The boards of directors of every organization should immediately ban the use of bullet points on PowerPoint screens, if they accept these research findings:
Adding text to a screen in a multimedia presentation that is identical to the narration harms the ability of the audience to understand the information. Removing the text increases retention, or the ability to remember the information, by 28%. Even more significantly, removing the text increases transfer, or the ability to apply the information, by 79%.
This is according to research by the most prolific researcher in the field of educational psychology, Dr. Richard E. Mayer, in his book Multimedia Learning. If you’re interested in the research behind the data, I highly recommend you buy a copy of his book.
If this research finding is not front-cover material for business magazines and newspaper sections, it should be. Few technologies affect so many people’s lives so profoundly as PowerPoint, yet its impact is ignored by mainstream business publications. This massive organizational problem is staring us all in the face on presentation screens everywhere, yet no one is saying a word about it.
This is what every business journalist should be asking about the situation:
- If bullet points on PowerPoint screens harm the ability of employees to remember information, what is the total impact on organizational productivity?
- If the bullet point approach harms the ability of customers to apply information, what is the impact on organizational profitability?
- If the impact on productivity and profitability is significant, what are the boards of directors of organizations doing about it?
Until now, we’ve been accepting a host of reasons for not questioning the bullet point approach: It’s easy for me. It helps me remember what I want to say. Everybody else does it. Because that’s the way the template is set up.
In the face of research, and in the harsh light of business analysis, these reasons no longer align with the strategy of organizations who hold productivity and profitability important.
Tip: If you’re running into resistance as you move your own presentations beyond bullet points, share the research findings described above with your co-workers. Try some of the techniques described in this weblog, and present a ‘before and after’ comparison of the old bullet-point approach and a new way. It’s most likely that people will not be willing to change until they see an alternative, and if you’re the first to present one in your organization, you can lead the way to quantifiably clearer communications.