Slide makeover: 5 steps to replace boring bullets with audience awe

During your professional life, you’ve no doubt seen more slides with bullet lists on them than any other type of slide. The problem is, so have your audiences, too.

You can’t inspire a disengaged audience…

Because audiences see wordy bullet lists a lot, they’re disengaged by them instantly. And, despite your best efforts, you can’t inspire a disengaged audience to act on what you say!

So how can you use fewer bullet lists? Let’s work through an example to see what you could do instead, using this bullet-filled slide as a starting point:

original bullet-point slide

This is what the slide will look like when you finish the makeover:

bullet-point slide makeover - labels

And here are the 5 steps you can use to complete that overhaul:

  1. Reword each bullet point as a short phrase. For instance, you might reword the original slide this way:

    Original bullet points Reworded to short phrases
    To ensure that you or someone in your team takes responsibility for on-boarding any new starters that you have in the UK On-board your new hires
    To allocate a “buddy” to every new starter and ensure they are aware of this and their role Brief a “buddy”
    To ensure your new starter has everything they need to do their job successfully Support them
    To be available and make time for your new starter and give them any support they need Make time
    To ensure individual objectives are agreed for the remainder of the year Agree goals
    To ensure that the 90 day on-boarding plan is completed for every new starter Oversee 90-day plan

    If you’re worried that you might forget what you meant to say, see these concrete tips and screenshots of “secret” PowerPoint features that let you avoid that fate.


  3. On a new slide, insert a full-screen photo that evokes an appropriate emotion. For instance, for the sample bullet list about employee on-boarding, you might use the metaphor of preparing to launch new hires to new heights:

    picture slide

    If you’re wondering, I got the photo from Pixabay, which means it can be used freely and without attribution – even for commercial projects.


  5. Add a large shape to represent each bullet, and neatly arrange them on your slide. (You can use the Align and Distribute commands to do that far more quickly than by other means. If you’d like to see how, please leave a comment and I’ll share the details.)
    So for the 6 bullets above, at this stage you might have a slide that looks like this:

    bullet-point slide makeover - shapes

  6. Label each shape using your short phrases:
    bullet-point slide makeover - labels

  7. Lastly, subtly animate the shapes so they quickly fade in 1-by-1 as you click. (To do that, use the Custom Animation button on the Animations tab. Again, if you’d like more details, just let me know.)

    That way, people stay “tuned in” to what you’re saying, instead of reading ahead – or zoning out!

    To your audience, your first 3 clicks might look something like this:

    Animation showing caption shapes appearing one at a time, in a novel order

    (By the way, as shown above, it’s best to reveal the shapes in a novel order, rather than top-to-bottom or left-to-right. So in this instance, the shapes alternate between the top and bottom ½ of the slide. That keeps your audience even more attentive, as they’ll try to guess what you’ll do next!)

Having read those 5 steps, you might be thinking to yourself:

“Hold on! Isn’t all that much more work than just typing a bullet list?”

The answer to that question’s simple:

“Yes, it’s certainly more work!”

And that’s why roughly 99% of presenters won’t do it. Which means if you put in the effort, you can be the 1 presenter in 100 that people notice, listen to, and love!

One of my favourite quotes from Nancy Duarte springs to mind:

“We work in a first-draft culture. Type an e-mail. Send.
Write a blog entry. Post. Whip up some slides. Speak.
But it’s in crafting and recrafting – in iteration and
rehearsal – that excellence emerges.”
Nancy Duarte

Too right, Nancy!

Your turn

Have you tried an approach like this to replace bullet points? Whether you have or haven’t, please let me know your thoughts or questions.

Other options

Check out these posts too, which give you many other visually appealing options:

Related posts


8 thoughts on “Slide makeover: 5 steps to replace boring bullets with audience awe

  1. Hi Craig, for maybe the first time ever, I find myself possibly disagreeing with you regarding the reveal ordering. If I were in the audience, the thing that would keep going through my mind – because I am this type of person – would be to try and figure out if there was significance in the order the bullet points are being revealed. After awhile I’d probably come to the conclusion that there was no significance, but then I would think about that. In other words, it would distract me from paying attention to the content being presented. It might not impact other people the same way. But for people like me, I think it would. I find my mind wandering off on rabbit trails like that.

    BTW I love your Craig Valentine quote in the comment above. He is a mentor and a friend – not a close friend, but he knows me – and I love the way he sometimes phrases that: “when everything sticks out, nothing sticks out!” Regarding the somewhat OCD behavior above, Craig V would ask me at this point: “Are you an engineer?”, to which the answer would be “yes”. 🙂


    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Gary. And I’m actually glad we disagree on this, as that keeps things more interesting and thought-provoking!

      I take your point about being distracted. It’s tough being a speaker, because we risk causing either distraction (when we show points in an unpredictable order) or disinterest (when we show them in a predictable order).

      Although distracting some people isn’t ideal of course, at least that way they’re stimulated by the presentation! So, to me, it’s better to risk distraction than to risk putting people to sleep by being predictable.

      When it comes to presenting, I suppose it’s always a case of “each to their own way”.


      • Fair enough. And even if I don’t totally agree, I’m happy to hear your approach. I could see myself picking that up some time, especially if I want people to wonder a little!


  2. I do this all the time and usually use SmartArt to get the shapes. It’s pretty quick and you can ungroup them (twice) when you’re done to get full flexibility. I’ve never heard of animating in the shapes in an unusual order, though. Very interesting!


    • Thanks for kicking off the conversation Ellen!

      SmartArt’s a great way to go, and if you shorten each bullet point on the slide itself (in step 1 above), as you know you can then just right-click the bullet list and choose Convert to SmartArt.

      If I want to put the shapes into a straight line or rectangular grid (rather than a circle or similar), nowadays I usually insert a shape from the ribbon and then press Ctrl+D a few times to duplicate it. Like you’ve done too, no doubt, I’ve added the Align and Distribute commands to the Quick Access Toolbar to reduce clicks, which makes laying out the shapes very fast.

      About animating the shapes in a novel order, if several slides had lists of objects fading in 1-by-1, I’d likely use a conventional order on some of the slides. After all, to paraphrase Craig Valentine, “When you’re always unpredictable, you’re no longer unpredictable!”


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