Being Consistent with Presentation Bullet Points

The structure of your bullet points should be consistent. Here are a few rules I like to adopt.

First, decide whether you will be using capitals or not. Having bullet points starting with a mixture of uppercase or lowercase words creates an impression that the slide is not finished and only in draft.

Second, try and get the first words to be consistent with respect to whether it is a verb or noun. If you start your first bullet with ‘Development of a solution…’ then use ‘Creation of a process…’ and avoid ‘Creating…’ for example.

Third, as a rule I would strongly suggest that you do not add fullstops at the end of any bullet points – or indeed a paragraph. Save you full stops for the end of a sentence within a passage of writing. The same rule should apply for colons and semi-colons too.

Whilst of course grammatically correct, the punctuation will clutter the slides and make them more difficult to read. It is worth checking the whole presentation to ensure that they have not crept in as you have assembled your work. In particular look out for them when you are copying snippets in from other documents.

If, for a style reason, you do want to include them make sure that they are used consistently throughout the presentation. Having an inconsistent approach will suggest a presentation that has been assembled by more than one person or perhaps a ‘cut and paste job’.

When adding bullets or numbering I like to create a space between the bullet/number and the first word. It makes the line easier to read and it will look better on the page. Do not just add spaces with the space bar. It’s best to learn how to use tabs and indents. There are plenty of guides on the internet just search for ‘powerpoint adding indents and tabs’ or visit the following links.


Name Each Presentation Slide to Engage your Audience

A simple technique I learnt early on in my career to help a presentation flow and create a conversation with your audience is name each presentation slide. You will have three things to remember an say about each slide as you present it – the strap line, the content and the link to the next slide.

When you start to describe the content of the slide you can begin by naming it. Don’t make in too complicated and try to use a name that is associated with the context, theme or perhaps the shapes on the slide. Here are a few examples so that you get the hang of what I mean – ‘bubble slide’, ‘three squares’, ‘wheel of fortune’, ‘process spaghetti’, ‘inputs, outputs and outcomes’, etc.

Keep using the slide name making reference when to it as you build your story with words, diagrams and text. If you are asked questions at the end of the presentations try to bring the name into the answer. The more you use it the more people will remember the slide and of course your presentation.

If you are really bold you can invite your audience to join in with the appreciations of your lovely ‘clouds and arrows’ slide!

8 Tips to Help You Get The Most From Your Presentation Practice and Preparation


How much you practice your presentation before the big day is a matter of personal preference. We have probably all heard of the phrase ‘over practiced’ but this depends on you as a person. Here are a few thoughts on how to get the most from preparation and practice.

1 Create a style for the presentation and agree with yourself what the underlying theme is that you want to deliver both in terms of the presentation and you as a person. For example, the presentation may convey some deep analysis and facts and your personal style may be one of ‘trust me I understand what this means and what it doesn’t mean’. The presentation may show targets and objectives and your personal style may be upbeat and motivational.  They don’t have to be different or conflicting and your slides and personal style maybe be ‘chatty and engaging’ or ‘serious and telling’.  Knowing your audience and how they may receive these styles is essential.

2 Avoid making too many changes to your slides as you practice. It is very easy to start to make major structural changes or tinkering with words and phrases rather than practicing. Avoid making any changes unless they help with communicating the messages and you really think it will make a difference on the day. Practicing is more about delivering the material you have than creating new material.

3 Most of the audience has not heard the material before so some of the definitions, three letter acronyms and concepts will be new. You may have to explain them as you go and this takes time so think about whether you want to do this a little up front or use the words on slide to inform the audience rather than adding the explanation into your main narrative.

4 When you practice try to get as close as you can to the environment that you are likely to be in on the day. If you are presenting hard copies around a table then sit down to practice. If you will be in business or casual clothes wear these during the practice so that you know what you will feel like. If you will be standing at a lectern in a large hall  then practice behind a chair in the largest room you can find. Better still is to practice at the venue itself. If you are using supporting communication tools such as a flip chart or a video make sure you are familiar with how this will work on the day.

5 Time yourself, but don’t cheat and tell yourself it will be ok on the day. We have all said that, but trying to be a bit slower or faster is very hard to achieve. I have found that you need to take into account three differences between the time it takes to deliver the practice run and the time that you will take on the day.

First, the time available for your presentation may be different (usually less) than the time that you believe you have allotted to you. This can be because the last speaker overran, someone needs a break before you need to start, the slide/packs need to be made ready, microphones changed or you receive a lengthy introduction. In each case this time is usually subtracted from the time that you have available so make some allowance.

