Bullets Are Killing Your Presentation

One of the cardinal sins of presenting is also one of the most (mis)used presentation strategies. Say it with me now, “Bullet Note Script.”

We’ve all suffered through one of these – the presenter has somehow confused the purpose of his slides and that of his notecards, and suddenly we are forced to read the exact words coming out of his mouth. This sensory stereo effect causes glossy eyes and wandering thoughts.

But why? Shouldn’t giving the audience the same information in as many ways as possible maximize their retention?

The reason lies in how the brain processes the information it receives. Incoming information is processed in one of two major places: the auditory cortex and the visual cortex.

The auditory cortex processes language, both spoken and written, while the visual cortex processes images. Although the visual cortex is perfunctorily involved in the processing of the letters into words, during a bullet note presentation it is largely lying dormant while the auditory cortex is being overloaded.

Now instead of appealing to two centers of processing in the brain, the presenter is not reaching either one effectively. Using slides as true visual aids, images that accompany audible language, better pings both processing cortices.

Take the below examples. The first is a typical bullet point slide. There are several things wrong with slides of this nature, though I’ve seen them used by some of the best corporate lawyers around. Full sentences, colloquialisms, small text, LOTS of text, redundant information. Mind-numbing.


Here’s a slightly improved version. Sentences have been shorted into true bullet points. An appropriate image accompanies the text. The slide is now more visually interesting and demands less attention from the auditory cortex’s language processing systems.


A further improved version becomes a true “aid” in that it supports the speaker’s words and arguments, rather than repeating them. This slide speaks directly to the visual cortex and frees up the auditory cortex to focus on the speaker.


It is widely accepted that presenting information both visually and audibly drastically increases attention, persuasion and retention. The bullet note script presentation is the exception to the rule. Avoid bombarding the auditory cortex with simultaneous audible and written language and engage the visual cortex with succinct, high quality graphics in order to best engage your audience.


16 thoughts on “Bullets Are Killing Your Presentation

  1. Jason Barnes

    Bethany, I like the final version quite a bit. The addition of the emotion-triggering photograph brings a dramatic increase in the power of the visual. What are your thoughts on how the viewer/listener may or may not switch between an emotional response (the tiger picture) and an intellectual response (the graph)? Also, though the photograph is powerful, I also appreciate the impact of the callout “Extinct by 2050” as an excellent way to state the meaning of the graph in plain terms. It dovetails nicely with the title.

    1. Bethany Auck | SlideRabbit Post author

      Thanks Jason! I’ve posted before about the affect of emotions on memory and recall, so I believe that combining a strong visual message (the declining graph) with the emotion-triggering picture of an amazing and beautiful Tiger would only increase the the power of the slide.

  2. ric dexter

    Great article Bethany
    I’ve heard your point presented less effectively by others using far too many words.
    Although the specific (very cool) graphic is not the point of the article I’ll follow on what Jason has asked. For both visual and emotional impact I would save the Tiger pic and “Extinct by 2050” and have it fade onto the screen as counsel is saying “If nothing is done tigers …” The intellectual process gets them to a point and the emotional response imprints that point.

      1. ric dexter

        Right, nothing belongs on a slide without a reason for being there. Eye Candy, pointless ornamentation, and “wow” are not reasons. A slide is perforce two dimensional, a third dimension can be simulated, and a fourth dimension (not just time, but timing) both have to be used within the context of the message.

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