Presentations and Bullet Points

WRITTEN October 27, 2022 Author: Patricia McCormack


Putting together a presentation means figuring out how to communicate your ideas to your audience in a way that is easily understood as well as interesting.

The standard presentation tools today are KeynoteGoogle Slides, and of course PowerPoint. Great, got that, but now it is time to make slides that are interesting, yet easy to understand.

It is important to remember that a good presentation is a combination of the spoken word from the presenter with visual aids. Notice, we didn’t say anything about the written word. Stay away from large blocks of text. Paragraphs on a slide are hard to read and are very distracting to your audience. 

The most common way to clearly present a textual visual aid is using bullet points. But there are a few rules to remember when using bullets:


A bullet item is there to convey an idea, a key point. It should be short, think headline. 

There should not be paragraphs for the bullet, not even a full sentence. The more text you have up there, the more your audience will read it, and not listen to you. Just having the key idea also makes the presenter explain the idea, instead of reading out loud what is on the screen.


The #1 rule for formatting a bulleted list is to be consistent. This means that:

  • Start each bullet point with either a verb or a noun – a verb tells people what to do, it is more powerful.
  • Use the same tense for each verb – the most effective is the present tense, keeping it active.
  • 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.
  • Punctuate? If you write a full sentence use punctuation. If it is not a full sentence, do not. But a list must be consistent, do not mix and match.


The 5 X 5 rule was created to keep the amount of information in each bullet point tight, and keep the slide from looking cluttered. It states that each slide should have no more than five bullet points and each bullet point should have no more than five words. This is not a strict rule, obviously there may be times you need more than five words, but it is a good guide to help keep slides clean and concise.


Our society is very visual. Audiences may lose interest if they see nothing but a list of bullet points, slide after slide. Mix it up:

  • Use an icon instead of a bullet, it can represent what each bullet talks about. 
  • Create an infographic to give a new layout to your data. There are online tools at Canva, Visme, and Piktochart that can help with this daunting task.
  • Use the Design Style tool available in PowerPoint to convert a bulleted list to a row of colored boxes or circles. 

Make your presentation pop! The slides are your visual aid, so making them interesting will benefit you and your audience. Instead of tons of text, use bullet points to be precise to highlight the key points. Keep the 6 x 6 rule in mind to keep the clutter down. Remember to vary the types of slides in a deck. Use icons, boxes, pictures, charts, quotes, maybe even short video clips – and help your audience to learn something from you.

This information is discussed in our Presentation Skills classes. If you’re looking for ways to improve your communication skills, register for one of our public classes.
Image by Paul Hudson on Flickr

Other Resources:

So You Must Use Bullet Points

Create Alternatives to Bullet Points (video)

How to Properly Use Bullet Points in Your Presentation – Visme

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