Second, you will deliver it differently on the day and it’s best to know what your weaknesses are. Do you speak faster as the adrenaline starts to circulate? Hesitate and lose your flow requiring you to re-check your notes and pause a little? Go off on a tangent adding in new facts and anecdotes that were never part of your narrative? Or, miss out huge chunks of the storyline, your opening remarks or your thank you at the end? Which ever of the above tends to be your weakness, acknowledge it, try to use your practice sessions to improve your performance and make allowances with the time you have available.

Third, questions. It is always difficult to know what will happen on the day. Will you be interrupted as you start your first sentence or will you be able to leave time at the end for questions.  Try and find out before how questions will be handled and if no one knows see if you can steer the format before or on the day. Once again telling people how you will handle questions takes time so include your instructions to your audience in your practice runs.

You must use your practice time to ensure you have enough time to make your presentation. There is nothing worse for confidence than to know that you have too much material and not enough time. Finishing early is not a weakness it will often be appreciated by the organisers, your audience and you.  If there is meant to be time at the end for questions make sure there is and if you make your presentation compelling and thought provoking questions will come (or plant a couple!). What’s more if the audience feel that they want to hear more they will contact you afterwards and ask for more – no one contacts you afterwards to ask for less, they just walk off a bit annoyed and frustrated at being a prisoner.

6 Tell your practice partners what feedback you want. To start with it is likely that your practice partners will not be reflective of your audience. Ask yourself before you practice with them what you want from them.

Are you looking for just a confidence boost? – Be honest with yourself. ‘Oh yes Richard your slides are brilliant and the audience can’t fail to love your orange tie’ maybe enough for you but your practice partners may not be so eager to give you the feedback you are looking for.

Do you want a critique or review of your storyline and narrative? Your practice partners may know more or less about the subject than your audience. Ask them to put themselves in the shoes of your audience rather than enter a competition about who knows more more about the subject matter.

Feedback on your delivery and presentation style? They will have their own style and may not know the context of your presentation, explain this first. Common feedback includes things like – there is too much on the slides. Ask whether the partners understood the slide and supporting narrative and whether everything was communicated successfully.

Before you start your practice with your partners, tell them what you want from them . How do I come across? – happy, serious, upbeat, etc. Have you noticed any contradictions in the slides and what I say? Are there any errors in the slides such as capitals in the wrong place, spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, etc. It will be very difficult for one person to look at all these things so ask each partner to focus on one aspect of your presentation. You can swap them round if you do more than one practice run.

Last, it is usually best to do any practice with partners well before your final presentation. Receiving last minute critical feedback is rarely helpful.

7 Use the practice time to learn more about your presentation subject and ensure you are up to date with the latest news. Read around the subject and see who is also talking about the same material. Collect a few snippets that bring your presentation up to date from your work environment, TV, radio newspapers, LinkedIn, etc. Leave room to add a few snippets in at the last moment to add a freshness to your presentation.

8 Create examples and analogies that help communicate your materials. These are great for the back-pocket as well as forming part of your communication tools and materials for question time. Test the examples and analogies for robustness and be honest with yourself if they don’t work. Understanding the boundaries of your materials and arguments is a strength not a weakness. (Try to avoid common analogies such as football and riding a bicycle unless you can put a different spin on things. But do focus on analogies that you personally know something about).

Overall make sure you use your practice time to improve your presentation and build confidence by following the tips above. You are looking to gain ‘Third Phase Possession’ of your presentation materials, arguments and communication tools.

‘First Phase Possession’ – I know what to say, can pronounce and communicate the subject matter and I know what it means. I can deliver it on time and with confidence. I can answer any questions about the materials I have presented. (Newscaster)

‘Second Phase Possession’ I understand the subject matter in depth and can talk around the subject. I also know the strengths and weaknesses of my argument and the supporting materials that are not part of my presentation. I have tailored my presentation to the particular needs of my audience and I know what areas to emphasise during the delivery and question time. I can answer any questions about the materials I have presented as well as supporting materials not in my presentation. (Journalist)

‘Third Phase Possession’ I know this stuff inside out. I can break down the arguments and build them up into different models. I am aware of the ‘exceptions that prove the rule’ with the strengths and weaknesses of the underlying assumptions. I can evolve and build on my presentation materials to take them to new levels of insight as well as summarise the materials into just a few statements. I can subtly change my delivery, messages and materials, if necessary, by observing the audience feedback and mood within the room. I am able to answer any question in the field of my presentation and easily take it to a new level of refinement brining in new assumptions and arguments. On the day I can build and draw on new arguments, deliver and direct new examples and create analogies to explain and communicate my presentation materials. (Guru Status)

One of the Worst Sins you can Commit as a Presenter

Perhaps one of the worst sins you can commit as a presenter is to run over time. We have all been there watching someone plough through endless slides, going into magnificent detail – that’s not required. Taking little notice of the yawns and fidgeting in the
room. Worst of all ignoring the chairman, frantic waving and calling out of “One minute to go”. Don’t do it. No one thanks you for it and I have yet to hear anyone say “that’s a shame that you kept to your allotted time I would have given up my lunch for more slides”. It’s also not fair on the next speaker who has less time available and has to start their turn with a somewhat annoyed and bored group of listeners.

