How to dodge bullet (points)

Creating sparkling business presentations requires us to go beyond just the graphics and visuals.


Rajat Mishra

Building presentations

Building presentations


Rajat Mishra

3 minutes

The ubiquitous bullet points

More than 30 million presentations are made every day and more than 90% of them are slide after slide of bullet points. Why is that?

Bullet points are the easiest and fastest way to create content in presentation software. They are also a natural extension of long-form (document) communication.

But bullet points suck!

The common argument (Garr Reynolds) against bullet points is that they are not visual. And since we are visual learners bullet points are easy to forget. Which is true, but not the whole truth!

The hidden issue

Another insidious, less obvious problem with bullet points is logical. When our brains notice the bullet point layout, we assume it is one of two logical arguments: Inclusion or Sequence.

  • Inclusion: all bullet points are part of one logical category. (E.g., Seven wonders of the world, Policies in a state program, results of a financial quarter)
  • Sequence: all bullet points are in order (E.g., seven steps to cook a recipe, chronological events that led to WWI)

However, we confuse our brains by incorrectly using bullet points to communicate other logical arguments. Here's an example:


This issue with the slide above is that the brain processes the bullet point layout as all four points live in the same category or in sequence. Neither is the case here.

The first three bullets are supporting points. And the last bullet is the main outcome or effect that the first three bullet points helped with.

Causality is the right logical argument here. And tthe bullet points layout conflicts with it.

The meaning would become clearer if we used a layout more conducive to causality. In the picture below, it becomes easier for the brain to process that the first three bullet points lead to the outcome on the right.

How to dodge bullets?

So, creating sparkling business presentations requires us to go beyond graphics and visuals. We must think about the logical argument or meaning we are trying to communicate. And choose the right layout that goes with the argument.

If it is inclusion or sequence, then bullet points work great. If you are trying to communicate a different logical argument (e.g., causality, convergence), you must dodge bullets!