This one is from a few years back – a lecturer in a teacher training college asked us to look at his presentations following some very direct feedback from the student body. It was standard, soporific, headlines-and-bullet-points stuff, guaranteed to render any audience unconscious in minutes. A sample:
Pretty awful, but nothing we haven’t all seen a thousand times before:
  • Slide overloaded with text.
  • Entire sentences up there, slavishly read out by the presenter.
  • All the elements displayed at once, so the audience is guaranteed to read ahead.
  • In short – a slide that is entirely for the presenter’s benefit, not at all for the audience’s.
And the whole lecture series was composed of slides like this. This was not a malicious, or even a lazy act by the lecturer. It had genuinely never occurred to him that his slides were this bad – after all, he had been using them without complaint for years, and he saw slides exactly like this every day, displayed both by colleagues and by his students. He liked the visual version of his material that we produced (we animated each of the three concepts to appear onscreen individually, in time with his talk):
His only concern was that, while he was intimately familiar with all the material in his lectures, he was used to having the ‘crutch’ of his verbiage up onscreen to refer to during his talks. We solved this by dropping the text of his bullet points (there had been an average of 3,000 words onscreen per lecture) into the notes section of his PowerPoint and showing him how to use Presenter Tools when he was lecturing. This had the added benefit of providing him with student-friendly handouts to put up on the server.
Are you still having endless streams of bullet points inflicted on you in your working life? Perhaps you are the one doing the inflicting? Why? Why are bullet-heavy slides like this still so prevalent? I was doing a look-see for a big law firm recently and their material was even worse than this – logos on every slide, page numbering, pointless floating elements, and lengthy paragraphs of text on every slide, rendering the presenter more or less superfluous. When I gently (I was gentle – honest!) asked them why they were so vested in this style of presentation they said:
  • This is what everyone else is doing – it’s the industry norm.
  • We need lots of text on there for when we hand out the presentation after the talk.

If you are reading this blog, it is likely that you disagree with both of the defensive statements above. How would you disabuse them of these notions? Would the solutions I presented above work for a law firm? How would you get them to change? What would you say to them?