I also find that if I ma the one waiting I am rubbish when i start my presentation. I just think that everyone is already switched off and fed up with the conference or meeting.


Indeed, delivering your thoughts in less time than is allotted will please the organisers, the audience and your self. Remember – ‘less is more’. Leave your viewers hungry form more information, but not an incomplete story or argument.

Tips for writing your presentation Bio

With more formal presentation opportunities the organisers will sometimes ask you to send in a bio – a short description of you and your career. This can be included in the conference literature and provides the chairman of the conference session a few words to use as an introduction. – often it is used as a filler as you move to the stage for your big event.

If read out the audience will be listening, even if they know you, as it provides a window to who you are and what you have been doing. Take a little time over writing our bio it will help the presentation get off to a good start, provide a talking point for conversation afterwards and help the audience create a link with you – ‘I worked at blogs Ltd, I wonder if he worked with Mary’.

I find it best to:

  • Keep it to one or two paragraphs, often you will be given guidance to the number of words, if in doubt ask the conference organiser
  • Run through your career in a few steps – education, first company/role, current role – job titles are often not very descriptive so don’t just list out 5 job titles.
  • Add something, if you feel comfortable, about you.  For example, where you live, your family, hobbies and aspirations. This part of the bio can be a good leveller as it doesn’t matter whether you are at the beginning of your career or finishing a hearty career with several commendations from the head of the Government.
  • Also good to add something about work type activities that are not directly related to your full time work position.  School governor, treasurer of the local badminton team, writing a book on how to ride a bicycle, etc.

Given all of the above you will probably be best to keep it to less than 200 words. Longer than this and it may not fit into a pre-conference papers, will not be read out in full and if it is read out, will soon start to sound like ostentatious self promotion or a pre-curser to a bloated presentation. Remember, ‘less is more’.

Last, you can include your bio at the front or back of any handout or emailed presentation along with your contact details. This is particularly helpful if you are a consultant, looking for a new position or a future speaker slot, as it acts as a mini CV.


Don’t use the tell them three times mantra

When I started making my first presentations I was often told that I should ‘Tell them what I was going to tell them. Tell them it. Then tell them what I have told them.’ No doubt there are times when this mantra will work but I find that they are few and far between. Let me tell you why.

  • Giving away your punch lines too early in a stale format will not draw people in. It would be difficult to provide the ‘So what’ in the introduction as you have not set the context and unfolded the storyline
  • Whilst repetition is sometimes very helpful, the third time you hear something can be very off putting and the audience may get the feeling that you thInk they are dumb. Indeed as you start to sum up saying the same things again you will see people shuffling papers and thinking about what is coming next. With a more informal presentation you may well get interrupted with a call that you have already said that.
  • Given the limited time that you will probably have to present you will be better to ask for questions or go into a little more detail in one are or other.

Presenting at the right pace

You will no doubt have a natural pace for talking. However, when presenting it is often difficult to control the pace as you either speak fast to get things in and get the presentation rolling or you speak slowly as you try to remember what you wanted to say perhaps stumbling over the first few words of each sentence.

If you tend to speak to fast when presenting there are a few things to do that will help your audience. First, try to remember that it is a weakness. Before you start if you have chance try speaking very slowly to your self either out loud if possible or just in your mind. Second look for places to pause, suggest that people take a look at a slide or a moment to think. Ask a question and wait for the answer even if not said out lowed. “Have you ever wondered why the first industrial revolution started in the UK? (Pause) Well let me give you some of my views……” Third, look to repeat some phrases or words to slow things down and more importantly provide emphasis of key points within your presentation. Fourth, if all else fails and you know that you will just talk too fast then tell your audience (and yourself) at the start of your slot. “Ladies and Gentlemen first let me apologise as I may talk a little fast for some of you – my enthusiasm and love of this subject means that there is so much that I want to say!…”

Should you speak to slow then once again there are a few things that you can try, First, make sure that you have said out loud any words that you may find difficult to pronounce and give yourself confidence. Second, try not to use a complicated sentence structure that may cause you to stop as you lose the flow and place the emphasis in the wrong place. Third try not to be tempted to ad lib but keep to the script and focus on the narrative. Adding  new thoughts in as you talk is likely to slow you down even further. Fourth, try and keep the times when you are not  talking as short as possible. For example, when you take to the stage and start your presentation, turning the pages, etc.

