the copy in this example on flat-colored boxes. (We also used their sizes to illustrate the different percentages in the copy.)
You can also use a stock image with a lot of white space. In this second example, we simply placed our copy on the image. There are quite a number of stock photos out there that can be used in this way; you just have to spend some time looking for them.
5) Replace bullets with imagery
If you’re staring down a page-full of bulleted text, there’s always the chance that you can turn those bullets into a number of different images. If you can, it’s very important to find simple images that work well with each other. For instance, they should all have the same base color – typically yellow or blue. In this example, the base color is blue, much of it on the periwinkle side. (One image also includes some yellow to add a pop of color, otherwise this collage might have looked too monochromatic.)
Also important: do not create a slide with a floating bunch of images – they need to be anchored. Following a grid as we did in this example can help tie everything together and make the images more “readable”.
6) Play with the title
Another suggestion when working with slide of bullet points is to create a graphical element out of some of the copy. If you’ve got a title, a list and not much else, consider turning the title into a graphical element.
Don’t go over the top here – stick to one font family, a couple of sizes, and maybe a couple of colors. In this example, we’ve used a black background – the rest of the presentation uses white – and reversed the copy. This is a great way to create a simple yet striking slide that stands out from the rest.
The one thing to remember when you create a striking slide like this, is that in order to be effective, it needs to stand out in your presentation – which means using this sort of dramatic treatment sparingly. If every second slide looks like this, the treatment will lose its impact.
My last piece of advice when battling with bullets is to use your judgement. Try to play with one or two treatments – don’t use them all in one presentation. Stick to a theme. Make sure your slides are still on brand – which includes messaging. Don’t feel bad if you really can’t tame those bullets into a perfect design. Using parallel structure in your wording, ensuring consistency in your template, and applying thoughtfulness to your content will still go a long way.