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Anyone who has seen me speak about slide design knows that I have a healthy distaste for text-heavy PowerPoint slides or key points listed in bullet form. The mind sees each letter in a word as a separate element. Therefore text-heavy slides will look like a bunch of elements making the message on the screen difficult to process by the audience. When designing a presentations slides I recommend finding alternatives to using bullet points. There are times for whatever reason, you cannot avoid it, so you must use bullet points.

So, you must use bullet points?

Every now and then I come across a situation where bullet points seem to be one of the only options on particular slides (there I said it). More commonly there is no time to overhaul the entire presentation to remove the bullet point slides. Before you think that I am caving in to the bullet point enthusiasts (if there is such a person) I do think that we should try and avoid them wherever possible.

There are ways that you can display points in bullet form without making the slide distracting or messy. Presenters who are putting their slides together (usually at the last minute) assume that each bullet point must be displayed on the slide at once. This practice will confuse the audience and have them reading ahead of you.

So let’s take a look at some ways to help make each bullet point count.

Bring Your Bullet Points In One At A Time

The first thing we really need to do is bring each point one at a time as it is being presented. This way the audience will not read ahead and can remain on the point. There are a couple of ways to do this. One is to build in each point and the other is to simply duplicate the slides and remove points not relevant to what is being presented at the time.

How to do this:

– Get the slide ready with the bullet points listed.
– Duplicate the slide by the number of points.
– On the first slide take out all the points except for the first one.
– On the second slide take out all the points except for the first two.
– Place a shape with the colour fill the same as the slide background (no border) over the first point.
– Increase the opacity of the shape until the first point is just visible.
– Continue the process with all the points and adjusting the shape so that only the relevant point is clearly displayed.

Again it is about keeping each slide simple with a minimal amount of objects on the slide. This will help keep your audience engaged on the topic.

Use The Principle of Visual Hierarchy 

Using the principle of visual hierarchy we are able to direct the audiences focus to a certain element, area or point on our slide. Janie Kliever has written an excellent blog post on visual hierarchy where she explains some of the principles in detail for all types of applications. Making use of colour, contrast and typography to make elements on our slide stand out from the busyness of the bullet point slide will help direct the audience attention to the point we are speaking about at the time. Below I have outlined a couple of ways that we can use some of the principles of visual hierarchy on bullet point slides.

Fade Out Non Relevant Bullet Points

To make our point stand out we can simply fade out everything that is irrelevant. This can be simply done simply by changing the font to a lighter colour. Another way to do this is place a semi-transparent shape over the areas that are irrelevant to what is being spoken about at the time. By default, the one point we want the audience to focus on will stand out.


Change Colour, Size or Style of Individual Bullet Points

Another way to make our point stand out and therefore more effective is to simply change the colour, size or style of the point that is to be the focus. The method is to then simply change the font style to make it stand out from the rest of the points. Change the colour (to a colour in our palette), making it bigger, bolder, italic, underline or even using a completely different font.



Place a Shape Behind The point

One of my favourite ways to make elements stand out is with the use of shapes. Shapes can be used in many creative ways to direct the focus of the audience to an element on our slide. Using shapes to highlight a bullet point is no different. One of the simplest ways is to simply place a coloured shape behind the point. The font style and colour may need to be changed to make it really stand out as the example below shows.


Use A Combination

In this blog post, I have outlined individual ways that bullet points can be made more effective by changing the style of both relevant and irrelevant points to direct focus on what is being spoken about at the time. There are many ways that points can be highlighted including the ways I have outlined or by using a combination of methods to really make the point stand out.

Limited By Imagination

Like all slide design principles and methods ways to highlight points and direct focus to elements on presentation slides is limited by our imagination. I have just listed a few very simple methods but I am very interested in ways that you may have used in your PowerPoint or Keynote presentations.


Richard Hansen

Richard Hansen

Founder of Impact Presentations

Richard is a professional MC, presentation designer and coach and founder of Impact Presentations.

He is happily married with 3 children and currently lives on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland in Queensland, Australia.

Loves trekking, camping, coffee and generally hanging out with friends and trying new experiences.

Richard’s personal website can be viewed here……