How to Write Powerful Bullet Points

If you have sat through too many presentations where the presenter read the full text of their slides, you have probably wondered, “How can I avoid droning on and on and focus on just the key information that my audience needs?”  One part of the answer is to create bullet points that you can expand upon.  When using bullet points on a presentation slide, there are some key ideas that you should keep in mind.

A Bullet Point is Not a Sentence
Too many times a presenter puts an entire sentence as a bullet point. This defeats the entire purpose of the bullet point, which is to convey the key point only. It also tends to lead to the presenter reading each bullet point. If you plan to just read each bullet point, save the audience the time by just e-mailing them your slides and they can read the points on their own.

Reveal the Key Idea Only
A bullet point is supposed to be a short summation of the key point that you want to make. It should not reveal all you know about the idea, or there is nothing left for you to say. For each idea you want to convey, consider what the key point is and put that as a bullet point. Then add to the bullet point by the words that you speak during the presentation.

Use a Consistent Style
When using bullet points, make sure that they have a consistent style. This means that:

  • start each bullet point with either a verb or a noun – a verb is more action oriented and is usually preferred
  • use the same tense for each verb – the most common is the present tense with the past tense being the next most common
  • capitalize each bullet point the same way – usually the first letter of the first word is capitalized and the rest of the words are in lower case unless it is a proper name

Observe the 6 by 6 Guideline
In order to keep the amount of information in each bullet point concise and to keep the slide from looking cluttered, you should keep the six by six guideline in mind. It states that each slide should aim to have no more than six bullet points and each bullet point should aim to have no more than six words. I would not consider this to be a strict rule, but it is a good guideline that will keep your slides clean and concise.

Know When NOT to use Bullet Points
Increasingly, audiences are turned off by slides that contain nothing but a list of bullet points slide after slide.  They are asking “What is relevant here for me to know in order to make a decision in my business?”  Make sure you are also using visuals to convey the key points of your message.  Visuals can be graphs, diagrams, pictures, videos or combinations of the above.  If you want to know how to create persuasive PowerPoint visuals, check out my books Present It So They Get It and Select Effective Visuals.

By keeping these ideas in mind, the bullet points on your next presentation slides can add even more power to your presentation.  If you want more ideas on communicating effectively when using PowerPoint, sign up for the free seven day PowerPoint Effectiveness e-course and newsletter by filling in your name and e-mail address on the right.

Additional resources for creating effective bullet points:

If you deliver financial presentations, instead of bullet points and spreadsheets, check out this slideshare.

Did you find this article helpful?  If so, click here to check out some great learning tools to help even more or click here to find out how Dave’s seminars and workshops can help your organization spend less time in meetings where the presentations don’t relay the critical information required for quick decisions to be made.

By Dave Paradi

Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don't overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 4.8 million times and liked over 17,000 times on YouTube.