Probably the worst example of speaking slowly that I have witnessed happened at an energy conference back in the 1990s. The speaker representing a manufacturer of a some key industry components went to the stage. No one was expecting a great presentation but we also sat waiting to hear a few things that we may not have known. After what seemed like an eternity the speaker said. ‘When I planned my presentation (pause) I was told that it should be thirty minutes long. (Pause) But I have now been told that it should be forty minutes. (Pause). As I do not have any additional slides or (pause) materials I have (pause) no alternative but (pause) to speak very, very slowly (pause) so I do not finish (pause) too early” The audience laughed and then realised as he proceeded at a snail’s pace and pausing between most words that he was serious! He kept his word and checking his watch at various times he managed to drag out his presentation to the full forty minutes.

Your presentation introduction is important

The introduction can be so important as it sets the tone of the whole presentation. Watching and listening to other speakers will help you identify the openers that work in any given presentation environment. It is of course not possible to provide one that works for all but here are a few suggestions for the clauses that you might use

“Good morning, my name is Richard Jemmett.  My contention is that government support for industries in the UK is counter productive….” (The audience will know that you are stating opinions and thoughts not just data and information)

“Place yourself in a small room in Baker Street in 1923, a letter pops through the door, you open it, you read it…….” (The audience will be taken away from the room in which you are presenting into an imaginary room and hopefully be engaged in the story and subject)

“Today I want to present to you for consideration three ideas. First, educational levels in the UK……” (The audience will count with you and know that the presentation is simple and manageable)

“I have five slides, four questions and three answers…” The audience will know that you want to get to the point – and some may notice that you have more questions than answers.

Setting Out Your Presentation Slides for the Best Results

I like to us e a few rules for my slides that I hope makes them more attractive and readable by the audience.

  1. The slide should have some level of symmetry or balance. For example if you have some bullets on the left maybe an image or diagram on the right to ‘balance’ the slide. Imagine a pivot in the middle of the slide and the words or images have weight – now will it fall to the right or left?
  2. Choose your colours wisely. Ask your self whether the colours go together and what the colour combination means. Do your colours look like the colours used in any brand that you know – this may be good or bad. It’s also good to keep some consistency across the slide pack. Using a different set of colours on each slide suggests that the slides have come from different origins. I am not a great lover of coloured fonts – but they can soften the impact of the writing. For example dark grey can look better than black. Dark blue is also effective and quite easy to read. Please avoid writing in red or green. Those of us who are colour blind just can’t read it. Even red on white is very difficult at a distance. This by the way is true if you are using a flip chart – put down the red pen and pick up the black or blue.
  3. Most people read slides from left to right. It is often best to place bullets on the left and supporting images on the right. When using a diagram and bullets you may like to swap this over. As the diagram/graph may be self explanatory and the bullets just pulling our some key points that if read first would not make sense.
  4. Best to leave off full stops at the end of bullets – it just looks messy and distracts the eye.
  5. Remember that you may be asked to print your slides so anything other than a white background uses lots of ink. The old style of yellow type on a blue background is indeed quite easy to read on a screen but now looks very dated and a good quality printed version is hard to create.
  6. Add automatic page numbering via the master – very helpful if you muddle up the printed slides as you are preparing for the big day. If you are presenting using a handout it is also much easier to ask your colleagues to turn to page seven, than to look for the page with the big graph and four bullets.
  7. To keep things simple it is often best to split the slide into three zones.  These three zones will also help you in presenting the slide which we will come on to later. You don’t have to stick to this layout but it is a good place to start and seems to work quite well.
    • Top, where the strap line goes. The sentence that captures what the slide is all about.
    • The main part of the slide split into two or three areas vertical or horizontal areas for words and images
    • The bottom of the slide – often not used for bullets  or diagrams but containing page numbers, copyright, logos, etc. The bottom of the slide can also contain the lead in to the next slide. For, some this is a sort of end of slide strap line  and for others a small prompt or just a virtual zone that you need use to create the link to the next slide.

Don’t worry about the title

Describing your presentation with a title helps convey the content to your audience, set the tone of what is to come and also provides a reference, should, for example, you want to create a series of presentations. However, often I see people worrying (or even agonising) about the title of their presentation long before the basic concept and structure is created. It is usually far better to start putting together your structure and topics first and think about a title towards the end or once you have started to practice.

However, it is not always the fault of the author. When a conference programme or even an informal meeting programme is assembled the title of your presentation is sometimes added for you. Don’t worry it is almost traditional for presenters to veer away from the title from the first slide. Worrying about this may well hamper the creation and delivery of your presentation. One trick is to add the title or an explanation of the content of your presentation after the main title. You have probably seen it done before?

Here are a few examples I have made up to give you and idea of what I mean.

Developments in the UK gas industry – Why we need to develop biomethane as an alternative to imported gas before 2020

Lessons learnt from implementing the new IT system – How we can use our new project management and change skills to transform our customer journey.