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Bullets Kill

From Dr. John Windmueller’s blog.

It’s so true. Bullets kill. Kill your presentation, that is.

This summer I’m teaching a grad course in organizational dispute resolution, and organized as a seminar, student presentations make up the backbone of class.

Do you think there are lots of powerpoint presentations?
Yes, yes there are.

But that doesn’t mean the presentations get dull and repetitive, because (a) our students are terrific and (b) there’s an explicit ban against “death by powerpoint.” If your conflict resolution presentations are chock-full of bullet points riddled slides, just stop it. Seriously. The whole point of having slides is that we learn more from well constructed multi-media presentations than we do from material presented just orally. And no, slides crammed full of the same text you’re speaking doesn’t really cut it as hitting that multi-media cognitive sweet spot.

Moreover, bullet-point lists are the worst sorts text. They can’t show complex relationships and dynamics. But do the conflicts and concepts we’re trying to describe have complex relationships and dynamics? Yes, yes they do. So, again, if you’re using long lists of bullets, then stop it. Your ideas are more complex and nuanced than any 2-level hierarchal list can convey.

Finally, let’s all agree that the whole point of slides is not for you to project your speaking notes onto a big screen located behind you. Face-to-face time is rare and precious. If you’re just, for all intensive purposes, reading or only mildly elaborating on the text of your slides, then you’re not really adding much value to things, are you? Yuck. My rule of thumb is that if someone can flip through my slides and get most or all of the points I’m making, then I’m really being lazy and uncreative.

So, there you have it. Bullets kills. So, stop using them, or at least use them less, and knock ‘em dead.

(And, if you’d like a wonderful discussion of the dumbing down inherit in many power point presentations, let me suggest Tufte’s The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint.)


John Windmueller

Dr. John Windmueller I’m an Assistant Professor at the University of Baltimore’s Center for Negotiations and Conflict Management. My Ph.D. is in Conflict Analysis & Resolution (George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution) and my MA and BA degrees are in International Affairs (Florida State University). Prior to… MORE >

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