Why Board Members Should Ban Bullets

The boards of directors of every organization should immediately ban the use of bullet points on PowerPoint screens, if they accept these research findings:

28_3Adding 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:

  1. If bullet points on PowerPoint screens harm the ability of employees to remember information, what is the total impact on organizational productivity?
  2. If the bullet point approach harms the ability of customers to apply information, what is the impact on organizational profitability?
  3. 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.

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16 Responses to “Why Board Members Should Ban Bullets”

  1. Ban Bullets

    I’ve written before about how most powerpoint presentations are miserable and gave some specific suggestions on how to make them better if you are presenting to me (or any other VC).  I read today on Cliff Atkinson’s blog tha…

  2. metacool says:

    Creatiing Cool Stuff with Storytelling, part 3

    I’ve always worked in product development.

  3. Banning bullet points

    This article is trial to write in English to send a trackback to a weblog in English. After the article in English, I’ll place the same article in Japanes. So if you want to read it in Japanese, please scroll…

  4. Why Board Members Should Ban Bullets

    Why Board Members Should Ban Bullets: The boards of directors of every organization should immediately ban the use of bullet points on PowerPoint screens, if they accept these research findings… Oops, looks like I gotta watch my presentation habits….

  5. When text hampers communication

    Last year I gave my first conference presentation. It was also a first in another way, because it was the first time I had given a presentation that was really well-rehearsed, had gone through successive drafts, and had a structure that had been picked…

  6. Presentation: More Text == Less Retention

  7. Presentation: More Text == Less Retention

  8. PowerPoint Bullets are Bad

    Link: beyond bullets: Why Board Members Should Ban Bullets. 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

  9. Jim Logan says:

    I agree with the statement above.

    Bullets aren’t the problem; it’s their use that degrades their effectiveness. Bullet points should be use to convey the central theme and point you want to make, not used as notes to the speaker on what to say.

    I believe proper use of bullets can actually increase the effectiveness of a presentation and boost retention of your central themes in presenting.

  10. Dave Rogers says:

    I wholly agree with Jim. Bullet points and text are not the problem. To coin a phrase, “It’s the content, stupid!”

    It has long been known in the training profession that multimedia text that merely parrots the presenter or narrator is ineffective. Bullets can powerfully rephrase, summarize or even expand points in narration–thus enhancing learner retention.

  11. Cliff says:

    Great comments. Is anyone aware of any specific research that indicates that bullet points increase retention or transfer of information? I’ve been searching high and low for research related to the use of bullets in multimedia presentations, but haven’t found any yet. Perhaps those of you in training or instructional design have come across some?

  12. .pmblog says:

    Why Board Members Should Ban Bullets

    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 harm…

  13. b.cognosco says:

    Bullets — the Leading Cause of Presentation Death

    Thanks to Frank Patrick

  14. David Wilcox says:

    If bullets are failing, re-write the script

    Presentations loaded with bullet points can deaden small meetings as well as conferences, and easily foster misunderstanding. Writing a script for the different participants may be a better way of getting inside people’s heads.

  15. David Wilcox says:

    If bullets are failing, re-write the script

    Presentations loaded with bullet points can deaden small meetings as well as conferences, and easily foster misunderstanding. Writing a script for the different participants may be a better way of getting inside people’s heads.

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